Landon Collins tried to warn his teammates about No. 26. Not that they needed it. As one of the premier playmakers in the NFL, Saquon Barkley doesn’t exactly fly under the radar. But it didn’t make a difference Sunday. The Washington Redskins allowed the New York Giants running back to decimate their defense during a 41-35 overtime loss at FedEx Field on Sunday.
“Extraordinary. I tried to tell the guys as much as I can, how to play against him,” Collins said about his former teammate. “He’s become a smart player. His rookie year, he was just doing everything off of his ability. Now he’s becoming a smart running back, understanding how to set things up for himself.”
Barkley posted 279 total yards against the Redskins, running for a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown and adding 90 receiving yards and another score. He started fast, with a 32-yard rush on the second snap of the game. Then on the Giants’ second possession, Barkley took a second-down carry 67 yards to the house.
He showed a little bit of everything — power, speed, elusiveness, vision, a mean stiff-arm — and the Redskins probably will have to either come up with a new way to defend him or get used to him torturing them. After being drafted second overall in 2019, Barkley figures to be a nemesis of Washington’s defense for years to come.
“I think that is what they kind of envisioned when they drafted [rookie quarterback Daniel Jones] and drafted me,” Barkley said. “I think we both have the potential and talent to play well together and open stuff up for each other. We showed that today with the help of everyone else and we were able to find a way to get the win.”
Barkley has had success against the Redskins every time he has faced them in his short career. He posted 111 total yards in his first game against Washington in 2018, then followed it up with 197 — including 170 rushing yards and a touchdown on 14 carries — in the second meeting last year. Barkley missed the first duel of 2019 because of injury but made up for it Sunday.
In what was largely a duel between New York’s and Washington’s passing attacks, Barkley was the game’s biggest difference-maker.
“He’s a premier back,” Washington interim head coach Bill Callahan said. “We talked about him all week long, that was the No. 1 goal and must for our defense in this game to really contain 26.”
The Redskins will face another premier back next Sunday when they take on Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys. The regular season finale at AT&T Stadium was flexed from the early afternoon to a 4:25 p.m. kickoff after Dallas lost, 17-9, on Sunday to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Cowboys (7-8), who would have clinched the division Sunday with with a win in Philadelphia, now need a win and an Eagles loss to clinch the NFC East title for the second consecutive year. The Eagles (8-7) can win the division with a road victory over the New York Giants next week.
More problems on defense
With both Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau inactive because of hamstring injuries, the Redskins started three cornerbacks in Danny Johnson, Aaron Colvin and Coty Sensabaugh who had barely played all season. When Johnson later suffered a hand injury, which he called a break, Kayvon Webster, who like Sensabaugh was signed this week, entered the game instead of Josh Norman, the second-highest paid cornerback in the NFL.
The new faces did not hold up well. Jones threw for 352 yards and five touchdowns without an interception to post a 132.1 quarterback rating.
But according to one veteran member of the secondary, this had as much to do with the pass rush as it did with the back end of the defense.
“Guys are just trying to figure out different parts of the scheme and what we do on defense,” Collins said. “Great communication on the back end, everyone was listening just trying to make it work. … We didn’t get no pressure on [Jones]. He was sitting back there kind of picking us apart. … We just didn’t blitz the quarterback enough and trying to get him off his spot. … If we do that, we get better turnovers, better outcomes and he has to get rid of the ball quicker.”
One curious part of the Redskins’ defensive game plan was the decision to frequently drop their pass-rushing outside linebackers into coverage. First-round rookie Montez Sweat was flanked away from the line, almost like a slot cornerback, on multiple possessions. Analytics website Pro Football Focus noted last week that the Redskins used Sweat in coverage 12 times in the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles — a notable figure given that Sweat dropped into coverage on just 12 snaps his entire senior season at Mississippi State. Ryan Anderson, who last week had a career game rushing the passer, also dropped into coverage on at least one occasion.
That defensive philosophy takes two of the team’s better pass rushers away from pressuring the quarterback, and the defense had just one sack and seven QB hurries on the entire day. After back-to-back shaky performances, it’s safe to assume the unit could undergo some changes this offseason, particularly in terms of its scheme.
Major draft ramifications
The Cincinnati Bengals (1-14) secured the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft with a 38-35 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, and the Redskins are in line to secure the second overall selection with a loss to the Dallas Cowboys next week. The Dolphins and Giants are both 4-11 following their victories, leaving the Redskins in sole possession of the second pick entering Week 17.
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