Jason Hatcher had to wipe the dust off his sack dance. The aging defensive end hadn’t recorded a sack since the season opener. No matter how hard the Washington Redskins’ 10-year veteran had tried to take down the past 12 quarterbacks he has faced, Hatcher’s efforts had all fallen short.
This one against the Buffalo Bills was too easy. As the pocket collapsed in the second quarter, Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor tried to scramble around to buy time. Instead, he found Hatcher. And Hatcher rediscovered his “big daddy hump” sack dance. With a series of hip thrusts and a “dab” dance, it was the most fluid Hatcher has moved all season.
“I really didn’t do nothing — I just held containment, and he just ran right into my arms,” Hatcher said. “We’ve just got to rush smart against a guy like that, and I think we did.”
It wasn’t pretty, with some glaring assignment errors in the second half, but the Redskins’ defense pressured Taylor in a manner that only the Bills’ divisional opponents have matched in the 35-25 victory Sunday. Hatcher recorded one of the team’s five sacks and eight quarterback hits. It’s the most pressure Taylor has faced other than Week 2 against the New England Patriots (eight sacks and 12 quarterback hits) and Week 10 vs. the New York Jets (four sacks and nine hits).
The task sounded simpler in theory than it did on the field, and rookie linebacker Preston Smith learned how difficult it was to bring down Taylor in the pocket during Buffalo’s first drive. He had two opportunities to sack Taylor, but the first-year starter eluded the rush and scrambled out of the pocket for positive gains. The Redskins adjusted quickly by stressing containment with their outside rushers. If Taylor was going to scramble, they wanted to force him to run over the middle.
On the next series, Hatcher and defensive end Ricky Jean Francois recorded consecutive sacks to force a three and out.
“It was like a race, like a 40-yard dash, to see who could get to him first,” Francois said. “Against their offensive line, who could get to them first without him getting outside of containment. If he’s going to run up the middle, let him. We were going to make sacks, but we just had to make sure we had to rush him smart and not scared. Most teams are going to rush him scared, not sending blitzes. No. We still did just to show that we’re not afraid to send a blitz after you.”
Washington held Buffalo scoreless in the first half with Taylor heading into the locker room with more rushing attempts (seven) and rushing yards (52) than completions (three) and passing yards (27).
“We made them flush a lot,” Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said. “A lot of the runs Tyrod had are because we had pressure and he stepped up and found a lane, and he’s a very elusive quarterback, man. He’s something to deal with for a long time over there [in Buffalo].”
Even as the Bills crept back in the game during the third quarter, the pass rush was a main reason the Redskins were able to hold off a comeback. The Redskins got comfortable with their big lead, allowing 359 yards and 25 points in the second half. Buffalo had four explosive plays for more than 20 yards in a 17-point third quarter, including a 60-yard touchdown run by Mike Gillislee and a 48-yard touchdown reception by Sammy Watkins to draw within 28-17 with 3 minutes 48 seconds left in the quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the pressure made Taylor uncomfortable again. On a fourth-and-seven situation at the Washington 44, defensive coordinator Joe Barry dialed up a safety blitz. Dashon Goldson didn’t record a sack, but he hit Taylor as he threw, forcing an incompletion and turnover on downs. On the next series, the Bills were forced to punt on a three and out. Defensive end Frank Kearse chased Taylor out of the pocket on an incomplete pass on second down, and Smith finally got his sack on third down to end the drive.
“When I got the sack, it was like, ‘Man, I’ve been waiting all day for this,’ ” Smith said. “. . . We made a lot of mistakes here. Some bad tackling, some mess-ups in coverage, but we never let that get us down. We kept staying focused, making sure we executed each play and knowing there’s going to be mistakes made in the game. We’ve just got to minimize them and move on.”
Taylor was 16 for 27 with 235 yards and two touchdowns, but the Redskins were tactical in their rushes to fluster the Bills’ offense. Just about every lineman was able to display his sack dance in the win, and the defense is hoping to bring similar pressure Saturday in a crucial NFC East matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.
“We’ve got to rush up front, and we kept getting there repeatedly on and on and on,” Francois said. “We’ve got to keep doing that when we play Philly.”
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