During the Redskins’ 3-6 start, the defense allowed 21 points or more in every game and 26 or more in six of the nine games. But during the seven-game win streak, they have tightened up, allowing more than 21 points only twice.
The key reason: Pressure. Coordinator Jim Haslett has brought it almost more than he hasn’t in recent games, and it has caused quarterbacks to misfire and throw bad passes.
But Haslett couldn’t be able to run his scheme without the right players, and it appeared he would be extremely shorthanded with the Week Two losses of DE Adam Carriker and OLB Brian Orakpo. Stepping into Carriker’s place was Jarvis Jenkins and into Orakpo’s role, primarily, was Rob Jackson.
Although he was limited to first- and second-down duty for most of the early part of the season, Jackson’s role has expanded to some pass-rushing situations — he played 69 percent of the snaps vs. Cowboys in Week 17 and 79 percent vs. the Browns in Week 15 — and made big plays in each game.
But his biggest contribution has been four interceptions, almost as many as he has had sacks (4½). The converted defensive end has made the transition as a full-time linebacker and he says he’s seeing things a lot better with extended reps.
“My pass defense has improved a lot, especially my drops and knowing where to drop to,” Jackson told PFW. “Also reading and understanding route concepts. What routes are behind me, little stuff like that has helped me understand where the ball is going.”
Jackson said he was surprised that Cowboys QB Tony Romo threw the ball in Jackson’s direction as he had man coverage on RB DeMarco Murray in what would be a key interception with the Cowboys down only three points, just as Jackson was surprised that Browns QB Brandon Weeden would throw the ball in a place where Jackson could make a play two weeks earlier. He snagged both for game-altering INTs.
Jackson estimates that on first and second downs he’s rushing about 60 percent of the time, dropping in coverage about 40. He was a college tight end, so his hands clearly are better than most defensive players when he does drop.
But the Redskins most often are pressuring, whether it’s five- or six-man blitzes, or sending four on zone pressures, which Jackson has had dual duty on — going both forward and backward. He said that the Redskins’ system is meant to frighten quarterbacks into premature activity.
“We want them making quick decisions,” Jackson said. “Most of the time, when that happens, they’re bad decisions.”
Promoting Jackson to the starting lineup has been anything but a bad decision, as he has settled down a potential trouble spot. He knows that next season Orakpo is slated to be back and that as a free agent, Jackson is not guaranteed to return. But he’s confident he has done enough good things to give the team a good reason to re-sign him — if not, he’ll look elsewhere.
“I’ve played pretty well, I think,” Jackson said. “I have thought about (next season) a little bit, and I’ll have to do whatever I need to to get a good job, here or somewhere else.”