ASHBURN, Va. — When D.J. Swearinger looks at Jared Goff so far in 2017 compared to a year ago, he sees a more comfortable quarterback.
Last week, the Eagles’ Carson Wentz looked plenty comfortable under pressure from Swearinger and the Washington Redskins, who know they now have to ratchet things up against the 2016 first overall pick and the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
“We’ve got to disguise, we’ve got to get pressure on him,” said Swearinger, who had one of seven Arizona Cardinals sacks of Goff last season. “If we disguise and get pressure on him and make him uncomfortable, he’ll throw us the ball.”
Getting pressure wasn’t the problem in Week 1 . Sustaining it and making a difference was.
Washington’s more aggressive defense under new coordinator Greg Manusky hit Wentz nine times but had just two sacks to show for its efforts as the 2016 second overall pick scrambled away from or wriggled out of a handful more. When coach Jay Gruden identified the cause of Philadelphia going 8 of 14 on third down, he pointed squarely to the pass rush not getting the job done.
“You can’t give the quarterback time to throw and set his feet that easily like we did,” Gruden said. “It’s easy for pro quarterbacks to pick you apart and find an open receiver if they have time.”
Hit just four times and sacked once in a blowout of Indianapolis, Goff picked apart the Colts for 306 yards and a touchdown on 21 of 29 passing. Manusky notes that Goff’s scrambling ability stood out, and his players understand they’ll face similar challenges against the 6-foot-4, 223-pound blue chip prospect as they did in the opener.
“We just need to keep him in the pocket and rush as one,” defensive lineman Stacy McGee said. “You’ve got to keep them in the pocket and just rush as one because everybody’s talented so anybody can really scramble if you don’t keep the pocket contained.”
Allowing an opponent to convert on 57 percent of third downs is a mark against an entire defense, but the pass-rushers were quick to shoulder the blame. Cornerbacks Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller were left to cover receivers longer than they should’ve had to, given the amount of rushers.
“The DBs can’t cover for eight seconds,” linebacker Zach Brown said. “That’s really on us. When we don’t get him down, we feel bad because they complete a pass. That’s on us more than the secondary.”
One of the reasons defenders were excited in camp about the switch from former defensive coordinator Joe Barry to Manusky is the propensity for more blitzes. He said the objective against the Eagles was to stop the run — and could happen Sunday against the Rams’ Todd Gurley — and force the pass.
But not every player did his job correctly, so the message this week has been finishing plays and getting Goff to the ground rather than just making him flee the pocket.
“We’ve got to do it together: From a pass rush and from coverage on the back end, I think both have got to tie in hand-in-hand,” Manusky said Thursday. “The guys have got to cover on the back end if we’re playing a zone coverage. The guys up front with the four-man rush have to get after the quarterback.”
With linebacker Junior Galette healthy after missing back-to-back seasons with torn Achilles tendons and players like Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith rushing, the Redskins have the tools to be a strong pressure defense. Brown thinks small tweaks can turn the unit from good to a great, and Norman pointed to execution as the biggest area of need.
“When we have the quarterback wrapped up, we’ve got to bring him down. When we have our hands on the ball, we’ve got to bring that down as well,” Norman said. “You put all that work into getting to that point of attack, and then you’re there, just finish the play. That’s the easy part.”
NOTE: WR Josh Doctson was limited in practice for a second consecutive day with hamstring tightness.