Swearinger: Early challenges 'getting us prepared for late football'

Chris Lingebach
October 22, 2018 - 3:51 pm
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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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A theme emerged from the Redskins' 20-17 victory over rival Dallas, though you might not have noticed it.

The Redskins, even if by pure happenstance, are preparing themselves to win later in the year.

Washington entered  Sunday's game down two starting receivers – Paul Richardson and Jamison Crowder – another offensive weapon in Chris Thompson and a key starter on the defense in Quinton Dunbar.

The end result is what was demanded of them – others had to step up in order to win.

Losing Dunbar was a true monkey wrench in Washington's game plan for Dallas. He was hopeful to play after suffering a shin injury late in the week. It wasn't until he came out for pregame warmups that he was ruled out.

"That was definitely an eye opener when I seen he wasn't suiting up," Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger said during his weekly appearance with Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier, sponsored by Paul Henry’s Windows. "But in the league, you know it's next man up."

That meant serious playing time would be coming to two rookies in the secondary, seventh-round pick Greg Stroman and undrafted free agent Danny Johnson.

"It's a game of opportunities and I think Stro got his opportunity and he made well of it," Swearinger said. "He got one play that got away from him, but the double move is a hard play to make. You've got to expect your safety to be there over the top for you. Other than that, Stro came in and played well.

"I think Danny got thrown in the fire. That was a tough situation, man, for anybody to come in and guard their best receiver like that. That's a tough task."

"I'm glad that we got that experience," he said. "Those young guys needed that experience, because it's a long season. It's gonna be a game when Danny and Stro is going to be in there, just because of how physical the game is. You never know how it goes. So getting those guys in there a little bit earlier helps their confidence a little bit. But it speaks for the depth."

As a whole the roster is the youngest it's been in Eric Schaffer's 16 years with the Redskins. If this group can learn to win, they can win together for a long time.

Without Ryan Kerrigan's strip-sack of Dak Prescott late in the fourth quarter, which led to an easy one-yard scoop-and-score for Preston Smith, the Redskins probably don't win that game. Washington's offense had grown stagnant by that point. Does that put undue pressure on the defense to make a big play in crunch time?

"As a great defense, that's what you've got to expect," Swearinger said. "As a defense, we go in the game expecting no help. We expect them to score zero, as a defense. That's the mindset you've got to have. You gotta go into every game expecting the offense not to give you nothing, because, as a championship defense, you're going to have plenty of games where you've got to pick up your offense. You've got to have plenty of games where you've got to make a play on defense to win the game."

Two weeks in a row now, Washington's defense has stepped up in the closing minutes of the game, resulting in the team's first two-game winning streak of the season.

"I think these situations early in the year are getting us prepared for late football," Swearinger said, "and just giving us the confidence that we can win games and help our offense out when we need it."

Washington's defense held Dallas to just 73 rushing yards and lead back Ezekiel Elliott to only 33 on the ground. Elliott entered the game averaging close to the century mark against the Redskins and, statistically throughout his career, he's gotten his biggest gains in October. Drafting defensive linemen in the first round in back to back years has been a huge help.

"Drafting those guys first round was huge and is huge for us," Swearinger said. "You can just cut on the film and see 93 (Jonathan Allen) and 95 (Daron Payne). They make such a difference, just them two alone. But then you add in 98 (Matt Ioannidis). You already got 94 (Preston Smith) and 91 (Ryan Kerrigan) on the outside. It just completes your defense when you've got two beasts in the middle like that. Those guys, they have incredible motors like I talk about all the time. With them being in the front like that, you just expect greatness from them."

"I don't think we have a ceiling for this group. The sky is the limit," Swearinger went on to say. "We've got a lot of talent. And with that talent, if we build chemistry, we can be unstoppable."

"I knew it once we got Big Payne," he said. "Once we got Big Payne, I knew it was going to be real because you got interior. It starts up front. Any time you've got interior, it don't matter who you got in the back end; your back end is going to look that much more better. But, when we've got the talent that we do have on the back end, it's a formula for success with the front and back end and the linebackers."

Swearinger nearly made his third interception of the season in the first quarter, coming across the field to make an acrobatic catch on a Dak Prescott ball. Unfortunately, his momentum carried him out of bounds headfirst, and he was unable to get both feet on green grass.

Asked if he thought he was in bounds, Swearinger said, "I felt that at least one of my feet were in, but I didn't really know. I just knew I had a great break on it. I knew if it was in bounds, it was definitely caught. I just knew I was going to catch it regardless. I wish I could have drug that last foot, but it was kind of a crazy landing."

"Your head was the first thing that landed," Paulsen noted.

"Yeah, my neck – I'm feeling that today," Swearinger said. "Man, I wish I could have dragged that last right foot, but it was a good play. But hopefully I get him the next time I play him."

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