Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, the two most recent first-round picks and the first defensive linemen the organization has selected found themselves on the field together an unprecedented amount last Sunday.
WASHINGTON — The Redskins made a rare investment in their defensive line in 2016 and 2017 and the results have quickly showed.
Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, the two most recent first-round picks and the first defensive linemen the organization has selected in that round since Kenard Lang in 1997, were on the field early and often in Sunday’s 31-17 win against the Green Bay Packers.
That’s an understatement — they never really left. Allen played 65 of 69 defensive snaps and Payne 64 against the Packers. That’s 94 percent for Allen and 93 percent for Payne. On a rainy day at FedEx Field, with Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers hobbled by a knee injury, the Redskins held the Packers to 100 rushing yards on 17 carries. They controlled the game up front, something Washington hasn’t done often in recent years.
“The first couple games we had a rotation going and trying to get their feet wet together, especially Daron, but I think he showed that he can handle the reps and we want to get him out there,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “We didn’t draft him in the first round to sit by me. We wanted him to play as much as possible and I was impressed with the way that he and Jonathan played, not only at the start of the game, but at the end of the game.”
This is rare. Very rare. It’s unclear the last time two defensive linemen played more than 90 percent of the snaps in one game for Washington. The NFL doesn’t track that stat past 2012. A single Washington offensive lineman has only done so once since 2012 when Stephen Bowen played 62 of 68 snaps (92 percent) against the Rams in Week 2 that season.
Since then, the Redskins have gone with a rotation heavy philosophy in large part because they didn’t have the talent up front to stick with specific players. That has spanned three different defensive coordinators (Jim Haslett, Joe Barry, Greg Manusky). And the idea of two players hitting that 90 percent mark? It hasn’t happened. You’d likely have to go back to the days of Dexter Manley and Charles Mann in the late 1980s.
The only times two defensive linemen together played 80 percent of snaps in a game was twice in the 2013 season when Bowen and nose tackle Barry Cofield did it against the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys, and in 2015 also against the Lions when Ziggy Hood and Chris Baker did it. Haslett gave those players heavy workloads early that season before Bowen got hurt.
Allen — who missed the final 11 games of his rookie year with a Lisfranc sprain sustained in a Week 6 game against the San Francisco 49ers — had two sacks for the first time in his career and five tackles, three solo. Payne recorded his first career sack and also had five tackles, four solo.
“You’ve got to go out there and play with heart, effort and intensity,” Allen said. “The rest will take care of itself…I have to give a lot of credit to [outside linebacker] Preston [Smith] and the defensive backs. They forced [quarterback Aaron Rodgers] up in the pocket and I got him.”
That was a change from the first two weeks when Payne played 30 (57 percent) and 39 snaps (64 percent) and Allen had 28 (53 percent) and 43 (70 percent). But they showed they could handle the increased work so Manusky pushed them even further against Green Bay. Not bad for players who are 23 (Allen) and 21 (Payne).
“They were flying to the football,” Gruden said. “They were making plays downfield, in the pocket, in the running game. Those two guys together, the vision that we had when we drafted them getting Jonathan and Daron together came to fruition yesterday.”
Washington also received production from Matt Ioannidis, 24, another young defensive lineman. The Temple product was chosen in the fifth round of the 2016 draft and had a breakthrough season in 2017 with 4.5 sacks. He already has three in three games this season and has a forced fumble and fumble recovery. Even though he only played 18 snaps (26 percent), Ioannidis contributed. Funny what happens when a team injects youth into the lineup.
The Redskins drafted 181 players between 1992 and when they took Ioannidis in 2016. Only 15 of those players (8 percent) in that 24-year period were defensive linemen. Only Lang was a first-round pick, chosen No. 17 overall in 1997 like Allen, and only Shane Collins (1992) and Jarvis Jenkins (2011) were second rounders. The other 12 players were drafted in the fourth round or later or in the NFL’s supplemental draft.
Washington drafted another defensive lineman in the fifth round this season when it took Virginia Tech’s Tim Settle. He didn’t play a defensive snap against the Packers. Then again, neither did Hood, the lone veteran on the NFL’s youngest defensive line. That might not change much for a while.
“I hope so and we’re not down on anybody else,” Gruden said. “But I think those two guys are special guys and they need to be on the field. We have some other guys that can play without a doubt, but those two guys are first rounders and very talented, so the more they play the better they get.”
Brian McNally is a senior staff writer and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. He is also an award-winning multimedia journalist, who has covered the Redskins, Capitals and Nationals for the Washington Examiner, Washington Times and 106.7 The Fan and major events like the Super Bowl, NCAA basketball tournament, Stanley Cup playoffs, NBA playoffs, NFL Combine and NFL Draft.
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