Roll Skins: Alabama duo transforms Redskins' defensive front

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins drafted defensive linemen in the first round the past two seasons for a reason. Now they want to play them a lot more for the same reason.

Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen -- the Bama boys -- are good. And the Redskins want them on the field as much as possible.

In their 31-17 victory over Green Bay, the Redskins ditched a typical defensive-line rotation and used two players almost exclusively. For years the Redskins -- like virtually all NFL teams -- have rotated players along their defensive line, using five throughout the game. That's what they did in the first two games as well.

But with a week off on the horizon following Sunday's game, Allen, their 2017 first-round pick, played 65 of the 69 snaps. Payne, their first-round pick in April, was on the field for 64.

Only two other teams had two linemen play at least 90 percent of the snaps last week: the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams. The Rams, of course, have Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, two of the best linemen in the game. The Redskins were the only team that played only three linemen in a game.

That's why, going forward, this could become more the norm for Washington, which ranks second in both yards and points allowed per game.

"Those two guys are special guys and they need to be on the field," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "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. We'll still work in a rotation from time to time, but for the most part, those two guys will be out there when they are healthy."

On Sunday, backups Ziggy Hood and Tim Settle dressed but didn't participate in any plays from scrimmage. Matt Ioannidis played 26 percent of the snaps (18) against the Packers. In the first two weeks, he had played 51 and 61 percent. Ioannidis plays left end in their base, three-man front.

"We wanted to get them going," Gruden said of Payne and Allen. "The first couple games we had a rotation going and trying to get their feet wet together, especially Daron, but he showed that he can handle the reps. We didn't draft him in the first round to sit by me. We wanted him to play as much as possible."

Payne, who had his first NFL sack Sunday, doesn't like to talk much; Allen talks as if he's a 10-year veteran, showing poise and wisdom not often seen in second-year players. When it comes to their roles, they just do their jobs. Perhaps that's what playing at Alabama, along a defensive front always stocked with NFL talent, did for them.

Regardless, they did not show signs of tiring in the fourth quarter, when they sat a combined four snaps.

On one play in the fourth quarter, Payne and Allen ran a stunt. Payne drove his man back and Allen forced Rodgers to move to his right. He threw the ball to Ty Montgomery in the right flat, about 15 yards from where Payne was finished rushing. Yet the rookie turned and sprinted toward the ball, continuing to chase him as he cut back across the field -- going from one sideline to the other.

Late in the game, on Allen's 64th snap, he ran a stunt with linebacker Preston Smith, moved the guard upfield, spun inside and sacked Rodgers -- his second of the game.

"The D-line was relentless," Redskins corner Josh Norman said. "They were able to affect [Rodgers] in a way in which he hasn't been affected this season."

The Redskins like how both of these linemen play in their nickel, with an ability to maintain gaps to help linebackers defend the run. At times, the linemen lose their battles. Usually, though, they draw double-teams or hold their ground; then it's up to those behind them to make plays or close off cutback lanes quicker. That hasn't always happened, which is why the Redskins rank 28th defending the run out of nickel at 6.89 yards per carry.

But Allen and Payne also enable Washington to pressure with four more often than not. When the Redskins rush four defenders, they're giving up only 5.41 yards per pass attempt -- second lowest in the NFL. Overall, they're still second at 5.46 yards per attempt.

A lot of their hope on defense, and their success, lies with Payne and Allen.

"I was impressed with the way he and Jonathan played, not only at the start of the game, but at the end," Gruden said. "They were flying to the football. They were making plays downfield, in the pocket, in the running game. The vision that we had when we drafted them, getting Jonathan and Daron together, came to fruition [Sunday]."