How are the Washington Redskins 3-1 and in first place in the division? Well, when the defense holds opponents to 15.8 points per game, the third-lowest total in the NFL, that takes a lot of pressure off folks like Rex Grossman.
It's a solid all-around unit that is sixth against the run and eighth against the pass. They've forced a league-high 14 fumbles, are tied for fourth with 15 sacks while the other four teams in the top five have each played one more game than the Skins. And although they have improved their personnel since last season, they are getting it done with many of the same players who have made up the core of their defense in previous years.
ROLB Brian Orakpo
Maybe the best player in the NFC East nobody talks about. The only time Orakpo's name seems to enter the conversation about the game's best pass rushers is when the Redskins are on TV. Sure, his sophomore campaign was something of a down year -- registering *just* 8.5 sacks last season -- but he was the only player Washington had who could get to the quarterback. With an improved defense, Orakpo is off to a blazing start with 3.5 sacks through the first four games, giving the former Longhorn 23 total through his first 35 career games. His speed off the edge could be a real matchup problem for Todd Herremans, who has to move over to left tackle this week after injuries to Jason Peters and King Dunlap.
LOLB Ryan Kerrigan
One of the reasons Orakpo is back on track in 2011 is the addition of Kerrigan, who gives the Skins a legit presence on the other end of the formation. The 16th overall pick in this year's draft, I've seen Kerrigan play a few times already this season, and have no problem saying this kid is the real deal. The 23 year old out of Purdue is more of a power rusher who will drive unsuspecting tackles into the backfield, but he's incredibly active no matter what the scheme calls for, and has shown a knack for getting to the ball. In his first four games, Kerrigan already has two sacks, two forced fumbles, and he's returned an interception for a touchdown. It appears Winston Justice will be making his first start since 2010, and he will have his hands full dealing with this promising rook.
RDE Stephen Bowen and NT Barry Cofield
The Redskins have a much different look up front from a year ago, opting to go with players who actually give their full effort on the football field. That means Albert Haynesworth is out, and Bowen and Cofield are in, both coming over from division rivals.
Bowen spent five seasons in Dallas, primarily as a backup. He finally saw some extensive playing time last year, getting nine of his 11 career starts, and essentially worked his way into a job with Washington. The change of scenery seems to have done him some good, as he is rapidly approaching a personal best with 2.5 sacks after four games. Cofield, a starter for five seasons with the Giants, is still adjusting to playing the nose in a 3-4. He hasn't done much to fill out the stat sheet, but is perfectly capable of teaching young Jason Kelce a thing or two on Sunday.
LDE Adam Carriker
Carriker is the only returning member from last season's front, and he too has benefited from the improvements in the front seven. The former first round pick of the Rams might even shed the bust level if he keeps up this pace. The Nebraska product has three sacks this season, nearly doubling his career total in the process. He'll be working against Justice and Danny Watkins on that right side, so he could have some opportunities to add or even multiply that number.
ILB London Fletcher
The fact that Fletcher is still playing is amazing. The fact that he is still playing at a high level is almost unimagineable. Now in his 14th NFL season, Fletcher continues to be one of the most prolific middle linebackers in the league, racking up tackles in the hundreds every year. You would think a 5'10" MIKE would eventually wear down -- and front offices in St. Louis and Buffalo must have been counting on that as well -- but so far, that has not been the case. When he gets his hands on the ball carrier, the play is over more often than not. However, he won't necessarily kill the offense with big plays either. He doesn't generate a ton of negative stops or create many turnovers.
Rocky McIntosh, a high second round pick from '06, competently mans the other inside linebacker position.
CB DeAngelo Hall
The very definition of a boom or bust player, Hall could either intercept four passes on Sunday, or he could concede four long touchdowns. There's no question he is a very dangerous player with elite speed and ball skills, but his coverage ability has always left something to be desired. Still, he can make the offense pay if they make a mistake, which the Eagles have done at an alarming rate. Vick, a former teammate of Hall's in Atlanta, has thrown nine interceptions so far this season, so you know the Skins' showboaty corner is licking his chops heading into this matchup.
SS LaRon Landry
After missing the first two games of the season with a hammy strain, the sixth overall pick in the '07 draft has bounced back and made his presence felt in two games this season. Landry is a hard hitter who can play close to the line of scrimmage, or is athletic enough to play centerfield in the defensive backfield. He is susceptible to the big play though, as Landry can find himself out of position due to his aggressive style.
O.J. Atogwe, who spent the previous six seasons in St. Louis, joins Landry to fill out the secondary. He's a decent enough player, but has been quiet so far working in a new scheme. Overall, the secondary is an area the Eagles can attack. Washington's DB's are all capable of making the offense pay for their mistakes, but any one of them can be beaten as well, especially by speed. There is already some bad blood between this team and DeSean Jackson, so look for Andy Reid to take some shots downfield early and often -- provided Vick has time to stand in the pocket and deliver the football.