The Redskins' push for the postseason has obviously been keyed by their dynamic offense. However, in recent weeks the much-maligned defense has become a force in its own right. The main reason is the unit's appetite for turnovers.
The Redskins are playing opportunistic, team defense that is edging them closer to the playoffs. Here are the three main reasons behind Washington's defensive improvement.
Binging on Turnovers
The Redskins defense has snared 18 interceptions, as part of a plus-14 turnover ratio. That's giving the prolific offense even more opportunities to light up scoreboards.
Mike Jones of The Washington Post reported that Sunday's win over the Eagles was the third-straight game in which the defense has recorded more than one sack and more than one takeaway.
In all, the Redskins defense swarmed all over the Eagles for five sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. They are still surrendering yards, as evidenced by the 411 the Eagles gained, but their opportunism is helping win games.
Replacement Players Have Performed Well
Another reason for the defensive turnaround has been the play of replacement players. Losing players like Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo undermined this defense at the start of the season.
However, in recent weeks the likes of Rob Jackson and Jarvis Jenkins have stepped up their level of play. Jackson certainly has a nose for the ball and a knack for the big play.
He won't ever provide the pass-rush proficiency of Orakpo. However, Jackson's three interceptions and two forced fumbles have proved just as valuable.
In the secondary, rookie Richard Crawford has been effective in coverage in certain nickel and dime packages. That's proved invaluable for a defensive backfield missing Brandon Meriweather, Tanard Jackson and Cedric Griffin.
Defensive Line Has Picked up the Pass-Rush Slack
Of course the threadbare secondary has been boosted by the performance of the defensive line. The line has picked up the pass-rush slack in recent weeks.
Nose tackle Barry Cofield is playing at a particularly high level. He was consistently disruptive against the Eagles and is receiving able support from Stephen Bowen and Jarvis Jenkins.
The play of an improving line rotation has allowed the Redskins to use more stunts and twists up front. This is creating a lot of pressure up the middle, particularly from nickel fronts.
That same pressure has allowed more one-on-one rush opportunities on the outside. With Cofield pressuring the pocket from the inside, Ryan Kerrigan was able to savage the edges of the Eagles offensive line.
Kerrigan added two sacks and forced the Redskins fumble. They still only have 30 sacks for the season. However, the Redskins are crafting new ways to create a pass rush and are generating more pressure each week.
The Redskins defense is still No. 28 in yards and No. 21 in points. However, the unit continues to make decisive contributions and is peaking at the right time.
It is reminiscent of 1999's defense. That group ranked No. 30 overall, but improved down the stretch, thanks to influence of aging defensive guru Bill Arnsparger.
Conveniently enough, 1999 was the last time the Redskins captured the NFC East title. If 2012's defense produces its current brand of opportunistic, team defense against the Dallas Cowboys, they will help land another division crown.