Rob Jackson started the season as a second stringer. These days, however, he ranks among the most productive players on a Redskins’ defense that's also enjoying an unexpected change of fortune.
In the past three games, in fact, Jackson has recorded three sacks, forced two fumbles, defended two passes and intercepted a pass. And, for the most part, each of those plays came in the clutch.
“It’s opportunity, I guess,” said Jackson, who replaced Brian Orakpo as the starting right outside linebacker when Orakpo was lost for the season in Week 2. “I’m a lot more comfortable than I had been. I know what I’m getting. I know what to look for. It’s something I’ve been waiting for, and I’ve been able to capitalize on my opportunity when I got it.”
Three plays in particular show the impact Jackson has had:
- Against the Giants, the Redskins had just taken a 17-16 lead in the fourth quarter when Jackson sacked Eli Manning on third down. The seven-yard loss forced the Giants to punt and prevented them from immediately responding. Jackson had petitioned at halftime to be used more as a pass rusher, and he immediately rewarded the coaches’ confidence in him.
- Against the Ravens, Joe Flacco and Co. led 21-14 and were on the move. Jackson, though, made sure they didn’t get across midfield. The 27-year-old native of New Haven, Conn. raced around a block, knocked the ball from Flacco’s hand and then recovered the fumble. The Redskins inched closer with a field goal on the ensuing possession.
- Against the Browns, Brandon Weeden was looking to go downfield with a pass over the middle early in the third quarter. But the rookie quarterback didn’t account for Jackson, who leaped and secured his third interception of the season. Three plays later, Alfred Morris scored and the Redskins had a 17-14 lead they would not relinquish.
Three games, three game-changing plays for Jackson.
“He’s gotten progressively better in all phases,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said this week. “We’ve always thought he was a pretty good player against the run. [But] he’s getting better in the pass coverage part of it and also the rush element.”
Jackson said the uptick in his play has mirrored the unit’s turnaround, adding that the majority of the Redskins’ defensive players have been playing more intuitively and thinking less in recent games.
“We’re not worried about our assignments and what we’re supposed to do,” he said. “We’re just playing now.”
Fellow linebacker Perry Riley said teammates have long admired Jackson’s ability in practice. He just needed a chance to get into the lineup and stay there long enough to prove he belonged.
“We always knew how good he was,” Riley said. “He just happened to be behind a Pro Bowl player in Brian Orakpo. But with Brian going down so early, Rob finally got his shot to show the rest of the world how good he is. And he’s taking advantage of his opportunity.”
In addition to being on top of his game, Jackson has other reasons to be excited. Earlier this week, his wife gave birth to their second child, a daughter they named London. He’s also on the verge of playing in the postseason for the first time in his five-year career.
“I don’t think we’re comfortable by any means,” Jackson said of the Redskins’ five-game winning streak. “We’re still hungry. We’re just getting started. We have enough talent and enough health to play through a postseason.”