When the Washington Redskins selected Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne with the 13th choice in the NFL Draft on April 26, they had Oct. 21 in mind.
Washington squares off against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in one of the NFL’s premier rivalries. But the Redskins haven’t beaten the Cowboys in the past two seasons.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott is a big reason for Dallas’ success. Second in NFL this season with 586 rushing yards, Elliott has run for 330 yards and five touchdowns on 74 carries in three games against Washington — all victories for the Cowboys.
“Defensively, we’ve got to stop the run.” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said during his Monday press conference. “I think that’s the Achilles heel. That’s part of the reason we drafted Da’Ron Payne was for games like this — for Zeke Elliott and the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, Saquon. I think stopping the run, we have had marginal success, but not good enough against the Cowboys.”
Washington had the worst rushing defense in the NFL last season, and with the Giants bringing Penn State running back Saquon Barkley into the NFC East with the second pick in the draft, the Redskins knew stopping the run would become only more important in 2018.
“When you have a weakness, you’ve got to address it,” Gruden said. “Da’Ron Payne was, we thought, the best run-stopper — him and Vita Vea — in the draft, and we were lucky to get him. Obviously, we paid it huge consideration for adding a player of that caliber.”
Payne won’t be the only former Alabama defensive lineman getting his first taste of the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry on Sunday. End Jonathan Allen missed both Dallas-Washington games last season, when a foot injury ended his rookie campaign after five games.
The Redskins used the 17th selection in the 2017 NFL Draft to obtain Allen, and he and Payne rank first and second, respectively, among Washington’s defensive linemen in snaps played this season.
Allen has 16 tackles and two sacks and Payne has 17 tackles and two sacks in 2018.
With a sack against the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 23 and another against the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 8, Payne became the first Redskins’ rookie interior lineman to register sacks in consecutive games since sacks became an official stat in 1981 and the first Washington player to do so since outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan in 2011.
“If it was just an ordinary guy, we wouldn’t have taken him in the first round,” Gruden said. “But we felt like he could be a dynamic not only run player, but also help us in the pass rush.”