Even though DJ Swearinger Washington Redskins has won three of five home games this season and leads the NFC East, cornerback Josh Norman called out Redskins fans in the aftermath of an ugly victory at Tampa Bay and said he felt they played better on the road. In the process, he put the spotlight on the atmosphere Sunday at FedEx Field when the AFC South-leading Houston Texans come to town.
Norman said home games are “like the other team’s turf” because of an infusion of opposing fans and opined that Washington Redskins fans “just boo everything and aren’t really behind us.” Teammates hope that sentiment works to provide a spark of energy for the rest of the year.
“We have a really good team and what it comes down to is myself and Josh, we want to be backed up, and we don’t want it to feel like it’s 50/50 when we’re at our home field and they have as many fans as we do,” running back Chris Thompson said. “We just want everybody to be there. That’s it. We want our fans to be out there and just have our backs.”
The Washington Redskins organization began a concerted effort in the offseason to try to improve the fan experience at the stadium in suburban Maryland. Aware a sellout streak the team boasted had lasted the past 50 seasons would end, the decision was made to stop selling as many tickets to brokers and try to draw back in some of the disillusioned fans of a franchise that has just three playoff victories since its last Super Bowl title from the 1991 season.
Washington Redskins average attendance of 61,201 ranks 26th in the NFL, and its 74.6 percent-of-capacity crowd ranks dead last. Chief marketing officer Steve Ziff said prior to the season there’s no timeline for when he expects fans to return in droves like the glory days at RFK Stadium.
“We’re going to do things right for as long as it takes,” Ziff said. “Every day the goal is to do things right and hopefully over time, win or lose, fans will buy into that.”
Right now, the Washington Redskins are winning. At 6-3, they’re two games up in the division and on pace for their first postseason appearance since 2015.
But Thompson, who has been with the team since 2013, understands there are long-term issues under the surface leading to fans staying away. Decades of mediocre on-field performance, polarizing opinions about owner Dan Snyder and the location of FedEx Field are all factors that have nothing to do with the current roster and its wins and losses.
“All the responses I see all the time is, ‘We’ve been fans for 10-plus years, we’ve been fans for 25 years — whatever the case may be — and we haven’t gotten any results (and) the Redskins have been terrible,’” Thompson said. “I’ve been here for six years. I understand. I know. I’ve been to one playoff game in six years.”
If the Washington Redskins win the division and host a playoff game, the stands will be rocking like the old days — especially if Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings are the opponent. But to get there, they could use a boost at home so players don’t feel like they’re in unfriendly confines.
For quarterback Alex Smith, it’s all about the cadence and ability to communicate verbally.
“The big thing offensively is communication that you can count on,” Smith said Wednesday. “To be at home and be able to communicate, I think you can do more in the huddle and do more at the line of scrimmage.”
On defense, it’s the opposite. The Redskins are coming off allowing 501 yards but only three points to the Buccaneers, and they’re counting on noise against DeShaun Watson and the Texans, who have won six in a row since an 0-3 start.
“The fans play a big part in the way defenses can play, in the way the atmosphere is out there,” linebacker Mason Foster said. “When you get those guys going crazy in the stands, it’s hard for quarterbacks to communicate, it’s hard for them to audible at the line. When you get that going, I think it’s a tough place to play at FedEx.”
The Houston Texans come in with a bit of drama hanging over there head as well. Former Houston Texans and current Washington Redskins safety DJ Swearinger took to social media earlier this week to discuss his time with Houston. While thanking his former coaches, DJ Swearinger did not seem pleased with his former head coach Bill O’Brien and his coaching method.
O’Brien responded seeming focused more on the player DJ Swearinger has become rather than the one he was years ago.
“Productive player, good tackler, competitive guy, got a bunch of interceptions,” O’Brien said. “Good player.”
Drafted out of South Carolina in the 2013 NFL Draft by Houston, DJ Swearinger spent his first two seasons with the Texans organization before being released in 2015. Swearinger, 27, would spend the next three seasons split between time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals before finding a more permanent home with Washington.
O’Brien, who joined the Texans in 2014, does not remember much from DJ Swearinger final day in the Texans locker room.
“Nothing,” O’Brien said. “No response. Nothing.”
In two seasons with the Texans, DJ Swearinger collected 144 tackles, three quarterback hits, 10 pass deflections and three interceptions.
For defensive end J.J. Watt, remembers DJ Swearinger as just another ball player trying to find the ball.
“Playmaker,” Watt said. “He makes plays, flies all over the field and makes a lot of plays. Obviously, he’s doing that now for them at a very high level. That’s what I remember.”
DJ Swearinger signed a three-year, $13.5 million contract with Washington in 2017. Entering his second season, the former Texan safety has been one of the more productive defensive backs in the NFL thanks to his tackling abilities and coverage skills. This season, Swearinger is tied for second the NFL in interceptions with four.
“We know a couple guys that played with him and know him, but I don’t know too much,” quarterback Deshaun Watson said. “He’s a great player, he’s, I guess, leading the league in picks and doing what he needs to do for the team, so that’s all I can really say about him.”
In six NFL seasons, DJ Swearinger has collected 338 tackles for 4.5 sacks, 38 pass deflections and 14 interceptions.