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REDSKINS: Tall order for ‘Skins’ defense

ASHBURN—The view from the coaches’ box at Lambeau Field a week ago was too much for Jim Haslett to bear. Here were his players being gashed by the Green Bay Packers, yards and touchdowns coming in bundles, and there was little the Washington Redskins’ defensive coordinator could do to slow it down.

“Some ugly football,” Haslett later noted.

In two weeks, a unit that the Redskins expected to be vastly improved over a year ago is again a heaping mess. Stopping the run, a task which has been the foundation of Haslett’s defensive philosophy, is too much to ask. The secondary, shredded often last season, continues to fall apart. The pass rush, now whole, is anything but.

And as the winless Redskins host the Detroit Lions at FedEx Field this afternoon, they know the stark realities of the situation they find themselves in. Fix it—soon, if not now—or the outcomes of the advancing season will be immensely different than the ones they dreamed about.

“You’ve just really got to lock in,” rookie cornerback David Amerson said. “You’ve just really got to lock in and you know what you’ve got to do. You’ve kind of just got to tune everything out.”

Yet that can be hard to do when even the fundamentals, such as minding assignments and making tackles, have been forgotten. By one count, the Redskins missed 21 tackles in the loss to the Packers a week ago, including two plays where the ballcarrier broke three separate attempts. In two games, the Redskins have allowed an incomprehensible 422 yards after contact.

“I think it’s an array of different things,” Haslett said. “But from a coaching perspective, obviously, I’ve got to do a better job of getting these guys to tackle, because we had way too many tackling issues the first two games.”

With 10 minutes to play in the third quarter on Sunday, big-bodied Packers tight end Jermichael Finley caught a pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the left flat and took off down the sideline. He shed an ankle tackle from strong safety Reed Doughty and fought through the arms of cornerback Josh Wilson and free safety Bacarri Rambo before Doughty and defensive end Kedric Golston brought him down.

What could have been a modest gain of 5 yards became a 27-yard reception—all because of the players’ inability to do something they were taught in their youth.

“We’ve just got to make sure we’re wrapping up,” Wilson said. “At the end of the day, make sure that we get the guy down, no matter what it looks like or what it takes.”

Tackling is often a mentality—read the ballcarrier, take the right angle, and when he draws near, hit him. That’s tough to do on someone like Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who used his speed and quickness to shake tacklers and gain 184 rushing yards in the opening weekend.

It can also be tough to do on the 6-foot-5, 236-pound Calvin Johnson, who had a league-record 1,964 receiving yards for the Lions last season.

The Lions’ first two opponents kept Johnson mostly in check by dropping their safeties deep to prevent large gains. Quarterback Matthew Stafford only threw one pass that traveled more than 20 yards in the air against the Arizona Cardinals last weekend; his 72-yard touchdown pass to Johnson in the second quarter was on a 5-yard slant, with the receiver doing the rest of the damage on the ground.

The Redskins typically deploy a single high safety, often Rambo, as their last line of defense. Hall wasn’t specifically referring to Rambo and Amerson, the two rookies, when he said Johnson and the Lions are “probably smiling right now looking at our defense.”

But Johnson was.

“A lot of times their inexperience leads to the offense being able to make a big play, you know?” Johnson said. “We’ll see how well coached those guys are.”

Zac Boyer: 540/374-5440