Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In A Reversal, Defense, Not Offense, A Concern For Redskins
ASHBURN – There were times last season when the Washington Redskins’ defensive players would hang their heads in frustration. They would allow 18 points, or 172 yards of offense, or hold a team without a touchdown, and a sluggish offense still couldn’t help the team get a victory.
Over the first three games this season, that disappointment has shifted sides. The Redskins enter Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay with a defense that ranks amongst the bottom of all NFL teams in all of the major categories.
“Frustration,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “That’s probably the best way to sum it up. Last year, we would [hope] to get 14 points, 10 points; 21 points was a great day. To see this offense go out here week-in, week-out, or the last three weeks put up the points that it put up, and the defense go out there and totally drop the ball is definitely frustrating for us.”
The Redskins defeated New Orleans in a 40-32 shootout in the first week, but stumbled with a 31-28 loss at St. Louis and then a 38-31 loss to Cincinnati. The 33 points per game scored by Washington ranked first in the NFL entering this week’s games, and its 180.7 rushing yards per game ranked second, its 71 first downs were tied for fourth, its 404.3 total yards per game were sixth and its 5.9 yards per play were seventh.
Compare that to its league-worst 6.9 yards allowed per play and third-worst 429.3 yards allowed per game, and the 69 first downs it has allowed, ranking it No. 26, the reason why Washington is just 1-2 becomes clear.
“We covered our butts off in our first game against maybe the best offense that ever played in the National Football League,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “I know they can do it. We’ve just got to keep working at it.”
After each of the past two losses, Haslett has cited the allowance of big plays as the team’s main weakness – and the reason why victories, and the rankings, have been dragged down. Indeed, Washington has allowed 16 passes of greater than 20 yards this season and four for more than 40 yards, including touchdown strikes of 33 yards against the Saints, 34 yards against the Rams and 73, 59 and 48 yards last weekend against the Bengals.
And while eliminating any of those plays in the last two games certainly would have given the Redskins a much better chance at winning the game, they don’t tell the whole story. In each loss, Washington faced an opponent that placed an emphasis on throwing the ball shortly after the snap, allowing receivers to work underneath zone coverage and prevent any potential pass rush from gaining steam.
“That’s just a genuine way the league’s going,” said defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, who spent the last three seasons as Tampa Bay’s head coach. “They’re getting the balls into the hands with a five-yard throw and they’re making plays, making people miss. … We’ve got to go out there and play tighter man coverage, or if we get them into our zones, we’ve got to get them onto the ground with the first tackle. Whatever the case may be, we’ve got to go out there and execute.”
Coaches harp on execution as if whichever play they call will absolutely trump the opponent each time if it is done properly. For the Redskins, though, Haslett believes that’s true. When Armon Binns caught the 48-yard touchdown pass for Cincinnati in the first quarter last week, cornerback Josh Wilson missed a tackle. When Andrew Hawkins had a 59-yard touchdown reception for the Bengals in the fourth quarter, cornerback Richard Crawford was out of position.
“I mean, usually you get a big play like that, there’s going to be a missed tackle or maybe a bad angle taken,” head coach Mike Shanahan said. “That’s part of it. Obviously, there are some exceptional runs that take place and they’re exceptional athletes, but you know, there’s usually one missed assignment and one missed tackle per big play.”
Even if the Redskins’ defense continues to sag against the Buccaneers, it could look pretty by comparison. Only Tampa Bay consistently ranks worse against the pass this season, and its 353.3 yards allowed per game makes Washington look stingy.
That should allow Washington to once again get rolling on offense. It’s the defense’s turn to do so, too.
“This defense hadn’t been used to things like that happening, so you know, we’ve got to re-evaluate it,” Hall said. “We’ve got to look at ourselves in the mirror and see what we’ve got to do to get better as a team.”