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.
After Seven Weeks, Redskins’ Secondary Still The Primary Concern
ASHBURN – While it may not have taken a rocket scientist to diagnose and exploit the Washington Redskins’ coverage woes last weekend, as DeAngelo Hall later assessed, it may take a higher level of thinking to figure out how to fix that problem.
The Redskins have struggled to contain their opponents’ passing offense all season, and the breakdown late against the New York Giants was just another example of such distress. Despite being covered by cornerback Josh Wilson and safety Madieu Williams, Giants quarterback Eli Manning still completed a 77-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz that gave New York the lead, and victory, with under 90 seconds to play.
“I could have threw that ball and he could have scored,” Hall said the day after the game. “It wasn’t something [like] he was a rocket scientist and he just figured something out. We just played that as bad as possible.”
It hasn’t just been that play. Through seven games, the Redskins have allowed 328.4 passing yards a game – far and away the worst total in the NFL. That number may not get much smaller today as Washington heads to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers.
How the Redskins have broken down so often is a question that cannot be easily answered. Players and coaches alike have often reached the same conclusion – it’s about execution – but theoretically, if a player knows what he’s supposed to do, why doesn’t he do it?
“I don’t know,” inside linebacker Perry Riley said. “Different people think different things on different plays. Everybody has to be on the same page. That’s where we’re not at right now.”
The Manning-to-Cruz touchdown reception was the eighth-longest passing play from scrimmage through the first seven weeks of the season.
And, of the 54 passing plays for 50 or more yards entering this week’s games, Washington has surrendered six of them. Eight other teams have allowed three 50-yard plays, while seven have not yielded one at all.
The long gains don’t just happen during the course of a game, either. Washington has allowed 11 passes of more than 30 yards this season, five of which happened in the fourth quarter.
“I think we’ve been in the tied, or in the lead, at some point in the fourth quarter in every game – or close to every game,” Hall said, which is true. “You know, we just haven’t finished. I talked about it last year – just being consistent. I don’t think we’ve been able to be as consistent this year as we would have liked to [be].”
Where the Redskins have also struggled this season has been with their pass rush, and those two insufficiencies could be related. While Washington has faced quarterbacks that throw the ball shortly after the snap, others have had significant time to go through their progressions, putting the covering defenders in a difficult spot.
In addition, the Redskins shuffled their defensive coaching staff during the offseason, hiring Raheem Morris, formerly Tampa Bay’s head coach, to coach their defensive backs.
Morris had success with the Buccaneers’ secondary during the better part of a decade in Tampa Bay, and it stands to reason the same success was immediately expected when he joined the Redskins.
Head coach Mike Shanahan has said he firmly believes the changeover in the coaching staff is not the reason why the Redskins have struggled against the pass.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who arrived with Shanahan prior to the 2010 season, suggested it could be more of a personnel issue. The team expected to begin the season with Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson as its starting safeties, but neither has played – Meriweather because of injury, Jackson because of suspension.
Their losses have left the Redskins with essentially the same defensive backfield that played most of the snaps as last season, when they ranked 12th by allowing 222.1 passing yards a game.
That defense struggled to force turnovers, though, while the Redskins have taken the ball away 16 times, including 10 interceptions – the third-best total in the league.
If so many other things can go right, how can the end result go so wrong? The answer, understandably, just isn’t that simple.
“You know, we’ve showed that we can go out there and play with anybody, but it’s not about going out there and showing you can play,” Hall said. “It’s about winning games, and until we start winning games, it’s going to be the same speeches.”