Redskins’ defense confused about its failures

October 30, 2011

Buffalo’s Scott Chandler had just caught his second touchdown of the day. Trailing behind him, Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher threw his arms in the air, unsure why he’d been left alone to cover the sprinting tight end.

Fletcher spun around, slapped his legs and spotted safety LaRon Landry, who had wrongly anticipated run — not pass — on the play. Fletcher voiced his displeasure right away, and even as the defense regrouped on the sideline, the Redskins team captain could still be seen yelling.

“It was on me,” Landry said later.

“I’m always frustrated when we give up touchdowns,” Fletcher said.

The raw emotions boiled over for defensive players in the Redskins’ 23-0 loss to the Bills at Rogers Centre on Sunday. Different players used different words to describe it, but what’s clear is the Redskins are at a loss to understand their defensive struggles.

“Disappointment, shock, sadness — little bit of everything,” said cornerback DeAngelo Hall. “I don’t know what happened out there on that field. Definitely didn’t look like us. They had our jerseys on, but I don’t know.”

Buffalo didn’t do anything the Washington defense hadn’t anticipated. Unlike the loss at Carolina a week earlier, the Redskins felt ready for whatever the Bills were prepared to throw at them. “Exactly what we expected,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said.

Still, the Bills were able to move the ball, almost at will. Seven times they crossed into Washington territory, with five scoring drives. The Bills had six plays of 20 or more yards. Fred Jackson had 194 all-purpose yards, 120 of them on the ground, and Ryan Fitzpatrick finished with a passer rating of 116.4.

“I felt like we knew what was coming,” Hall said, “and we still couldn’t stop them.”

While most Redskin players said they were “frustrated” or “disappointed,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said there’s a degree of “confusion” associated with such an embarrassing loss.

“You work hard, practice hard and you expect a certain outcome,” he said. “Or at least something that resembles a certain outcome. Obviously, this was nowhere close. We have a lot of stuff to figure out.”

The Bills finished with 390 yards of total offense, the third time this season Jim Haslett’s defense has allowed at least that many. The Redskins allowed the Bills to convert seven third downs, the most of any Washington opponent this season, and they’ve allowed at least 100 rushing yards in each of the past three games.

Though the Redskins have faced passers such as Eli Manning, Michael Vick, Tony Romo and Cam Newton, Fitzpatrick’s 262 passing yards were the most Washington has given up this season.

“I stopped really looking at the scoreboard. I didn’t even know it was 23-0,” Hall said.

The postgame locker room was a somber one.

“We know what we gotta do,” Orakpo said. “Guys come to work every day prepared, get the game plan in, just working hard. For some reason, it just doesn’t translate on the field on Sundays.”

The Pro Bowl linebacker said the team relies on a “bend but don’t break” philosophy. In addition to bending, the defense also missed tackles, missed plays and couldn’t get off the field. In the team’s three wins this year, the Redskins held the time of possession edge. In their four losses, they haven’t. On Sunday, Washington’s defense was on the field for nearly 35 minutes.

While the Redskins’ offense struggled, it did so with a number of replacement starters. The defensive unit, on the other hand, is intact and featured first-string starters at all 11 positions Sunday.

Defensive players knew their offense wasn’t scoring, but no one in the locker room was publicly pointing fingers. As Fletcher said, “Everybody has to play better.”

While everyone in Rogers Centre was able to see Fletcher yell at Landry on the sideline, neither player discussed the details of the exchange. They both said losses like Sunday’s breed frustration, particularly in the heat of the moment.

“I made a lot of plays to help the team,” Landry said. “We had a lot of missed assignments from the line to the linebackers, to the DBs. This team, we have to help each other out. But like I said, you have to talk to London about that.”

Rick Maese is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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