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Washington Redskins’ defense eager to meet the challenge

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For the Washington Redskins, the gap in production on offense and defense has grown in recent weeks. The wide space in between the two could threaten to swallow some teams, where pointing fingers serves as a substitute for winning football games.

While the Redskins’ offense, with its earnest quarterback and his crew of replacement parts, continues to struggle, Washington players say they aren't worried about any sort of locker room divide.

“We don’t do the blame game,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “We got a lot of guys filling shoes and trying to get themselves better.. . . They're going through growing pains right now. We just got to have their backs.”

John Beck’s offense was shut out two weeks ago against Buffalo, and reached the red zone just once in last Sunday's loss to San Francisco. While spotting wins amongst the remaining eight games on the schedule might require some squinting, a dose of optimism and a lot of faith, it will also most definitely require stalwart defensive play.

“We’ve been feeling like that for a while,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said, “so nothing’s changed over the past couple weeks to ease that feeling. . . . We have to go out and try to dominate our opponent.”

As the offense struggles, any room for error by the defense vanishes. In fact, defensive players have highlighted areas in which they can assist the offense. It’s not as simple as trying to create more turnovers.

“We know we’re struggling offensively,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “We have to help them out defensively by doing more. We have to try to create short fields, get more takeaways. If we have a team backed up, don’t let them get a couple first downs, so if they punt after that we then have to go a long field. We know that we as a defense have to do better to put ourselves in the best chance to win.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said his players understand they can affect only so much in a game. Worrying about the offense or special teams is wasted energy, he said. Besides, the Redskins’ defense has also shown in recent weeks that it, too, has plenty of room for growth.

“I think our guys feel good about the way we've played,” he said. “Obviously, we can do better in a lot of areas.”

While the Redskins’ defense is improved over last season — particularly its front seven — its goal is to be among the best in the league; not mired in the middle of the pack.

The defense enters Sunday’s game ranked 21st against the run and 11th against the pass. They certainly have shown some strengths. For example, only two teams have more than Washington’s 25 sacks. But only seven teams have fewer than the Redskins’ six turnovers.

The Redskins have allowed opponents past their 20-yard line 27 times this season. Foes are averaging just 3.81 points per visit to red zone, fewest in the NFL. Opponents scored touchdowns just 10 times from inside the 20, giving the Redskins the second-best conversion percentage in the league.

“Our guys know points is the most important thing,” Haslett said. “We try to keep people off the boards.”

So while the offense has struggled to score, the Redskins’ defense has yet to string together four perfect quarters.

“We haven’t been out there pitching every shutout,” said nose tackle Barry Cofield.

A major focus in recent weeks has centered on stopping the run. In the Redskins’ four-game losing streak, opponents have run relentlessly. The league average thus far is for teams to rush 26.7 times per game, averaging 115.3 yards an outing. In the past four games, the Redskins have faced an average of 35 running plays and given up of 160.75 rushing yards per game.

“There’s a number of different reasons why that happens,” Haslett said. “But somebody rushes 35 times, you hold them to three yards per carry, which would be probably No. 1 in the league, you’ve still given up 105 yards of offense.”

Dolphins running back Reggie Bush averaged just 23 yards an outing in Miami’s first three games. He's averaged 77 the last four. He had 103 yards Oct. 30 at the New York Giants and 92 in last Sunday's win at Kansas City.

Though opponents are tallying a lot of rushing yards against the Redskins, Haslett says the numbers are somewhat misleading. Last Sunday, the 49ers finished with 138 rushing yards, but 27 of those yards came on Frank Gore’s second quarter run around the right end.

“Last week, we actually did a good job except for one play where we missed a tackle. . . . I think it's a missed tackle here, a missed assignment here,” Haslett said. “Those things happen. We just have to do a better job of tackling.”

As long as the defense has so much room for improvement, it”s difficult for players to point fingers at their offensive teammates. Besides, many in the locker room recall when the Redskins’ defense was ranked second-to-last in 2010.

“I think some guys are frustrated. But there’s a process,” Hall said. “It’s a process, we understand that. They didn’t jump on our backs when we were 31st in the league last year, so it’s not right for us to jump on their backs now that they’re struggling.”

Staff writers Barry Svrluga and Mike Jones contributed to this report.

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