Redskins defense hurt by the big play

September 27, 2011

A Redskins defense that's built around elaborate blitz packages fell victim to a rather simple one — send everyone.

With the game in the balance Monday night, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett called for a gutsy max blitz. It meant that all of the team’s linebackers and safeties would be charging Dallas quarterback Tony Romo. It also meant that cornerback DeAngelo Hall would be all alone on his side of the defensive backfield.

The end result was a big pass play that set up a game-winning field goal in the Cowboys’ 18-16 win over the Redskins.

“Those things you do in football,” Washington Coach Mike Shanahan said. “You go back and you evaluate yourself, but [at] the end of the day, you either get it done or you don’t.”

Though Washington defense had its moments — the Cowboys failed to score a touchdown on the night — when the Redskins needed most to get it done, they didn’t.

Romo’s Cowboys trailed 16-15 in the game’s final minutes. The Cowboys began their drive on the 14-yard line and had less than four minutes and a lot of field ahead of them. A bad snap resulted in an 11-yard loss — Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan was credited with the sack — eventually putting Dallas in a third-and-21 situation from its own 30-yard line.

The Redskins could have gone with a conservative five defensive back alignment and kept their safeties deep to prevent a long pass. Or they could’ve charged after Romo, hoping pressure would end the Dallas drive. They opted for the latter.

“We’ll put our guys in front of their guys any day," said linebacker Rocky McIntosh. “That’s what he did. Gave us a chance to go out there and make a play. We just didn’t make a play that time.”

Romo took the ball and the Redskins charged ahead en masse. Wide receiver Dez Bryant was all alone with Hall, the Redskins’ Pro Bowl cornerback, and Romo got rid of the ball just before the blitz reached him. Bryant made the catch for a 30-yard gain. The Cowboys picked up an additional 15 yards when Hall was flagged for a facemask penalty.

Hall called it a “terrible play” but wasn’t more specific. He did take issue with the facemask penalty, though.

“I told the ref after the game, worst call of the game,” he said. “He’s going to get some demerit points for that.”

With the penalty, the Cowboys were on the Washington 25-yard line, comfortably in field goal range.

While the Cowboys failed to get another first down, Dallas place kicker Dan Bailey had no problem hitting his sixth field goal of the day, a 40-yarder that gave Dallas the 18-16 lead.

In the Redskins’ postgame locker room, players weren’t criticizing the team’s decision to blitz on third down. Typically, linebackers and safeties say they like being freed to chase the quarterback.

“I don’t know who called it,” Hall said. “But we got to play what’s called and we damn sure tried.”

“We needed to make the plays and we didn’t make ’em,” he continued. “That’s it. You can't look around and try to find something [positive] when it’s not there.”

Coaches returned to Washington early Tuesday morning and will review film of the game. Shanahan likes the team’s aggressive blitzes and said they helped the Redskins as much as they might’ve hurt Monday night. In fact, it was an effective blitz that set up third and long in the first place, he noted.

“You can go back, second guess everything. At the end of the day, we had a chance to have the sack there,” Shanahan said. Romo “did a good job scrambling, made a play, and hey, it happens. That’s the nature of this game.”

Rick Maese is a sports features writer for The Washington Post.
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