Robert Griffin III’s play draws the most attention as Washington looks like a shell of the team that won seven straight games to capture the NFC East and reach the playoffs last season. But the ineptitude of the team’s defense has proved equally — if not more — alarming.
Through two games, the Redskins’ defense has offered little resistance to opponents, surrendering 511 yards and 35.5 points a game. No team has surrendered more yards than the Redskins, and only the New York Giants have given up more points (38.5 ppg).
The 1,023 yards surrendered by Washington has the team on pace to shatter single-season record of 7,042 yards (440.1 per game), set last season by the New Orleans Saints, by more than 1,000 yards.
That’s far from the picture Redskins officials and players envisioned as they brought back 10 of the 11 starters from last year and also banked on the healthy returns of outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and strong safety Brandon Meriweather to help build on last season’s second-half success.
The expected big plays and strong stands out of the unit? Nonexistent.
Instead, gaping holes up front, missed tackles and blown pass coverages are common. Meanwhile, the Redskins find themselves grasping for answers.
“Last two games, last week we went against a great scheme that nobody had seen in the NFL,” cornerback Josh Wilson said. “This week, we went against a great quarterback, who read a lot of coverages wrong, but still made a lot of great throws and completed passes, man. At the end of the day, we’ve got to go and do what we’ve got to do, man. At the end of the day, we’ll look back at what we could do better and make sure everybody understands their responsibility and takes care of that responsibility.”
Asked for his take on the reason for struggles, strong safety Reed Doughty — who played in place of a concussed Meriweather — said: “I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a tackle here or there. It’s not missed assignments. I know that. Maybe a leverage, a missed tackle, or what? But it’s definitely something that has to become a focus — third down especially. They didn’t have a ton of success on first and second down running the ball, but it just seemed we had too many third and six, not enough third and longs. When we had those early in the first half, we had a couple sacks and helped ourselves out, but there were too many third and fours and third and fives and they were converting.”
Initially it appeared that the Redskins’ defensive backs would get help from an improved pass rush.
On Sunday, Orakpo had one sack and fellow outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan had two. (Wilson added another on a corner blitz). But once they realized their struggles to protect Aaron Rodgers in their normal scheme, the Packers switched to a no-huddle attack, and that prevented the Redskins from making substitutions, and also made it difficult for them to get calls from the sideline in time to make adjustments. Rodgers found himself under pressure very rarely after that.
“They came out and tried to no-huddle us a little bit, kind of caught us off-guard a little bit,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “We were looking to the sideline, trying to get calls. But like I said, it’s about playing fundamental football. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about: running, hitting the guy with the ball, checking the receiver who goes out for the route, and that’s what we’ve got to get better at.”
All of that sounds straight forward, but the Redskins couldn’t manage to do any of that. Normally strong against the run, the Redskins have allowed a league-worst 201 rushing yards per game.
On Sunday, defensive linemen proved unable to clog running lanes, and the Packers’ James Starks ran free. Inside linebacker London Fletcher has long been Washington’s top tackler. But on Sunday, he didn’t have an impact and frequently failed to shed blocks and get to the ballcarrier. Fletcher, who for his career has averaged more than eight tackles a game, managed just one solo tackle and an assist against the Packers.
In an attempt to upgrade their secondary, Washington this offseason drafted cornerback David Amerson and free safety Bacarri Rambo. It was expected that they at times would make youthful mistakes. But veterans have struggled as well. Washington’s defenders didn’t record a single pass breakup.
Now the Redskins find themselves in a desperate situation. No team since 2008 has made the playoffs after starting the year with an 0-2 record. And things don’t get easier this week as the Detroit Lions, who boast potent offensive weapons in wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush, come to town.
“They’re probably smiling right now, looking at our defense,” Hall said. “They’re probably smiling, champing at the bit to get out there against us.”
The Redskins, as they struggle for answers, say there are no easy fixes. But they acknowledge things need to improve quickly.
Mike Shanahan could come up with only one remedy.
“Better practices,” the coach said. “In general, the only way you get the little things fixed is by practicing full-speed and making sure you don’t make mistakes. If you get better in that area, then you’ve got a chance to get better on game day.”
Hall said that avoiding discouragement and dissention also is key.
“You definitely have got to encourage the guys. That’s just part of it,” he said. “It’s not like college where you lose one game and you’re out of it. It’s the National Football League, where there’s so much parity that anything can happen. . . . We’re in a division that’s pretty tough but the great part about it is everybody did lose. We felt like we could’ve gone into Green Bay and try to get back in it. That’s what we wanted to do to try to put us back in the picture. But right now, we’re a game behind. We’re 0-2, but we’re a game behind everyone in our division. That was our goal, to be competitive in our division, ultimately win the division and make the playoffs. We know that goal is still alive. It’s going to take a lot for us to get there, especially with the way we’ve been playing. But we’ve got to turn things around.”