By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
When the Washington Redskins' plane landed Sunday night after a 20-17 loss at Tampa Bay, defensive end Phillip Daniels and defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin did not go home, unlike most of their teammates.
They headed for Redskins Park and went to the film room to review their afternoon of work to try to answer the defensive questions that cropped up only a few hours earlier in Florida, when an offensively challenged Buccaneers team that could not move the ball against anyone moved fluidly against the Redskins.
The Buccaneers were averaging 3 1/2 yards per carry for the season, but Sunday, as so many teams have done against the Redskins this year, they played above their norm against a beleaguered defense. Tampa Bay rushed for 181 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per rush.
Daniels and Griffin watched the whole game on film, and what galled Daniels the most was the combination of the predictable, consistent way Tampa ran the football and the Redskins' inability to adjust. Tampa rushed for 46 yards in the first quarter, 54 in the second, 32 in the third and 49 in the fourth, the biggest chunk coming on a 25-yard gain by Carnell Williams with 7 minutes 53 seconds remaining and the Redskins trailing by a touchdown. Four minutes and five plays later, Matt Bryant kicked a 31-yard field goal to put the game out of reach.
"Missed tackles, assignments, just being where you're supposed to be. Not attacking blocks, the lead blocks, that kind of stuff," Daniels said. "That's the stuff I see. That's the stuff we're not doing well. Everyone has to be accountable."
On Oct. 8, just before they took the field against the New York Giants, the Redskins were ranked fifth in the league in rushing defense and third in average, giving up just 3.2 yards per carry. Though Dallas rushed for 138 yards in a 27-10 win in Week 2 over Washington, no running back had rushed for 100 yards against the Redskins in the first four games.
In the six games since Oct. 8, the Redskins have dropped to 19th, and opponents are averaging 149.3 yards on the ground.
"The main thing is the missed tackles at the line of scrimmage. Again, six or seven more yards, that kills you," Daniels said. "And then you find a gap, and that's it.
"I think we're not reacting fast enough right now to get to the hole. We're not moving like we used to. Until we figure out how to get back to that, teams are going to keep running on us.'"
During that span, four of six running backs -- Travis Henry, Tiki Barber, Brian Westbrook and Williams -- have rushed for 100 yards. Last season, the Redskins yielded 100 yards to only three rushers.
Daniels underscored a pressing issue within the Redskins' defense. Opposing offenses have pointed out that the Redskins' weak side is a fertile place to build a running game. On opening night against Minnesota, Chester Taylor rushed almost exclusively to the left side. Taylor did so for two reasons, the first being the Vikings' big left-side tandem of tackle Bryant McKinnie and guard Steve Hutchinson. But the second had everything to do with the Redskins.
On film, the Redskins saw that defensive end Andre Carter was being pushed outside enough to create a large space, and weak-side linebacker Warrick Holdman could not fortify the line. The result was a gaping hole on the left side of the defense for the running backs to run through.
After the Tampa Bay game, both Williams and left guard Dan Buenning said the key to the Buccaneers' run game was to pound to the left. Still, such an old formula has not produced personnel changes. Holdman has started every game, and in a time when the Redskins are giving some of their younger players an extended look, second-round pick Rocky McIntosh still has not gotten his first NFL start. James Posey, who played on the outside in Buffalo, has not been able to supplant Holdman on the weak side.
Inside, the Redskins have experimented. Slowed by injuries, defensive tackle Joe Salave'a has essentially lost his starting job to Kedric Golston and Demetric Evans, who started the season as a backup to Carter and is tied for the team lead in sacks with two. Evans has received more snaps in recent weeks at tackle.
"I'm starting to get more comfortable there," Evans said. "I like it inside in a system that will allow me to move. If we're just going to bull straight ahead, I'm probably not big enough for that. But in a system that relies on quickness, I think I could be pretty good at it."
Against Tampa Bay, Williams and Buenning exploited the right side of the Redskins' defense, and for Griffin and Daniels watching the film Sunday night, it was apparent, especially because primarily running to the weak side goes against football convention. The strong side -- the side of the offensive line on which the tight end lines up -- is designed for running plays. But the Redskins are so deficient on the opposite side of the line that teams have run at Carter and Holdman all season long.
"We pride ourselves on running the ball and stopping people from running on us. That's how we won last year," Daniels said. "This isn't Redskin ball right now. We are about going out and hitting people in the mouth and not letting people run on us."