Defenseless at the Start, Redskins Wonder What Might Have Been

The Redskins struggle on offense and lose to the host Giants, 16-7, in the NFL's season opener on Sept. 4.
By Jason La Canfora
Friday, September 5, 2008

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. Each snapshot told a story of despair for the Washington Redskins' defense.

There was cornerback Carlos Rogers talking and gesturing animatedly toward safety LaRon Landry on just the fifth play of the season, after Plaxico Burress was wide open for a 30-yard gain. ("That was a miscommunication between me and LaRon," Rogers said.)

There was Landry, flat on his back on New York's second drive, barely moving after tailback Brandon Jacobs steamrolled over him.

There was corner Fred Smoot, staring at his hands after somehow dropping what could have been an interception in the end zone.

There was safety Reed Doughty, pounding the artificial grass at Giants Stadium in disgust after quarterback Eli Manning completed yet another pass to Burress as New York was driving to extend its first-half lead to 16-0.

Coach Jim Zorn's tenure as head coach of the Redskins began Thursday night before a national television audience in the first NFL game of the season, but it was not the only inglorious debut. Greg Blache was on the sidelines as Washington's top defensive coach for the first time after four years under Gregg Williams, and Friday's game film review of the first half will leave him every bit as disgusted as Zorn. Blache's team failed to stop New York from scoring on its four first-half possessions in the 16-7 loss, with second-half adjustments coming too late to reverse the outcome.

All of the lingering issues from seasons past -- lack of a consistent pass rush, lack of dynamic young players on the defensive line, issues of depth in the secondary, too many dropped interceptions -- percolated anew, while preseason concerns about stopping the run and third-down ineffectiveness were exposed again by the Super Bowl champs.

"We couldn't get off the field on third down in the first half," Blache said, "and we just didn't take advantage of the opportunities that were presented to us."

While those in the secondary bore the most obvious pain from opportunity lost, the lack of a sustained pass rush was too often evident as well. The Giants amassed 241 yards in the first half and held the ball for nearly 21 minutes; all four of their drives lasted at least 4 minutes 17 seconds. New York had six plays of 16 yards or more in the half.

"We just didn't match their intensity in the first half," defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery said.

The Giants were 5 for 8 on third down. Burress had seven catches for 98 yards in the half, 10 for 133 in the game. He was pretty much unstoppable when Smoot, who left in the second half with a back injury, or Rogers, who continued to struggle with would-be interceptions, tried to cover him. Jacobs ran 11 times for 74 yards, a 6.7-yard average, in the half. New York had 154 rushing yards, with a 4.8 average, in the game.

"If we make one of those third-down plays early, maybe it's a different game," linebacker London Fletcher said.

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