Bright Spots And Red Flags For the Defense

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 29, 2009

In the first game of the preseason, the Redskins allowed 500 yards of offense to the Baltimore Ravens. The following week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, defensive coordinator Greg Blache wasn't shy about expressing disappointment in his starters. And in Friday night's game against the New England Patriots -- the most anticipated contest of the preseason -- the Redskins' defense had both reason to worry and cause for celebration.

"Some of the things that happened out there, there's going to be a lack of happiness," Coach Jim Zorn said of his defensive unit following a 27-24 loss to the Patriots.

Unlike the previous two preseason games, the Redskins' first-team defense stayed on the field into the third quarter, providing the biggest hint yet of what the regular season might have in store. There were bright spots -- such as defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth's big hit on quarterback Tom Brady to close the first half. And there were plenty of bad moments -- essentially every play involving Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss.

"Come on, that's one of the best offenses in football. We're not alarmed," said cornerback Fred Smoot, who started in place of an injured Carlos Rogers. "We didn't really bring out all our tricks either. We were real vanilla with them, too. We got what we wanted out of this. We played, we competed, and we came out healthy."

The Patriots' initial drive of the game lasted four plays and six yards, but New England's first-team offense scored on its next three possessions. With scary precision, Brady picked apart the secondary, particularly cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who drew the night's toughest assignment in Moss. He didn't have much success.

"It's football," Hall said. "Guys get paid to throw the ball and catch it just like we get paid to stop it. We've still got to get better. I think everyone knows this is still a work in progress. I feel great about this team, I feel great about this defense."

On New England's three scoring drives of the first half, Brady was 12-of-14 passing for 150 yards. Moss had six of those receptions, totaling 90 yards and both of the Patriots' touchdowns.

Despite Haynesworth ending Brady's night early, the pass rush rarely pressured Brady.

"They have some tremendous weapons on their offense as well," Zorn said, "with Brady in there standing strong. We didn't flush him very much."

On the night, the Redskins' defense held a potent New England offense to 276 yards -- 204 of which came against Washington's first-team unit. Washington did have two interceptions and forced a fumble, giving the Redskins the turnover edge for the first time of the preseason.

As a team, the Redskins gave up 113 yards on 15 penalties. The first-team defense accounted for 45 of those yards on five costly infractions.

"Too many penalties, man, and some big ones," defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said. "I think DeAngelo had a personal foul. All those things. You take those away, it's a different game."

While coaches will surely talk to their players about those flags next week, leading up to Friday night's game, Blache was especially upset at his first-team's third-down play. Last Saturday against the Steelers, the Redskins allowed the defending Super Bowl champions to convert 3 of 4 third-down attempts.

By contrast, on Friday night the Patriots converted only 2 of 7 against the Redskins first-team defense, one of which came on third and three from the Redskins 27 in the second quarter. It was the second Brady-to-Moss score of the night, a 27-yard reception.

A quarter earlier, on the Patriots' first third-down conversion, the Redskins had a chance to halt the first New England scoring drive early. But on third-and-one from the Patriots 36-yard line, Washington linebacker London Fletcher whiffed on a tackle attempt in the backfield, and running back Laurence Maroney pushed ahead for three yards. New England scored its first touchdown four plays later.

On that initial scoring drive, Hall received a strong stiff arm from Moss on a first-down reception and two plays later failed to get strong position on Moss, who shielded Hall away from the ball.

Four minutes later, New England was driving again, and Hall made a costly mistake on third down. Moss caught a pass short of the first-down marker, but Hall was penalized 15 yards for a face mask, keeping the drive alive. Moss scored again three plays later, zipping by Hall, who was in zone coverage, and beating safety LaRon Landry in the end zone.

"They have a great offense," Zorn said. "You let them have that extra series, and bad results happen for the home team."

Staff writers Barry Svrluga and Dan Steinberg contributed to this report.

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