By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 14, 2009
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Sept. 13 -- Midway through the final quarter, the New York Giants had just converted another third down when 24-year-old wide receiver Steve Smith again beat the Redskins' high-priced cornerback DeAngelo Hall. The 26-yard reception resulted in yet another first down, kept the clock ticking and the Redskins' eager offense on the sidelines.
When Hall eventually walked off the playing field, defensive coordinator Greg Blache approached him. "I said, 'I hung you out,' " Blache recalled later. "He said, 'No, coach, I screwed it up.' I said, 'No, I knew where they were going with the football. I could've given you help. I hung you out.' "
There was no shortage of defensive players raising a hand to accept responsibility following Sunday's season-opening 23-17 loss to the Giants. The bad news for the Redskins, as they prepare for the St. Louis Rams next week: There was a lot to accept responsibility for in Sunday's loss.
"We still haven't jelled quite yet as a defense," defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said. "Until we get that stuff straightened, this stuff probably will continue."
Haynesworth, a free agent from Tennessee whose contract with the Redskins could pay him as much as $100 million, was the biggest piece of the team's offseason defensive upgrades, along with first-round draft pick Brian Orakpo and Hall, who was re-signed. None of the three had a big impact in Sunday's game. Orakpo finished with two tackles, Hall missed tackles and Haynesworth spent a noticeable number of plays on the sideline catching his breath.
"What they want me to do is go as hard as I can, and if I get tired, come out, catch my breath and then go back out," said Haynesworth.
The Giants accumulated 351 yards of offense on Washington, which had the fourth-ranked defense in the NFL a year ago and was expected to improve on that this season. The defense did notch one sack of Giants quarterback Eli Manning and forced one fumble, and Hall intercepted a pass tipped by LaRon Landry.
By halftime, the Giants had converted 4 of 7 third-down attempts, including Manning's touchdown pass to Mario Manningham on third and seven from the Redskins 30-yard line. It was a routine pass to the first-down marker, but cornerback Fred Smoot missed a tackle, Andre Carter whiffed on Manningham and Hall failed to knock him out of bounds.
"The first guy is the guy who has to make the tackle," Blache said. "Make the tackle and you're out of it."
Hall was visibly disappointed in his performance following the game and said he was upset he missed tackles. He said the Giants' offense kept the secondary off-balance and defensive backs didn't execute.
"You can't do that," said Hall. "You can't do that against a team like that. That's why they came out with the win."
As Manning converted third downs, drives stretched and the Washington defense spent more time on the field than coaches would've preferred. In fact, the Giants controlled the clock for 20 minutes 18 seconds in the first half alone, compared with the Redskins' 9:42.
"Third down is something that we have to really focus on," said defensive end Carter. "We're doing well first and second down. Third down is like, we've got to go get them. That's the big down. A team like New York -- any team that has offensive weapons -- they can be very successful and continue that drive."
Said linebacker London Fletcher, who led the Redskins with 18 tackles Sunday: "You're not going to hold the Giants to zero percent on third down. But I think one thing you need to understand is, okay, when they convert, if they convert, let's get them the next time. Sometimes it can't be a situation when they convert you can kind of go, 'Oh, man.' But understand that this is going to be a street fight. It more than likely is going to come down to four quarters. Just play the next play."
The Redskins entered the game knowing they'd have to slow down Brandon Jacobs, the Giants' 6-foot-4, 264-pound running back. They stacked the area near the line of scrimmage much of the game with eight defenders and held Jacobs to just 46 yards on 16 carries. But the strategy left just single-man coverage on the Giants' receivers.
Young and unproven, New York's receiving corps provided a rude introduction to the Redskins' defensive backs, taking advantage of man-to-man coverage and lax tackling.
"In the NFL, when guys leave, guys move in," Blache said. "Because you don't know the name, doesn't mean there isn't a good name. It's always been that way. This is still the NFL and these are NFL-quality receivers."
Orakpo made his debut, starting as the Redskins' strong-side linebacker and often lining up on the edge.
"I think overall we played hard, we played physical," Orakpo said, "but at times, we didn't play smart."
Though the Redskins only committed four penalties for 32 yards, their infractions often proved costly.
For example, while the final quarter began as just a one-possession game, the Giants hit a 45-yard field goal at the 11:03 mark to make it 20-10. It could've been a tougher kick -- a 50-yarder, in fact.
On third and eight from the 32-yard line, Manning threw an incomplete pass, but the play was negated because Haynesworth jumped offsides. Manning again threw an incomplete pass on third down, but the flag had already moved the Giants five yards closer and the damage was done.
Asked after the game to assess his debut in a Redskins uniform, Haynesworth said: "It doesn't really matter. We didn't win, so I don't care how I played."