By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 28, 2009
DETROIT, Sept. 27 While questions will surround some of the offensive play-calling, perhaps more surprising for the Redskins in Sunday's 19-14 loss to the Detroit Lions was the inconsistent play from a defensive unit that a season ago was ranked No. 4 in the NFL and was expected to be even better this season.
The Lions managed 381 yards of total offense. Only one team -- the New York Giants -- managed more against Washington last season.
"We can't sugarcoat it: We're not as good as we think we are -- on both sides of the ball," cornerback Carlos Rogers said.
Defensive coordinator Greg Blache said he has no idea how his unit might rebound from Sunday's stunning loss. "No excuses," Blache said. "We got our butt kicked by a team that was better prepared, better motivated and executed. And that's what it is."
Comments from the defensive players following the loss revealed a unit not simply looking for answers, rather one searching for an identity.
"We have a lot of people in here who think they're better than they are," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "There's a lot of guys running around here who think they've arrived. They haven't made a play in this league, and they think they've arrived."
The defense that emerged from Sunday's game is embattled and battered. At different times against the Lions, five defensive players had to be helped off the field. Defensive tackles Albert Haynesworth and Cornelius Griffin, linebackers London Fletcher and Brian Orakpo, and Rogers all eventually came back, but Blache was forced to rotate in reserves. A hungry Detroit offense had no problem dictating the pace of the game.
Haynesworth might've been the day's scariest injury. Coming off a third-down sack of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, Haynesworth lay motionless with a right hip flexor injury. He was carted off the field and received treatment before coming back to the field midway through the third quarter.
Following the game, Haynesworth spoke to local reporters for the first time since the team's Week 1 loss to the New York Giants and said he wasn't certain how the hip injury will affect him in the coming weeks. "I hope it'll be okay," he said.
Haynesworth was the team's biggest offseason upgrade and had many predicting the defensive unit would be among the league's best. It forced no turnovers against the Lions, and Coach Jim Zorn said he was disappointed with the unit's performance on third downs. The Lions entered the game ranked No. 29 in the NFL on third-down conversions; in one half against the Redskins, they converted 9 of 12 attempts. They finished the game converting 10 of 18.
Their struggles were spread around on Sunday, as the defensive line failed to pressure Stafford, the Detroit running game bullied Washington for 116 yards in the first half and 154 for the game, and the secondary gave up big plays and made costly mistakes -- perhaps none bigger than safety Chris Horton's pass-interference penalty late in the game.
With 6 minutes 18 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Lions were clinging to a 13-7 lead and faced third and nine from the Redskins 48-yard line. Stafford let loose a deep floater to the end zone, where Lions wide receiver Bryant Johnson and Horton leapt. The Redskins' second-year safety fell on Johnson, and the flag quickly followed, gift-wrapping for the Lions first and goal from the 1-yard line.
"I was just running, and I figured right when I got close to him, I could turn around and look. And I did just that," Horton said. "I didn't bump him. I didn't move him off the spot. I was trying to make a play on the ball, too. The defender should have an opportunity to make a play on the ball."
Two plays later, Detroit running back Maurice Morris punched it in from two yards, providing the cushion the Lions needed to nab their first win.
The Lions controlled the clock for 22 minutes in the first half and 36:48 for the game. Detroit scored on long, grueling drives of 99, 74, 86 and 85 yards.
As the team begins looking for urgent answers, eyes were wandering around the locker room Sunday. Asked whether the defense took the Lions lightly, Hall was quick and to the point.
"I didn't," he said. "There's a whole lot more people in this locker room, but I didn't. Every single snap, I'm in everybody's face. I didn't. I can't speak for everyone else in this locker room."
Despite missing the final quarter, Detroit running back Kevin Smith, who had just 103 yards entering Sunday's game, finished with 101 yards on 16 carries. Washington wasn't bit hard by wide receiver Calvin Johnson (49 yards on five catches), but Stafford finished with 241 yards on 21-of-36 passing.
"We've lost two games. We have 13 more to go," Griffin said. "You can hang your head, be upset, [but] this is the time where a real man stands up. His character shows up."