Redskins' defense tries to avoid late letdowns

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 11, 2009

Long gone is the sentiment that the Washington Redskins' defense would need to bail out the team's anemic offense if Washington was to win many games. In each of the past three weeks, quarterback Jason Campbell and the offense built fourth-quarter leads, only to watch on the sideline as the defense took the field and relinquished them.

Statistically, the defensive unit is still one of the league's best, but late in games it has given up big plays and long drives that have cost the Redskins potential wins against playoff-caliber teams.

As the defense prepares for Sunday's game at the Oakland Raiders, players and coaches are determined to curb the trend but can't point their finger at a solution.

"There's no secret to it," defensive end Andre Carter said. "It's all about 11 guys being mentally strong and in sync."

The explanations range from effort and execution to scheme and strategy, and players and coaches say they expect fourth-quarter improvement in each of those areas this weekend. Secondary coach Jerry Gray said the team has recently gotten away from "playing Redskin football."

"And that's swarming, taking the ball away, doing the things that we know and wanting to be out there in the fourth quarter," he said. "I think that's the position you want to be in. The thing we have to do is think about getting a sack or interception in the fourth quarter. And that creates turnovers, that creates different change in plays. And we haven't been able to do that.

"Until we do that, every team is going to want to play us in the fourth quarter," he added.

That's likely true for any future opponents who've studied film of the past three games, losses against Dallas, Philadelphia and New Orleans.

Through their first nine games of the year, the Redskins were outscored only 42-41 in the game's final quarter. In blowing leads the past three weeks, the Redskins have been outscored 27-6 in the fourth quarter. In doing so, they've allowed five scoring drives of 60-plus yards.

The defensive struggles aren't limited to the final quarter. In the team's first seven games, Washington allowed an average of 17.6 points and 283 yards per game. In the past five, opponents have amassed 23 points and 352 yards of offense per outing.

A pass defense that was ranked No. 1 in the NFL through 11 games plummeted to fifth after Saints quarterback Drew Brees's performance last Sunday. Brees's 419 passing yards were the most by a quarterback against the Redskins since the Cardinals' Boomer Esiason in 1996. The game provided a low point for the defense, as the Redskins allowed 463 yards of offense, including 282 after the first half.

This is a defensive unit that finished the 2008 season as the league's fourth best and was expected to be even better. After adding All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and drafting Brian Orakpo, the team heads to Oakland with the league's ninth-ranked defense.

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