The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Redskins Coach Jay Gruden demands more out of team’s ‘vanilla’ defense

Redskins Coach Jay Gruden is demanding more of a defense that has been one of the NFL's worst. (Evan Vucci/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

On the day after his defense was trampled for the second straight game, Washington Redskins Coach Jay Gruden started talking about quarterbacks — as in the ease with which the Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott stood in the pocket Sunday afternoon and waited patiently for his receivers to get open.

“The pass rush is not there,” Gruden said.

“Prescott’s patting the ball two and three times,” he added.

Then he frowned.

“And when we do get the pass rush, we’re not tight enough in coverage,” he said. “So it’s a combination really. I’m not blaming the pass rush. I’m not blaming the coverage. So we might have to get some more exotic looks to make the quarterback hold the ball a little longer to get home with the pressure.”

The Redskins are supposed to have one of the NFL’s better defenses, both according to their players and coaches but also based on the recent investments the team has made via free agency and the draft. But after the season’s first two game,s they are 30th in the league in yards allowed with 910 and have given up more than 30 points on each Sunday. Opponents are converting 64 percent of their third downs.

Some of the reason for this is the basic defense Washington has been playing, one without many blitzes or disguised coverages.

“Vanilla” is the word Gruden used to describe it.

Svrluga: The Redskins’ defense was supposed to be the strength of the team. It’s not.

When asked why the Redskins would play such a basic defense against two important NFC East opponents such as Philadelphia and Dallas, he pointed to the five new regulars in the group — three of whom are rookies.

“Youth,” he said. “We’re mixing and matching in the secondary.”

Injuries to experienced cornerbacks Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau are forcing Washington to play younger players such as rookie Jimmy Moreland and scrambling to find free agents to fill in as backups. Against the Eagles in Week 1, there were blown coverages that led to two long touchdowns by Philadelphia’s star wide receiver, DeSean Jackson. Gruden said his staff didn’t want the same thing to happen against Dallas.

“We didn’t want [big plays] to happen, obviously,” he said. “We want to challenge them and make them earn their grass and unfortunately they did, but we were a little bit more sound. We just didn’t make many plays.”

The season is in danger of falling apart quickly. At 0-2, with both of those losses in the division, the Redskins are in trouble, especially with two of their next three games coming against Chicago and New England. Gruden talked a lot Sunday about not hitting “the panic button.” The team’s newest player, former Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans cornerback Aaron Colvin, talked about how the Texans team he was on last year started 0-3, with lots of defensive breakdowns, only to win its next nine in a row on the way to becoming AFC South champions.

“I’ve seen it done before,” Colvin said. “I know that the media and the fans don’t want to hear that, because they want to hear, ‘What can you do for me now?’ We need to win. But in this locker room we need to realize that it really isn’t over, and the way we approach every single day, that correlates directly to Sundays, so we got to be able to do that.”

Gruden insisted Monday that he likes this team and is sure it will start winning.

“We have a good skill set in house,” he said before adding: “I think we’re a tough, physical football team. We just haven’t shown it right now.”

Boswell: Think the Redskins’ start to the season has been bad? It may be about to get worse.

He is optimistic that defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, who missed most of the Eagles game and all of the Cowboys game with a knee sprain, will be able to practice this week. He also hopes tight end Jordan Reed, who has been in the concussion protocol, will be cleared to play, although he had no update on Reed’s condition.

Even Colt McCoy — recovering from a series of offseason surgeries on his leg — might be able to practice some this week or next. Dunbar, whose sore knee kept him from practicing last week, wasn’t close to playing this past weekend. Moreau, recovering from an ankle injury, was slightly closer to returning. Gruden believes that either Dunbar or Moreau could be back this week, allowing the coaches to use more exotic schemes.

Mostly, though, he wants the third-down defense to be fixed. He wants the pass rush to be a threat. He backed away from a line uttered in frustration Sunday when he said the defensive coaches aren’t “reaching” the players. He said the communication is fine. The defense has to improve.

“Our standards haven’t changed,” he said. “We just got to play harder, demand more.”

Read more on the Washington Redskins:

Trent Williams’s holdout enters third week of Redskins’ season, with no end in sight

Hail or Fail: After Cowboys shred Redskins defense, Josh Norman rants against the media

Redskins may have a potential star in Terry McLaurin, but rest of playmakers have been lacking

Too many near-misses doom the Redskins in a frustrating loss to the Cowboys