Gashed both by the run and the pass in each of their first two outings of the season, the members of Washington’s defense on Sunday set out to put forth a stingier effort and position their team to snap a two-game losing streak. The unit did display improvement in some areas, but ultimately failed after surrendering two big plays too many in a 27-20 loss to the Detroit Lions at FedEx Field on Sunday.
After allowing a league-high 402 rushing yards in their first two outings of the season, the Redskins believed that the first key to changing their fortunes would center around stopping the run. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett placed an emphasis on technique after the Redskins were plagued by missed tackles in Weeks 1 and 2, hoping his defense would regain the form that placed it in the top-five against the run last season.
The Redskins caught a break when Lions running back Reggie Bush, a threat both in the rushing and passing attacks, sat out. But they still had to account for his bruising backup, Joique Bell.
And, the Redskins knew they had a monstrous task in defending the passing game, starting with wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
Hoping to account for both aspects, Haslett gave the Lions a look that his unit hadn’t yet used this season — going with the base 3-4 front of three defensive linemen and four linebackers, and then throwing in a new wrinkle that featured three cornerbacks and one deep safety. The hope was that the base front would prove formidable against the run, and the modified secondary alignment would help account for Detroit’s multiple receiving threats.
“We ran more of a base package. Our first two games, we were in a lot of nickel, and I think teams were able to stretch us out and find seams inside, so we went back to a base package,” linebacker Perry Riley Jr. said. “It worked out for us on the run, but we still gave up too many big plays here and there in the air though.”
The Redskins were stout against the run, and yielded a 23-yard catch to Johnson, but did recover to force the Lions to punt on that first series of the game. And then cornerback DeAngelo Hall scored on an interception return for a touchdown on Detroit’s second possession.
But the Lions got going on their third possession, 85 yards on eight plays to get on the board. The tackling woes returned on that drive as the Redskins missed four tackles on a 37-yard catch and run by Bell, and later on that drive missed three tackles on a 12-yard run up the middle.
Then came a 10-play, 92-yard drive capped by a five-yard toss to tight end Joseph Fauria.
But the unit buckled down again after that, forcing a punt, holding the Lions to a field goal on another trip inside the red zone, and then forcing three more consecutive punts before holding Detroit to another field goal.
“Just our mind-set throughout the week [changed], and our preparation,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “All that carried over into the game, but we have to sustain that for the whole game. I thought we did a great job, but obviously, it doesn’t mean anything because we lost.”
Washington got the ball back following that field goal — a 28-yarder by David Akers — with the game still within reach, as Detroit nursed a 20-17 lead with 11:08 remaining. But Robert Griffin’s fumble at the end of a 21-yard run gave the Lions life, and the Redskins’ defense proved incapable of one final stand.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford directed a nine-play, 71-yard scoring drive that opened with a 16-yard completion to Bell, continued with a 33-yard completion to wide receiver Kris Durham, and shortly after, Stafford connected with Johnson for an 11-yard touchdown strike in traffic that put the Lions up 27-17.
Ultimately, the Redskins achieved one of their three goals on defense. They limited the rushing attack, holding Bell to 63 yards on 20 carries. But they surrendered 385 passing yards and lost the game.
“It’s frustrating,” Orakpo said of the late-game collapse. “We’ve just got to go back to the drawing board. We did come out with a lot better effort, but we just have to improve.”
Said Hall, “We’ve got to right the ship. It’s no secret. Next week, we have to go to Oakland and get the win. Bottom line.”