PITTSBURGH — Two things are clear about the Washington Redskins: They have a franchise quarterback and a defense that’s ruining their season. And no matter how many points Robert Griffin III produces, he can’t stop opponents from scoring easily against a defense in need of major changes.
The Pittsburgh Steelers became the latest team to exploit the NFL’s worst pass defense as they dominated the Redskins in a 27-12 victory. Washington’s deficiencies on defense again proved too much for Griffin to overcome, especially when he wasn’t as sharp as usual and the team’s receivers dropped passes as if they were afraid of the football.
The Redskins’ front seven generated a weak pass rush against Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who completed 73 percent of his attempts and threw three touchdown passes without an interception for an impressive 124.3 passer rating. Redskins defensive backs also continued to struggle badly, regardless of the coverage coordinator Jim Haslett called. Steelers receivers were given way too much space to run their patterns and the Redskins’ secondary reacted slowly after catches were made.
When Haslett discusses Washington’s performance on defense, he prefers to start by praising the group’s results against the run. He’s quick to point out that the Redskins, in their first seven games, had the NFL’s seventh-ranked rushing defense.
But there wasn’t much positive for Haslett to say after Pittsburgh’s offensive line overwhelmed the Redskins’ front. The Steelers had a 5.2 yards-per-carry average and Jonathan Dwyer (107 yards) became the first running back to gain more than 100 yards against the Redskins this season.
How efficient was Pittsburgh’s offense? Consider: The Steelers had three first-half touchdown drives of at least 10 plays and 74 yards.
Then, at the end of the embarrassing showing, the Redskins lost their cool.
Veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall, one of the team’s leaders on defense, was ejected late in the fourth quarter after arguing with an official. Hall took off his helmet, yelled at the official and repeatedly pointed in the official’s face during what appeared to be a profanity-laced tirade.
The Redskins obviously have holes on defense that could take more than one offseason to fill. There’s certainly nothing Haslett and Coach Mike Shanahan can do now to make significant improvements. Of course, that hasn’t stopped them from trying.
Haslett has shuffled personnel in the hope of finding a winning combination. He has turned to backups, such as linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, in search of a spark. The reality is that the Redskins probably need a massive infusion of talent that figures to be hard to find with their limited resources the next couple of years.
For the next two years, Washington, as a result of the Griffin trade, won’t have a first-round draft pick. This offseason, the Redskins will have $18 million less to spend in free agency because of the penalty imposed by the NFL for the way team management structured player contracts in the past.
Washington’s cornerbacks and safeties are not very good, according to two NFC defensive coaches familiar with the team’s talent. Injuries have also opened craters along the defensive line.
Not surprisingly, the pass rush has fallen off since outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, who led the team in sacks the past three seasons, and defensive end Adam Carriker, coming off a career-high 5.5 sacks in 2011, suffered season-ending injuries in a Week 2 loss to the St. Louis Rams. Linebacker Rob Jackson, who has started in place of Orakpo, has only a half sack. Second-year defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, Carriker’s primary replacement, has no sacks and has not made a big impact.
As bad as the Redskins’ defense has been, the team could be winless without Griffin. And when Griffin gets almost no help from Washington’s receivers, the team is definitely headed for a bad day. We know what went wrong for the defense. Let’s take a closer look at the offense.
At first glance, Griffin had his poorest outing of the season against the Steelers. He completed only 16 of 34 passes (45 percent) for 177 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. He finished with a 72.8 passer rating.
What the stats didn’t show, however, was that Redskins receivers were horrendous: They dropped 10 passes.
The temperature at game time was 45 degrees and it rained throughout the game. The game conditions weren’t great. The Steelers’ receivers, though, somehow managed to hold on to the ball.
Griffin isn’t the type to throw his teammates under the bus. Shanahan is in a position to speak his mind, which he did. “You can’t have that many drops,” Shanahan said.
Some of Griffin’s throws were either a little too high or low. Griffin has been much more accurate, but “I don’t care where the placement is,” Shanahan said. “As long as it hits your hands, you better catch it — or else you won’t be in the National Football League for very long.”
Logan Paulsen had four catches for 43 yards in his first game replacing Fred Davis, who’s out for the season, as the featured tight end. In Chris Cooley’s first game back with the team, the best tight end in franchise history was targeted once and had no receptions.
Davis is better at running deep routes than Paulsen is. Play-caller Kyle Shanahan often used Davis as a wideout to create mismatches. Without Davis, Shanahan has less flexibility to be creative.
No one knows how long it could take Cooley to become a force again. Or does Cooley have anything left?
“You miss Fred,” Mike Shanahan said. “If someone told you they don’t miss a Pro Bowl-[caliber] player, they’d be lying to you.”
Despite Griffin’s brilliance, the Redskins are only 3-5 at the midpoint of their season. Their unresolved issues on defense will continue to undermine the Griffin-led improvement on offense. The good news for the Redskins is that Griffin could be around for a long time — and at least some of their bad defensive players will be leaving soon.
For previous Jason Reid columns, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.
More Redskins and NFL coverage :
Game summary: Steelers 27, Redskins 12
Analysis: Redskins’ defense undermines offense
Photos: Scenes from Heinz Field
Couch Slouch: Football cliches a dime a dozen