The Washington Redskins have managed more than two touchdowns in just one game this season. They’re averaging 19.2 points per game, tied for 23rd in the NFL. With a new quarterback and a revamped offensive line, there’s no telling what kind of offensive output they’ll put up Sunday at Carolina.
But the Redskins’ defensive players know they can’t afford to worry about that. They have to take it upon themselves to set up scoring opportunities.
“It’s pressure on any team when one side is struggling or you can’t get points on the board,” said cornerback DeAngelo Hall. “In the National Football League, you’ve got to score.”
The defense has placed added emphasis on forcing turnovers, effectively creating more scoring chances for starting quarterback John Beck and the offense.
“We’re just going to play our game, do what we do,” Hall said. “Hopefully we can try to get some turnovers, hopefully our offense can protect the ball, hopefully our special teams can make a couple big plays. And we can finally get this thing rolling with everybody on the same page.”
In their second year playing out of a 3-4 defense, the Redskins entered the season hoping to force more turnovers. They currently have eight, the same number they had through five games a season ago.
“It’s not like we don’t have any. It’s just that we could have a lot more,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “It does bother me because I think we need to have more. Obviously, if we get the ball a lot more, it will help our offense score some points. So we want to get as many turnovers as possible.”
The Redskins’ eight takeaways have resulted in three touchdowns and one field goal. The Redskins are ranked in the middle of the pack in both forced turnovers and points scored off takeaways. Coach Mike Shanahan’s goal is to be among the top five.
“When you’re in the middle of the pack or toward the end of the pack, usually in turnovers, good things usually don’t happen,” he said.
Washington’s opponents have fumbled a league-high 14 times. The Redskins have recovered only three of those, though. Moving forward, coaches want to take better advantage of those opportunities.
The Panthers, with only one win in six games, could present a good opportunity for the Redskins. Carolina has turned over the ball 10 times thus far. Quarterback Cam Newton is tied with Rex Grossman, who this week lost his starting quarterback job with Washington, with a league-high nine interceptions.
“He’s a mild-mannered guy and nothing really rattles him,” Haslett said of Newton. “Blitzes don’t rattle him, different coverages [don’t]. He’s poised. He really looks good to me.”
Though Newton is only a half-dozen games into his pro career, Washington players and coaches say he’s not necessarily prone to rookie mistakes. He’s actually shown some degree of patience, they say, and creates second and third opportunities for himself. Newton has thrown seven touchdown passes and has run for another six.
“It’s kind of funny when you watch the tape. You see guys hit him and they kind of bounce off,” Haslett said. “You kind of wonder, does he know he’s getting hit? That’s a big guy.”
Shanahan said the Panthers might have the best offensive line the Redskins have faced, though Newton has been sacked 10 times. If the Redskins can apply pressure and grab an early lead, Shanahan said the turnovers will come. The Redskins have trailed after the first quarter in three of their five games this year.
“Usually when you’re ahead you get a number of sacks, you get a number of turnovers,” Shanahan said. “If you can have teams playing catch-up football, usually you have a little bit more. We’re going to constantly work on turnover ratio.”
Until the offense shows more proficiency and the ability to take better advantage of scoring opportunities, defensive players know they can’t afford to make any mistakes.
“Just playing more cautious, really concentrating and focusing in on what you got to do on your assignments,” Hall said. “That’s really the main thing you got to do when one side of the ball is struggling, and you can’t get points up on the board.”