Since 1999, when quarterback Brad Johnson, running back Stephen Davis and receiver Michael Westbrook teamed up to power the NFL’s second-best offense, the Washington Redskins have consistently failed to score points and rack up yardage.
Conversely, the Redskins defense has finished in the top 10 in eight of the last 10 seasons. For better or for worse, that’s what Washington Redskins football has boiled down in recent history. The defense keeps the team in the ballgame and then it’s a question of whether or not the offense can do enough to win the ballgame.
Well, after giving up 30 points in back-to-back games against Houston and St. Louis, it’s clear something is not right with the Redskins defense.
You can point to the offense and rightly wonder why running back Clinton Portis seems to be falling down to avoid contact, or why receiver Joey Galloway is prominently involved even though he hasn’t been productive in years, but I would counter that the defense is held to a higher standard.
The offense, regardless of who is drawing up the plays or who is active on game day, still can’t score consistently in the red zone. It still can’t put together time consuming drives to keep the Redskins defense fresh. The offense still takes dumb penalties at the worst possible times.
But that’s what we expect from the offense at this point. Stephon Heyer isn’t very good, so when he’s in the game, you know an ill-timed holding penalty by Heyer is surely going to erase a key third-down conversion. That’s what happens when a below-average player is asked to play one of the most important positions in football.
For my money though, there’s nothing more troubling than watching the once-reliable Redskins defense fail to stop anyone. It’s one thing to give up yards in bulk to Matt Schaub and the Texans’ offense. They had the top passing attack in football last season and can score points with ease on anyone.
But it’s another story entirely when the Rams, led by a rookie quarterback and without the services of Steven Jackson for half of the game, light you up. That’s when it’s time to panic.
"I don’t know whether you want to call it playing down to the level of the opponent, but whatever you call it, we definitely do that against teams that haven’t won in a long time," said middle linebacker London Fletcher. "The Rams haven’t won at home in two years. They haven’t scored 30 points in a long time. We all have ownership in this."
How can we honestly say the Redskins "play down" to the level of the opponent when they consistently find ways to lose to every doormat they line up against?
In a one-year span, the Redskins lost to Detroit, who snapped a 19-game losing streak by beating Washington, Kansas City, which had dropped 16 of 17, and St. Louis, which had lost 27 of 28. When that happens, it’s safe to say you’re not "playing" anymore. You’re officially as bad as the rest of them.
"We didn’t focus," said defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth. "We kind of expected, ‘Oh, this is the Rams, we’re just gonna come in here and beat them.’ But they’re an NFL team too. They get draft picks, just like we do. They prepare, just like we did. We just kind of let them off the hook. We spotted them 14 points and gave them confidence that they could play with us."
You know it’s bad when Haynesworth, of all people, is the voice of reason.
Equally as alarming was the fact that some Redskins players began to use the switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 as an excuse for the recent woes – suggesting that it takes time for everyone to fully grasp their responsibilities in a new scheme. While that is true, to a small extent, that has nothing to do with the Redskins giving up 60 points and 891 yards in their last two games.
Think about it – opponents aren’t airing it out with 50-yard bombs or killing defenders with double moves, like they were a year ago. They’re dinking and dunking their way down the field. They’re handing it off and happily settling for four or five yards per run to give them manageable third downs.
Both Schaub and Rams rookie Sam Bradford took three-step drops and got rid of the ball quickly. Redskins defenders have been in position to make plays, they’re just failing to get the job done. A week after he said this was his defense, there was cornerback DeAngelo Hall, falling down in coverage of Rams receiver Mark Clayton at the worst possible time.
A week ago it was safety Reed Doughty, left alone in coverage against Texans standout Andre Johnson on a key fourth down because cornerback Phillip Buchanon lost track of the ball and quit on the play at the 10-yard line.
And damn near every long play the defense has given up this year happens because a defender got an arm on the ball carrier, but failed to bring him down. Make one guy miss and suddenly you’re looking at daylight. It’s how Jackson busted off his 42-yard touchdown in the first quarter – two defenders got a hand on him, but couldn’t even slow Jackson down.
The players are in position to make the play; they’re just not getting it done. And while it may be easier to point the finger at the transition to a new defensive scheme, "film don’t lie." When those players see the game film, they’re going to have to accept the fact that this loss falls on their shoulders. They need to stop making excuses and start making plays.
"We're coming into a new defense, and we've just got to feel comfortable with ourselves in this defense," Haynesworth said. "We've got to rely more on the scheme and figure out what we need to do."
This, mind you, is coming from the guy who can’t stand the scheme. If he’s saying everyone needs to get with the program, then what else do you need? The next month is going to be brutal for the Redskins. Philadelphia, Green Bay, Indianapolis and Chicago all have dynamic offenses, meaning if the Washington defense can’t get it together, then the season will be over before Halloween.
Will players drop the excuses and embrace the new defense or are Redskins fans destined for another heartbreaking season? Ask me again in a month and I’ll have the answer for you.