CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 23: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers attempts to score a touchdown against Josh Wilson #26 and Stephen Bowen #72 both of the Washington Redskins at the Bank of America Stadium on October 23, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
For the first time all season, the Washington Redskins' defense let them down, and they paid the price against Cam Newton and Carolina. Is this the start of a trend?
Given what is known about this Washington Redskins team, it's pretty easy to figure out what their formula is for winning games.
It's a simple recipe: They must score around 17 points, control the clock by running the ball, don't turn the ball over and ask the defense to hold down the opposition. That sounds like a game plan that could be applicable for nearly every team in the league, but it might be especially true for this team. It's clear through six games that Washington does not have enough talent yet to overcome and achieve victory when any of those ingredient go awry.
That came to light Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. The defense failed to do it's part, which was the primary reason the Redskins fell 33-20 to Cam Newton and company. In the game's first half, the Redskins were in position to stick to that formula, running the ball with Tim Hightower and giving John Beck high-percentage opportunities for completions, using bootlegs and rollouts to take advantage of his mobility. On the other side of the ball, the defense held Newton and the Carolina offense in check, notching four sacks and holding the Panthers to just nine points.
The problem for Washington came in the second half, when the Redskins defense went from a bend-but don't-break unit to one that was giving up big play after big play. They rarely got pressure on Newton. When they were able to generate a rush, the rookie signal caller still managed to burn them either by scrambling or by making incredible throws. In total, the defense allowed a soul-crushing 24 points in the second half. To put that number in perspective, the Redskins defense hadn't allowed that many points in an entire game prior to Sunday.
That's the last thing this offense needs. Even before injuries began plaguing the Redskins offense, they were not a group that was built to come from behind in a two-score or more game. Without a number of explosive playmakers and a quarterback in Beck that hasn't seen action since 2007, it was asking too much to have them stage a rally of any sort. And yet, they were faced with a 17 point deficit in the game's final period, a steep mountain to climb for a unit that has trouble scoring that many points over four quarters, much less one.
Simply put, the Redskins defense let the team down on Sunday. They were playing very well through five games, but turned in the worst performance of the season against the Panthers. In addition to allowing their highest point total all season at 33, they surrendered five plays of 25 yards or more, another season high. Needless to say, that's not good.
The question now becomes whether or not this game will be an aberration or if it will be the start of what would be a concerning trend. The defense was considered the clear strength of the team, and if they continue to struggle like they did Sunday, then it goes without saying that the season's outlook will be much grimmer than what it was just two short weeks ago when the team was 3-1 at the bye.
At 3-3, the season is certainly not over, but it certainly feels like it's slipping away. Of course, the NFL is a week to week league, and all it could take is one impressive victory over the Buffalo Bills next week in Toronto for the Redskins to be right back in the heat of the NFC East race.
But for now, the season is unfolding just the way most thought it could, with the past two weeks revealing that the Redskins are looking more and more like the 7-9 or worse squad most projected they would be. But if the Redskins still want to surprise at season's end, it's obvious they'll have to lean on their defense to get it done.
With an offense that lacks playmakers, it's their best and seemingly only chance to win this year.
For more on the Washington Redskins, check out SB Nation's Washington Redskins blog Hogs Haven. For more on the Redskins vs. Panthers game, visit this StoryStream. For more on the Panthers, visit SB Nation's Panthers blog Cat Scratch Reader.