LANDOVER,Md - It took just one play for the 80,000 burgundy-and-gold clad fans at FedEx Field to realize the Washington Redskins defense could be in for a long afternoon against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
On the first play from scrimmage, the Bengals scored on a 73-yard touchdown pass from Mohamed Sanu to A.J. Green to give Cincinnati the early lead. It was a play that reflected an alarming trend on the afternoon: The Redskins defense - a unit considered to be the team's best before the season - is allowing too many big plays.
"I thought the defense was going to be a strength of our football team," Mike Shanahan said of Jim Haslett's beleaguered group.
Whether it was the game's opening play, Armon Binns' 48-yard catch-and-run score down the left sideline, or Andrew Hawkins backbreaking 59-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Redskins defense wasn't able to stop explosive plays, and it was a shared sentiment in the Redskins post-game locker room.
"You can't give up big plays in this league and win football games," defensive lineman Kedric Golson said. "Defense is simple, whether you play a 3-4 [defensive front] for a 4-3. You gotta be fast, you gotta be physical and you gotta tackle."
"This [game] was disappointing," second-year linebacker Ryan Kerrigan added, "because we knew coming into the game we needed to eliminate the big plays as defense, and right off the bat they had a big play. You can't have those happen, those are killers."
Sunday's performance capped a tumultuous week for Washington's defense. It began last Sunday with a poor performance against the St. Louis Rams, where the team allowed 31 points to a perceived underdog. They then suffered a major blow when it was announced that starters Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker would be out for the season due to injury. Lastly, rumors swirled about a possible rift within the defensive staff, claims that were flatly denied both players and coaches.
But life won't get any easier for the Redskins defense this week, as a second consecutive poor outing will draw even more criticism towards a unit that most expected would would be a clear strength, rather than a glaring weakness.
"[This is] extremely frustrating," linebacker and defensive captain London Fletcher said. "Defensively, we thought we were a better unit."
The numbers show that, through three games, they aren't better. Through Week 3, the Redskins defense has allowed 101 points, fourth most in the NFL. They're now 30th in the league in total defense, and 31st against the pass. But even more sobering than the defensive statistics is the fact that Redskins have actually scored more than any team so far in 2012, and yet still enter Week 4 as a struggling 1-2 team looking for answers.
"Right now, we haven't performed to [at a high] level, especially in the last two games," Fletcher said."The offense has given us more than enough points to win those games."
Moving forward, the Redskins players and coaches say execution -- not scheme --is the issue, and that they must regroup in order stop the team's losing streak at two.
"We need to tighten up and make some plays out there," said Lorenzo Alexander. "I don’t know what it is, but we need to go back to the drawing board and figure out what we do well, stick to that and really try to go out and dominate teams from here on out."
"We are going to have to buckle up a little bit and we'll come back," Shanahan added. "We will do everything in our power to play our best football game and I know our guys will do it. I believe in these guys."