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Redskins defense struggling lately, especially on 3rd down

December 7, 2018

FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2018, file photo, Washington Redskins' Josh Norman reacts during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Philadelphia. Norman says the Redskins’ defense needs to figure out a way to stop opponents on third down if Washington is going to get back to its winning ways. The defense’s solid play was a big part of why the Redskins started the season 5-2 and the unit’s struggles are a big part of why the club is on a three-game losing streak. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Missed tackles. Missed assignments. Missed communication. All are plausible explanations for what’s gone wrong with the Washington Redskins’ defense lately.

A unit that was a big reason for the team’s strong start to the season is also now a big reason for the Redskins’ rapid descent to 6-6 and a three-game losing streak heading into Sunday’s matchup against the visiting New York Giants.

“We’ve just got to get off the field,” Redskins cornerback Josh Norman said. “Got to find a way to get off the field.”

Only 12 of the league’s 32 teams have given up more yards per game than the 367.4 the Redskins are allowing this season. That’s bad enough as it is.

But narrow the scope to the past five outings, and Washington’s average balloons to more than 420 yards. Over the past three games, Washington’s opponents have averaged 27.3 points.

“Defensively, we have to play better. We have to play better. These 430-yard games are too much for the defensive personnel that we do have. We have no excuses there,” coach Jay Gruden said. “So the challenge will be, ‘Hey, if we have to win 7-6, let’s do it.’”

To Norman’s point, the third-down conversion numbers are the most staggering of all.

For the season, the Redskins are letting foes get the first down 44 percent of the time; only three clubs are worse. Over just the most recent five games, it gets worse, rising to a 54 percent success rate on third downs.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Washington is 1-4 in those games, dropping from first place to third in the NFC East.

And now comes the challenge of dealing with the Giants and their two offensive stars: rookie running back Saquon Barkley, third in the NFL in rushing yards, and wideout Odell Beckham Jr., who threw one TD pass and caught another last week.

“We’ll work on things that maybe have hurt us in the past and we’ve got to work on those and get better at them,” Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said, “and just got to make sure we make tackles in the open field.”

Unlike all of the injury issues on offense — Mark Sanchez is Washington’s third starting QB in less than a month, and the team is on to its third pair of starting guards — the defense has been relatively healthy.

Plus, it was supposed to be getting help when the Redskins acquired Green Bay Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at the trade deadline. Things only have been getting worse lately, though.

“It’s frustrating,” Norman said, “but we’ll find it.”

Notes: LB Ryan Anderson (hamstring) and G Tony Bergstrom (knee, ankle) were ruled out for Sunday, while LB Zach Brown (illness), C Chase Roullier (knee), DL Matt Ioannidis (bruised shin) and WR Josh Doctson (strained hip) were listed as questionable. ... With all the injuries along the offensive line, Gruden said the team hadn’t yet decided who will start at the two guard spots and that the team might do some rotating of players during the game.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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