Revamped Skins defense ranks 31st in points allowed in NFL
By HOWARD FENDRICH
Nov. 21, 2017
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — So much for that offseason overhaul of the Washington Redskins defense, a unit that even cornerback Josh Norman acknowledged after a recent game played like "trash."
They fired their old defensive coordinator. They spent first-, second- and third-round draft picks on that side of the ball. They added free agents there, too.
Still, it's become a real weakness lately: Heading into their game against the New York Giants on Thursday night, the Redskins are allowing an average of 26.6 points, more than all but one of the NFL's 32 clubs (the Indianapolis Colts' opponents score 28 per game).
"We need to fix whatever we need to fix," safety D.J. Swearinger said.
The collapse has been particularly striking the past two weeks, when Washington fell to 4-6 and on the very fringe of the NFC playoff picture despite quarterback Kirk Cousins directing the offense to at least 30 points each time.
That should be enough to win a game, but the Redskins managed to give up 38 points to Case Keenum and the Minnesota Vikings (prompting Norman's self-criticism), before allowing 34 to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.
The overtime loss to the Saints last Sunday was particularly demoralizing and inexplicable, given that Washington led by 15 points with less than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
"I'm not going to stand up here and blame the calls or blame the players or anything. Let's credit Drew and their execution. And our execution wasn't good enough," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.
"Pressure wasn't good enough. When we tried to bring pressure, he escaped effortlessly and found open receivers. When we didn't (blitz) him, we didn't get any pressure, and the coverage wasn't tight enough. So, combination of a lot of things."
One key issue has been allowing big plays.
On Sunday, Brees was 11 for 11 for 164 yards and two TDs down the stretch in the fourth quarter; Mark Ingram ran twice for 51 yards to set up the winning field goal in OT.
Overall, the Redskins have given up 40 plays — that's four per game — of at least 20 yards each this season, which is the second-highest total in the league, behind only the 47 allowed by the Colts.
Both Gruden and players pointed to what the coach called "uncharacteristic miscommunications" as one reason for the problem.
"That's the frustrating part. It's one thing if you play some tight man-to-man and (opponents) make a great throw and a great catch — I can deal with that. But some of the missed coverages or blown assignments are the ones that are hard to live with," Gruden said. "That's on us as coaches."
Making things more difficult has been the rising number of injuries. Dating to the preseason, when linebacker Trent Murphy and defensive lineman Phil Taylor were ruled out, six of the 15 Redskins on injured reserve are defensive players .
It's to the point where they have backups to backups getting hurt, including linebacker Martrell Spaight, who was wearing a walking boot on his left foot on Tuesday.
Gruden dispensed with full-fledged practices this week, opting to prepare to face the division rival Giants (2-8) only with the aid of walkthrough sessions.
"At the end of the day," Norman said, "we can't sit here and sulk over the wounds."
NOTES: C Spencer Long (leg surgery) and LG Shawn Lauvao (stinger) went on injured reserve Tuesday. Second-string C Chase Rouiller was wearing a cast on his injured right hand, meaning third-stringer Tony Bergstrom could end up starting against the Giants. ... The Redskins signed free agents DL A.J. Francis and C Demetrius Rhaney to the active roster and OL John Kling to the practice squad; RB LeShun Daniels and LB Pete Robertson were called up to the active roster from the practice squad.
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