What is going on with the Redskins defense?
Lost in the poor play of Robert Griffin and all the surrounding controversy with the press conferences, is how once again the defense was really bad in this game. While this is not to say that the defense “cost us” this football game as the Redskins offense committed 3 turnovers and managed just 7 total points, the defense didn’t do them any favors. Most troubling about the defensive performance is just how many mental mistakes continue to happen to this unit.
Not only are the Redskins generally defensively deficient from a talent and physicality perspective (at least relative to quality defenses), but they are severely lacking in the mental side of it as well. Each and every week we can point to multiple plays where 1 or more guys just flat out blows their assignment. While every defense is going to have this happen, it is becoming far too frequent. The fact of the matter is the Redskins have been somewhat lucky based on who they have played so far that they haven’t been exploited more.
Take their previous game versus the Vikings, the same sort of mental breakdowns that occurred versus Mike Evans happened multiple times against Minnesota, the Redskins were just lucky that the Vikings didn’t connect on those plays enough to really turn that into a blowout. It goes back further than that though, as you can look at a number of games where the Redskins opponents had big play opportunities but they just missed them. One game where it could have made a difference was against the Titans. We saw multiple coverage breakdowns, but the Titans missed them for whatever reason (having Charlie Whitehurst as the starting QB was probably a big factor).
These breakdowns just can’t be happening at this frequency at the NFL level. Especially when you consider that the Redskins really only have 3 young guys (Keenan Robinson, Bashaud Breeland, and Trent Murphy), who haven’t had significant NFL experience before. Of those players only Breeland has really had major lapses in his assignments and he’s far from the worse culprit. This by in large is a veteran defense many of whom have been in this defense for multiple years. There is no reason that these guys don’t know what their assignments are or how to execute them.
Now some of the blame definitely falls on the coaching staff in particular defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and DB coach Raheem Morris. These are two coaches who were retained from Mike Shanahan’s staff and were ideally supposed to bring stability to the unit. Yet somehow the defense keeps failing in their job. Morris in particular deserves scrutiny, because the secondary remains the weak link on this team. While there are definitely talent issues in this group, their level of play has been really bad this season. While both coaches definitely deserve their fair share of blame and should be on the way out next season, the buck doesn’t completely stop with them. These players are blowing simple assignments that would be in any defensive game plan (and that these players should already know), I don’t know if there is a defensive coach out there that can get them to do their job.
Another major area of concern for the defense is the absolute lack of a pass rush the past couple of weeks. Against the Cowboys 3 games ago, the Redskins were relentless with their blitzes and shut down a Pro Bowl caliber QB in Tony Romo behind arguably the best OL in football. Since then the pass rush has completely withered against rookie Teddy Bridgewater and journeyman Josh McCown behind two of the worst OL’s in football. That is just unacceptable for this team.
The Redskins got two sacks this past Sunday and they came on a play where the offensive lineman forgot to block Trent Murphy and a rollout play late in the game where McCown gave himself up instead of throwing the ball away or forcing a throw. Barry Cofield played that play well, but it was hardly a sign of a good pass rush. Beyond the lack of sacks is the fact that the Redskins aren’t hitting the QB and pressuring him on enough plays. When they have blitzed these past two weeks, for the most part they haven’t worked. They have maybe caused a few rushed throws and gotten a sack or two, but by in large the blitzers aren’t getting home and quarterbacks still have too much time in the pocket.
Again this is definitely partially on the coaching staff, but the players need to be held accountable as well. Big name guys like Ryan Kerrigan and Jason Hatcher just aren’t having the same sort of impact that they did earlier in the year (or were projected to at the start of the season). They should be winning individual battles at a high level even when there aren’t extra blitzers and they just aren’t doing that nearly enough. The Redskins need their pass rush to step up because they have some better opponents these next couple of weeks and the only hope for this defense is to make some splash plays.