ASHBURN, Va. -- The eyes didn’t have it and, in some cases, it led to big problems for the Washington Redskins' defense. It can also lead to improvement or, at least, fewer mistakes.
There won’t be a sudden talent infusion, but for the Redskins’ defense to improve -- and it must -- all they have to do is, well, start doing their jobs. In some cases, it’s a matter of having their eyes in the right place. In other, it’s simply doing what’s asked. Other times, it’s about communication.
Through two games, it’s added up to more mistakes than necessary for a unit that has allowed 815 yards and 65 points. It’s not as if correcting one or two flaws will suddenly make them a top-10 group; but it could mean the difference between allowing another third-down conversion or forcing a punt.
In two games, the Redskins have allowed 15-of-26 third downs to be converted for an NFL-worst rate of 57.7 percent (others above 50 percent: Arizona, Denver and Minnesota). Last season, Washington ranked 12th in this area (37.7 percent).
It's issues aren’t limited to third down, which is part of the problem, of course. And the problem isn’t limited to not having enough talent, either.
Do your job
“It’s really about executing the defense,” Redskins safety DeAngelo Hall said. “If we execute the defense and don’t worry about trying to make a play or trying to do too much, we’ll be all right.”
Hall pointed to himself as among those trying to do too much. In the opener, on a fourth-and-1, he was aligned to provide deep help to corner Bashaud Breeland. But a run fake fooled him and he scrambled to recover, but couldn’t.
Against Dallas, Hall singled out another play in which he cheated too much to tight end Jason Witten, anticipating a pass to him only to have quarterback Dak Prescott throw over the top to receiver Dez Bryant.
“If I had stayed on my landmark and didn’t try to do too much and rush the process, I could have made that play,” Hall said. “It’s doing what the defense asks and not stepping outside that box. It’s about doing your job. We all have to be better doing our job and trusting the guy beside us to do his.”
Another one: On first-and-10 from their own 6, the Cowboys ran a bootleg to their left and hit Jason Witten for a 29-yard catch-and-run. The problem: linebacker Preston Smith failed to drop to the flat -- he moved inside on the run fake, as Prescott rolled out, and he took two more steps inside before heading wide. Too late. Hall, who was supposed to play deep outside, instead ran up to stop the run.
Hall said on the play, a late adjustment based on motion, left him with a different task.
“By the time the play was hiked, I didn’t get to read all my keys,” he said. “I’m thinking it’s run because they love to run. We should have had [Smith] have the flat and he got chewed out. Me not being lined up and ready, I got chewed out. One mistake compounds the other. It’s like, damn, we just got to get lined up and see the same thing and everyone would have been in good position.”
It’s not just Hall and Smith. In the opener, slot corner Dashaun Phillips stared too long in the backfield on another fourth down, only to have his man run a shallow crosser for an easy pickup. On Sunday, he stared inside again, only to have slot receiver Cole Beasley sprint outside for a wide-open catch on a bootleg to that side.
Another time it could be as simple as not dropping deep enough. That happened to linebacker Will Compton. Part of his responsibility is communicating calls to everyone else, which is what he was doing on a third-and-11 in the third quarter. He turned back to the play just before the snap. Everything was OK, until he took his drop.
The goal in third-and-long: Drop to the first-down marker. But Compton was about two yards in front of the line.
“I didn’t hit my depth,” he said. “I didn’t get situated at the right time. If I’m there from the jump, I’m in that window.”
The Redskins have to do a lot of things better. They’re going to have to do them with the players on their roster and within the framework of the defense. But the reason the defensive players have hope is because plays like the ones above are correctable -- and too many of them keep happening. It won’t cure all ills. It would help. They lack the All-Pro playmaker up front to cover up other teammates' sins; therefore, they must play their assignments right. Or else.
“Discipline, I would say that’s the right word,” Compton said, “and anticipating and understanding that if this happens, then that happens. … The whole thought is that we’re [ticked] about 0-2, but we’re not far off. We’re just not doing the things that allow our ability to be what it should be.”