Allowing big plays the only constant for once steady Redskins D

Updated: October 10, 2006, 2:42 AM ET
Associated Press

ASHBURN, Va. -- During the offense's spurts and stumbles of the past two years, the Washington Redskins could rely on assistant coach Gregg Williams' smothering, hard-hitting defense.

Not any more. The only consistent thing about the defense in 2006 is the big plays it has allowed in every game.

"We're frustrated," cornerback Carlos Rogers said Monday. "It's something you're mad about. We're all competitors out there, and we hate the fact that we look like that. We've given up so many yards."

Only the Green Bay Packers (28) have allowed more passes of 20-plus yards than Washington (21). The New York Giants set up scores with completions of 44, 46, 27 and 21 yards against the Redskins in Sunday's 19-3 victory at the Meadowlands.

The Giants' 411 yards were the most by an opponent since Williams took over the defense in 2004. The Redskins (2-3) are ranked 28th against the pass, and the teams ranked lower -- Arizona, Detroit, Green Bay and Houston -- don't fit into anyone's playoff picture.

"The first two years, we had a defense flying around making plays and we weren't giving up any big yardage," defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "And now they're getting that, and teams are coming in here looking to throw the ball and get that one big play."

The offense also struggled Sunday after scoring 31 and 36 points in the previous two weeks, but that's hardly news. The Redskins' ability to move the ball has been wildly inconsistent since coach Joe Gibbs came out of retirement, and the addition of offensive guru Al Saunders this year has yet to change that.

But a defense that ranked No. 3 overall in 2004 and No. 9 last year is suddenly mediocre all over. There's no pass rush from the front seven, the secondary can't stick with receivers, and missed tackles were epidemic as the Giants' Tiki Barber ran for 123 yards Sunday. Expensive new additions Andre Carter and Adam Archuleta have yet to prove their worth, and previous stalwarts such as Daniels, defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin and linebacker Marcus Washington aren't making the impact plays they've made in the past.

The secondary is missing its best cornerback, Shawn Springs, who hasn't played this season because of abdomen and groin injuries. Nickel safety Pierson Prioleau was lost for the year during preseason with a knee injury. Defensive backs Rogers, Kenny Wright, Mike Rumph, Archuleta and even Sean Taylor have been burned this season.

Taylor, who looks like he'd rather hit someone than cover or tackle, got turned around trying to keep up with Plaxico Burress on a 46-yard completion Sunday and lost Burress in the end zone on a 2-yard TD pass. The weak play of the secondary has forced Williams to keep more players back and cut down on his trademark blitzes.

The Redskins have only seven sacks. Opposing quarterbacks have nine touchdown passes and two interceptions.

"Coverage and pass rush work hand in hand," Daniels said. "When you lose one of those, you don't get the other."

Rogers, in turn, tried to deflect the criticism away from the secondary. He spoke in front of his locker while wearing a T-shirt that read: "Redskins 2006 defense. One heartbeat ... One sound."

"The line has got to do their job and get there, too," Rogers said. "It's not just the secondary."

While the players were having their say, the defense's mastermind, as usual, was keeping quiet.

Williams avoided reporters by exiting through a side door at Giants Stadium following Sunday's game, and he declined through a team representative to be interviewed Monday. The coach likes to say how he demands "availability and accountability" from his players, but he regularly does not make himself available following a loss until Thursdays.

Gibbs, who gives Williams full autonomy to run the defense, called the big plays "troubling."

"If there's been one central thing that we would like to improve upon (it) is the big plays down the field," Gibbs said. "How do you improve upon it? Work your guts out and hope you get a better pass-rush scheme and everything."

The Redskins' only win in regulation time has come against Houston, but they are only one game below .500 with a good chance to return to break-even against winless Tennessee next week. Of significant concern is the 0-2 record in division games and the 0-3 mark in the conference, a tiebreaker hole that could cost a playoff spot in January.

"We're going to have to find our formula, get back to playing our brand of football," Gibbs said. "If not, we could definitely get ourselves in real trouble."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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