There's no defending this Cardinals defense

The Arizona defense was a step behind Tim Hightower and the Redskins all afternoon. AP Photo/Nick Wass

LANDOVER, Md. -- Sunday wasn't the first time a long touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald gave the Arizona Cardinals a fourth-quarter lead they could not hold.

They lost Super Bowl XLIII when their defense let Pittsburgh go 78 yards for the winning touchdown with 42 seconds left.

Three years and two defensive coordinators later, the Cardinals' defense is statistically worse through two games than at any point since at least 1940. While Arizona's 22-21 defeat to the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field reflected shortcomings in all facets of the game, nowhere were the problems more glaring than on defense.

If new quarterback Kevin Kolb makes the Cardinals exciting again, their defense makes them a little too exciting.

The 21-13 lead Arizona took on Fitzgerald's 73-yard touchdown reception from Kolb was no match for a defense that has now allowed 932 yards through two games, including 455 to the Rex Grossman-led Redskins. Only 14 teams in the previous 70 NFL seasons have allowed as many yards through two games, according to Pro Football Reference (Green Bay has joined Arizona on the list this season).

And what about those late-game defensive struggles?

"When did we play defense the whole day, as opposed to late in the game?" coach Ken Whisenhunt responded.

Fair point.

Indeed, the inability to make critical stops late in the game followed an inability to make them earlier, save for a couple interceptions off Grossman in the first quarter.

Ex-Cardinal Tim Hightower had more first-half total yards (93) than the Cardinals (83).

The Redskins controlled the ball for more than 21 minutes of the first half, amassing a 253-85 lead in total yardage. Arizona trailed only 10-7 at that point because Grossman tossed two picks and the Cardinals' defense held up in the red zone, allowing only one touchdown in four series inside its own 20.

The defense did mix in a few glimpses of hope amid the overall carnage.

Arizona stopped the Redskins on the tying two-point conversion try with 5:17 remaining. Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson and veteran corner Richard Marshall picked off passes on Washington's first two drives. Jefferson made a diving breakup on a third-down play. Safety Kerry Rhodes collected a sack.

Yet, it's clear the Cardinals will get worse on defense before they get better. The stats say they already have. The 477 and 455 yards Arizona has allowed exceed all but two of the team's single-game totals from last season. That wasn't what the team had in mind when it named Ray Horton defensive coordinator during the offseason.

Outside linebacker Clark Haggans and Joey Porter combined for one quarterback hit, according to the NFL gamebook, and the Cardinals had only two for the game despite 44 drop-backs by Grossman. Rhodes' sack was the only one for Arizona.

A trip to 0-2 Seattle in Week 3 should stop some of the defensive bleeding, and the usual disclaimers apply after only two games.

The Cardinals are learning a new defensive scheme after a lockout-shortened offseason. They'll presumably overcome some of the communication issues that have given them problems during their 1-1 start. But there's also a good chance their aging outside linebackers will wear down over the course of the season. If the outside pass-rush isn't very good now, what about then?

The Cardinals' young cornerbacks, Patrick Peterson and A.J. Jefferson, are just beginning to learn what it's like to start every week in the NFL. Does a wall await them after 10 or 12 games?

The secondary appeared out of sorts when Grossman found Santana Moss for an 18-yard touchdown to pull the Redskins within 21-19 with 5:17 remaining.

What happened there?

"Just the corners, a miscommunication down low," Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson said. "We practiced the play probably 100 times. Whenever games and situations like that come up, we just have to make the play. We're going to live and die with those corners, regardless of what happens. We're not going to change who we have. We have what we have and we're going to roll with it."

Kolb's addition gives the Cardinals hope where there would have been none with Derek Anderson, John Skelton or Max Hall starting at quarterback last season.

After passing for 309 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1, Kolb sometimes overstepped the line between playing aggressively and taking undue chances. He invited at least two sacks when holding the ball too long. The Cardinals were fortunate to recover his fumble following one of them. Kolb also threw into coverage for an interception on a second-and-18 play from the Washington 24 while trailing by a field goal midway through the third quarter.

But when Fitzgerald hauled in Kolb's deep pass down the right sideline for a 73-yard touchdown and a 21-13 lead with 11:09 remaining, the Cardinals had to be feeling good about moving boldly to acquire a quarterback. Kolb knew he was going to take a hard shot to the back because one Redskins defender was unaccounted for on the play. Kolb, aided immensely by Beanie Wells' physical second-half running, held the ball long enough for Fitzgerald to get deep on a slant-and-go the team had been setting up for some time.

It was the sort of play the Cardinals will need frequently this season, particularly if their defense continues to set the wrong kinds of records.