Add rushing defense to list of Redskins' woes

Ad Pro Test Clip 232 - March 2017 (1:36)

Ad Pro Test Clip 232 - March 2017 (1:36)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The plays weren’t the same, only the results. And that’s what has to bother the Washington Redskins. Their run defense was supposed to be a strength. Instead, it has only turned into the latest question mark. If they want any success this season, it’s one they must soon answer.

The foundation for this franchise involves the run -- on both sides of the ball. It’s understandable why they didn’t run better this week, considering all the injuries -- although failing to do so for the past four games is absolutely troubling. If that’s not corrected, no matter who plays quarterback, the passing game will be inconsistent. Which means, of course, more frustration.

Their identity must come from running well and stopping the run. When they find a consistent passer -- be it Kirk Cousins or someone completely new in the future -- then they can play a different style. For now, though, it’s the run game.

But the Redskins’ defensive front isn’t suffering from injuries. They’re using experienced players who should be stopping the ground game. And in the past two weeks, that hasn’t been the case.

Like the Falcons a week earlier, the Jets had some success bouncing it wide -- but for completely different reasons. Regardless, here’s what’s happened: Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman rushed for 153 yards followed by New York’s Chris Ivory gaining 146. Ivory gained 104 of those yards on three runs; the other 17 netted 42.

“Our run defense has not been as good,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “Ivory is a heck of a back, but that’s no excuse.”

The Redskins have allowed 397 yards rushing the past two games combined; that’s their worst two-game stretch since allowing 402 in the first two games of 2013. You have to go back to 2010 to find the next-worst total.

Again, it’s not as if there was a common theme in how they attacked Washington. The Falcons used Freeman on outside zones, negating the Redskins’ inside bulk and forcing big men to run laterally. They didn’t try to hold double teams on players such as nose tackle Terrance Knighton, instead heading right to the linebackers to create gaps.

Ivory showed that he could bounce outside against Miami in the Jets’ previous game. But he was stronger inside, entering the game averaging 4.85 yards between the tackles -- 233 of his 314 yards before this game came up the middle. Ivory would use the Redskins’ over-anxiousness to stop him up the middle against them; his patience and ability to press the hole created outside gaps that he hit hard.

But the one theme that has to change is the inability to get off blocks. That’s on the linebackers in particular. However, sometimes it was the outside contain, whether a safety or corner, that failed.

“With us, they go outside and I don’t know why,” Redskins end Ricky Jean Francois said. “You can hear me out now, we play Tampa and they’re paying attention to the same thing that happened the last two weeks. They’ll just run the ball to the outside. On this team we have to make it loud and clear. What’s the strength of our defense? The line. Turn the ball back to us and we’re getting it every time. Don’t turn the ball back to us and we might be gambling.

“We have to take care of the fundamentals, tackling, separating and getting off blocks.”


Ivory’s 54-yard run in the third quarter, though, came up the middle and led to players losing their gaps -- and creating a big hole. But on runs of 18 and 32 yards, Ivory sucked in the defense and bounced wide, taking advantage of players who needed to be more disciplined setting the edge -- and corners playing man, and being taken out of the play. It can’t keep happening, or these games will continue.

“We can’t have that,” Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “Going into the game we knew we had to stop him. It was a priority. The first thing we saw on the board was stop 33, stop the run. We didn’t do that at all. A lot of big plays. We can’t do that.”

Jean Francois' solution: match the back’s style.

“If he’s patient, we have to be patient, too,” he said.

Ivory was patient; the Redskins were not.

“We made such a focal point on everybody coming to the party and tackling Ivory that sometimes we got out of a gap,” Gruden said. “He did a good job keeping his feet alive and then making people miss.”

The Redskins are going to have growing pains this season, but they’ve shown signs of life thanks to a strong offseason and a tweaked mindset. However, if they can’t run the ball or stop the run, it will be a long march to the end of the season. And it would be a death march.