Redskins' defense again falters in loss to Cowboys

LANDOVER, Md. -- It’s become an annual tradition in Washington: Proclaim this to be the year the defense finally threatens to become a top-10 unit.

The other part of the tradition has been this: It doesn’t happen.

The most disappointing part of the Redskins’ 0-2 start following Sunday’s 31-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys has been the play of the defense. In two games, they have allowed three passing touchdowns of at least 50 yards.

It’s a combination of guys getting beat (corner Josh Norman), help not coming and poor communication. The Redskins were missing end Jonathan Allen on Sunday, but there’s little chance he would have mattered.

Washington allowed 14 plays of 10 yards or more. After last season, the Redskins considered a new defensive coordinator but stayed with Greg Manusky. It hasn’t worked. The clock is ticking on a coaching staff that hasn’t shown it has the answers and on players who don't execute well enough. It's a bad combination.

Troubling trend: The inability to run. In two games the Redskins have run for a combined 75 yards on 30 carries, a terrible amount for a team that must control the ball. They ran 17 times for 47 yards Sunday. Their line and tight ends are inconsistent blockers and they also hurt themselves Sunday by falling behind in the second half and having to abandon any pretense of running the ball. This isn’t about whether Adrian Peterson was active; it’s about a run game that lacks a go-to play and often tries to do way too much.

QB breakdown: Case Keenum played well in the first half of the opener against the Eagles, but he didn’t have any such half against Dallas. Keenum missed on a shot to Terry McLaurin on the opening play. He wasn’t as wide open as a week ago vs. the Eagles, but it was enough where they had a chance with a better throw. He failed to see wide-open players down the field -- including Paul Richardson, who had no one near him on a key third-down play in the fourth quarter -- on two occasions, though it’s possible on Richardson’s play that a collapsing pocket prevented that from happening. Keenum was forced off his first or second option quite often.

Pivotal play: The Redskins led 7-0 and the defense was playing well. On Dallas’ first three series, the Cowboys gained a combined 36 yards on 12 plays and threw an interception. But the Cowboys started to roll on the ensuing possession, preventing the Redskins from building momentum. Instead, they lost it. Quarterback Dak Prescott connected with receiver Devin Smith for a 51-yard touchdown. Corner Josh Norman played as if he had safety help to the inside but that’s not what happened, as Montae Nicholson ran up to cover a crosser. That left Norman one-on-one and he failed to stick with the speedy Smith.

Silver lining: It’s hard to say there is any silver lining, but if there is one it’s this: the passing game design, helped by new offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell. Moving forward, that will help the Redskins, especially once rookie Dwayne Haskins knows more of the offense and can run their entire playbook. Once that happens, it should be an offense well-suited to Haskins’ strengths. The problem is, Washington fans will have to sit through a lot of torture before the organization feels Haskins is ready to play. But O’Connell already has some players excited about the future of the passing attack.