BALTIMORE — Leading the league in defense in the preseason wasn’t something Jim Haslett cared too much about after two games. What the defensive coordinator valued was that the Washington Redskins hadn’t given up many points.
That is, until Thursday night against the Ravens, when they surrendered 34. Fourteen of those Baltimore points came by the first-team offense against the Redskins‘ first-team defense — and much of the problem centered on penalties and mental mistakes.
“We were sloppy,” said defensive tackle Barry Cofield, who pointed the finger at himself for not playing his best. “We made a lot of mistakes — some third-down penalties that just killed us. We were in a great spot; we could’ve been incredibly successful — they might not have scored at all if we didn’t kill ourselves with penalties.”
There was brilliance at times — a semblance of a dangerous pass-rush and sacks resulting from lockdown coverage. But any optimism was tempered by the penalties.
“We shot ourselves in the foot with penalties and stuff, but besides that I thought that guys came out with the mentality to dominate, and I thought we did a phenomenal job,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “We just need to keep our heads in it the whole game.”
Rookie linebacker Ryan Kerrigan was the culprit twice — both times committing a neutral-zone infraction. Late in the first quarter, the Purdue product sacked quarterback Joe Flacco — only to have the penalty negate it. Flacco benefited from the shorter chains on third down — and eventually the Ravens got into the end zone.
The touchdown itself could be blamed on DeAngelo Hall’s coverage, but the matter of Baltimore’s drive even getting there had more to do with the earlier miscues.
“I just got eliminate the mistakes — especially pre-snap penalties like offsides penalties,” Kerrigan said. “Those are the ones that kill you. I just got to eliminate those and just key the ball better.”
Hall was kicking himself for not making a better play on Lee’s grab in the end zone but pointed out that risk is part of his game.
“You’re going to give up some plays, you’re going to make some plays,” he said. “It’s part of the game. If you try to play at a fast level, you’re going to make some mistakes.”
In the preseason, it’s oftentimes hard to judge a unit’s performance by the total stats. But in the third preseason game, the first-teamers played the entire first half and allowed 200 yards on 38 Ravens plays. The 14 points they gave up was more than the Steelers and Colts combined to score on the Redskins in the previous two games. But according to Cofield, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“I think we needed some adversity,” he said. “The first two games, it went too smoothly. You need to get punched in the mouth every once in a while to see how you’re going to respond, and I’m glad it happened now as opposed to when the season started.”
Some late breakdowns turned what looked like the Redskins‘ third preseason win into a loss. And while players lamented letting it slip away, the reserves in at the end of the game won’t likely be counted on when it matters in the coming months.
The mental errors, however, represent something members of the defense know they need to eliminate. But Orakpo isn’t troubled by the penalties.