On paper, Sunday’s matchup between the Falcons’ explosive offense and the Redskins’ porous defense read like a recipe for disaster.
But a funny thing happened on the way to a shootout. For a large portion of Washington’s 24-17 loss to Atlanta, the Redskins’ much-maligned defense did a solid job of slowing the Falcons, even if they did not completely stop them.
“Anytime you lose, it’s hard to feel good about your performance, but I guess when we look at the film, we’ll see some good things we did — the takeaways, we had some pretty good coverage on first and second down — but we have to keep working and figure out a way for a full 60 minutes against a good football team like that,” said linebacker London Fletcher, who finished with 20 tackles. “This may have been a good enough effort to beat other teams, but it wasn’t good enough to be a team like the Falcons.”
Washington got two critical defensive plays in the second quarter, the first occurring when linebacker Ryan Kerrigan intercepted a Matt Ryan pass and returned it for a 28-yard touchdown to give the Redskins a 7-0 lead. On the Falcons’ next possession, linebacker Perry Riley helped thwart another Atlanta drive by recovering a fumbled snap.
“The game plan was good, and we executed it,” Riley said. “It feels good anytime you make any play, a tackle, anything in the NFL. I didn’t make enough, though. That’s all I’m worried about.”
The Redskins have been susceptible to big plays all season, but against the Falcons, they kept receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White in check for the first half as the duo combined for 79 yards. Atlanta countered with tight end Tony Gonzalez, who had nine first-half catches, but that was a trade-off the Redskins were willing to make as the Falcons only had three plays of more than 20 yards on the day.
“I thought we did a solid job of taking away the big play and making them dink and dunk,” safety Reed Doughty said. “You got a couple of incompletions, everybody’s wrapping up, swarming to the football.”
But the unit began to show cracks in the second half, as the Falcons started moving the ball and taking advantage of some defensive miscues.
“They did a good job of mixing their plays and we could have done a better job tackling — yards after catch were critical in the second half,” safety Madieu Williams said.
Nose tackle Barry Cofield recorded his first sack of the season in the fourth quarter and followed that with a tipped pass on the next play, a big series for a defensive line that had been contained for most of the day.
“It was good to get the D-line off the schneid — D-line wise, we hadn’t had any [sacks] after being pretty productive last year for a 3-4 front. Hopefully, that will open the floodgates for us,” Cofield said.
Still, Atlanta finished with 421 yards, 338 through the air, as Ryan had time to find holes in the Redskins’ secondary in the second half.
Corner Josh Wilson was critical of the unit’s play, particularly the safety play on Atlanta’s numerous double moves.
“You’re asking a lot of [DeAngelo Hall] and I to go out there with these great receivers and lock them down and shut them down, you know what I mean?” Wilson said. “At a point … we can’t do everything.”
Allowing more than 400 yards doesn’t sound like the beginning of a turnaround, but the Redskins’ defense will take solace in that they gave their offense a chance to stay in a game that could have easily gotten away from them.