Kedric Golston stood near his locker and stroked his goatee late Sunday afternoon as he contemplated how to answer the question that has come to define this Washington Redskins season after two straight ugly defensive performances in a pair of losses.
For most of Golston's first six seasons in Washington, the Redskins' defense has been its rock, the reliable asset that enabled the team to eke out victories when the offense floundered and the search for stability at quarterback seemed never-ending.
The Redskins, though, gave up 478 yards Sunday to the Cincinnati Bengals in a 38-31 defeat and have surrendered at least 30 points in each game.
What, then, in the name of Robert Griffin III, is wrong with Washington's defense?
"It's hard to say," Golston said. "Defense is simple. Whether you play a 3-4 or a 4-3, you've got to play fast, you've got to be physical and you've got to tackle. No matter what scheme you play in, those are just three principles. That's just what it boils down to. If you do give up a big play, you get them on the ground and you don't let them score."
The Redskins lost their home opener and dropped to 1-2 partly because they failed in that regard. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw touchdown passes of 48 and 59 yards, and receiver Mohamed Sanu threw a 73-yard touchdown on the first play of the game.
In all, Cincinnati ran seven plays that gained at least 22 yards. It was too much for Griffin and the Redskins' offense to keep pace with despite a spirited third-quarter charge.
"Most offenses aren't just going to drive the ball down the field and score on you," said Golston, a defensive lineman. "They look to get yards in chunks, and that's what you can't do."
It was a problem last Sunday, too. In the Redskins' 31-28 loss to St. Louis, they gave up 452 yards and six plays of at least 20 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown pass on a double move.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett lamented the big plays during his Thursday news conference, saying defensive backs had to improve their technique.
How maddening, then, that in the minutes after Sunday's loss to Cincinnati, three different defensive backs explained their respective roles in the Bengals' long touchdown passes.
Cincinnati opened the game with Sanu in the shotgun and Dalton lined up as a receiver to the right. The Redskins expected a running play partly because none of the film they reviewed featured Cincinnati throwing out of this formation.
Sanu, however, faked a handoff and threw a perfect deep pass to receiver A.J. Green, who ran past safety DeJon Gomes. Gomes had come up to the line of scrimmage before the snap.
"He's definitely a fast guy, but it shouldn't have happened," Gomes said on his way out of the locker room. "I probably should have backed off a little bit, but I, I don't know. I can't really explain it. It's my fault."
The Redskins' defense answered with a big play of its own. Linebacker Rob Jackson intercepted Dalton in the Bengals' end zone for a touchdown on the next series. But the good vibes were short-lived.
With the game tied 7-7 late in the first quarter, the Redskins lined up in Cover-0 and blitzed seven defenders on second and 20 from their 48-yard line.
Cornerback Josh Wilson slipped as receiver Armon Binns ran a speed out to the left sideline. Binns caught the pass and, with no safeties back to help Wilson, raced 39 yards to the end zone.
"All-out blitz," Wilson said. "They ran a speed out. I stumbled a little bit, and it's a tough route."
For all of Washington's defensive lapses, though, Griffin led the Redskins back from a 24-10 deficit to tie the game at 24 in the third quarter. The Redskins got their zone-read running attack going by moving speedy receiver Brandon Banks into the backfield and slowing the Bengals' defensive ends.
Washington's defense, however, crumbled in the fourth quarter.
Rookie cornerback Richard Crawford became the third Redskins cornerback in as many games to give up a touchdown on a double move. This one, a 59-yard catch-and-run by Andrew Hawkins, came from out of the slot.
Crawford bowed his head and spoke softly as he recalled what turned out to be the decisive score.
"We're [Cover-]0, double-move," Crawford said, his frustration apparent in every word. "I didn't even use my strength. I didn't even look back for the ball. I can't believe that. I've got to be better.
"Dude kind of stuttered into me, so I kind of stopped, and that's when he burst to the middle of the field. I've got to take bullets sometimes. It's a learning experience. It won't happen again."
The Redskins, however, made similar vows after last Sunday's loss, and here they were explaining the same types of plays.
"It's frustrating because we lose," Golston said. "It's my seventh year here, and it's frustrating because I know the type of men we have. I know how hard we work. It's just disappointing. I can't really put it into words."
Those words have been uttered countless times inside the Redskins' locker room after games in recent seasons. The veterans on offense know how Golston feels.
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