Staring at a potent one-two running punch of quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch, the Washington Redskins knew they were in for a tough time against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC wild-card round. They made it the game plan to stop them.
But when Wilson and Lynch got going with their zone-read running game Sunday, they were just about unstoppable to the tune of 199 yards on the ground in the 24-14 defeat of the Redskins.
"I think we didn't fit it up as we had practiced throughout the week. We were seeing the zone read since the beginning of OTAs with Robert [Griffin III] and our offense," inside linebacker London Fletcher said. "So we knew how to fit it up; guys just didn't play it the way we're supposed to every single time."
The Redskins' defense was felled by misdirection, missed assignments and missed tackles. Lynch cut back across the field often for big gains, and Wilson took advantage of so much of the focus being on the Pro Bowl running back.
"Marshawn, when they gave it to him, he was running hard. We had a lot of missed tackles. Then you try to key on him, and you give Russell Wilson a little bit of time, he was able to hit the edge," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "They changed up some of their blocking schemes as far as what we had planned for them, as far as them blocking back on the end. It exposed us a couple of times, so we had to make some adjustments there."
Players and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett last week brushed off the notion that seeing Griffin and the Redskins' offense doing the zone read would help them prepare for the Seahawks. They hadn't really practiced against it since training camp.
But they did see what the Seahawks did with the zone read and knew what they had to do to stop it.
"You have to be technically sound. You've got to rally to the football, but you've got to do assignment football," safety Reed Doughty said. "If one guy misses, then the next guy's got to make it, and the next thing you know, it's an 8-yard gain."
Or longer. Lynch used a cutback on his 27-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that gave Seattle its first lead of the afternoon. That came on the same drive as Doughty making a perfect read on Wilson, something Fletcher pointed to as a result of players executing correctly.
But it didn't happen enough. And the Redskins were left paralyzed by the same kind of attack their offense tormented the league with for much of the regular season.
"With that type of offense, that's what they want to do. They want to keep you running sideways, guessing who has the football," Fletcher said. "Does the running back have it, does the quarterback have it? But you have to maintain gap integrity for 60 minutes."
Given that the offense managed just 203 total yards, the defense had increased pressure to make something happen. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon lamented not being able to do enough on offense to lighten that load.
But defensive players wanted to shoulder the load.
"We just needed to go out and make plays," said Fletcher, who was part of a crucial forced fumble of Lynch in the third quarter along with nose tackle Barry Cofield. "Defensively sometimes you have to pick your offenses up, and we needed to make, I think, one more play when the score was 14-13. We needed to make one more play to kind of swing the momentum for us. We weren't able to do that, weren't able to get off the field."
Defensive adjustments helped in the second half as the Redskins' defense allowed yards but kept from breaking until a 79-yard touchdown drive. Even after making so many plays, though, there was a sense of frustration that the unit didn't do enough.
"Obviously not," Doughty said. "We lost."
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