The problem isn’t No. 10.
The problem isn’t the brace on Robert Griffin III’s right knee or the read-option gathering dust.
The problem isn’t even the offseason myth the Redskins and the executive producer, er, quarterback propagated that eight months after major knee surgery he could return to play the most demanding position in sports without so much as one preseason snap.
The problem that plagues the Redskins two miserable games into the season can’t be solved by a ginned-up quarterback controversy unless, of course, recent author and current clipboard holder Kirk Cousins can play defensive back.
The Redskins can’t stop anyone.
Defense isn’t just a problem, but an Albert Haynesworth-size dumpster fire that will devour the remainder of the season in historically awful fashion if not corrected.
Sure, we’re at the dawn of the season. Much time remains to leave the all-out collapses against the Eagles and Packers as unsightly footnotes to a year that could well end in the playoffs. But the defense allegedly strengthened during the offseason hasn’t simply been bad. It’s been outscored 50-7 in the first half bad. It’s surrendered 1,023 total yards bad.
The performances have been so flat-out uncompetitive and lacking in fundamentals as to turn the coming weeks into less a referendum on Griffin’s health than defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s future.
Questions about the defense made Haslett bristle last week, as if the problem rests more with inquisitive reporters who don’t understand the NFL’s alchemy than the 11 men on the field who seem to have forgotten how to tackle.
Then last Sunday happened.
To shrug off the stream of defensive follies as the logical result of facing All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers would be to miss the point. The Redskins made things easy and, in the process, exposed the depth of the problems the defense faces.
In two games, the Redskins have missed 30 tackles. (Pro Football Focus shouldered the burdensome task of counting each one.) That’s 10 more than the next closest team. And the usual excuses shouldn’t apply. By average age, the Redskins have the NFL’s oldest defense. There are plenty of veterans, despite the reliance on rookie defensive backs David Amerson and Bacarri Rambo. Even with just one day of contact allowed in practice each week, football’s most basic skill can’t have eluded them.
The head-scratching inability to tackle, like Packers tight end Jermichael Finley ping-ponging his way for a 27-yard gain, is the sort of thing that can cost coaches and players jobs.
This wasn’t as much about Rodgers gashing the Redskins’ unfailingly flawed pass defense — though he did so often en route to the 25th-most passing yards in NFL history — as it was handing second chance after second chance to an offense that doesn’t need the generous assistance to thrive.
Oh, the numbers grow worse. Even after a concussion knocked rookie running back Eddie Lacy out of the game, backup James Starks promptly became the first Packers player to rush for over 100 yards in 44 games.
Add that to LeSean McCoy’s gallops in the season-opener and the Redskins rank dead last in the NFL in rush defense (among several other categories). The sudden ability for teams to run on the Redskins is a troubling development buried in the avalanche of points. At least last season the rush defense ranked fifth in the league to help offset the secondary’s big-play problems. Even with Rob Jackson and Jarvis Jenkins suspended for the first four games because of drug-policy violations, this group expected to remain stout.
The season is too young to call for jobs, but the problems are so basic as to call into question what’s going on. If not corrected, they’ll leave Griffin’s methodical, inevitable return to his old self irrelevant.
In Haslett’s four seasons as defensive coordinator, the Redskins ranked 31st, 13th, 28th and, now, 32nd in total defense. The early results against two powerful offenses, if the would-be tackles didn’t make you turn away in disgust, haven’t been promising. The Lions visit Sunday, owners of the NFL’s No. 2 pass attack in 2012. The path doesn’t get easier.
At some point, results have to replace the incessant babble about improvements and steps forward that look to the world outside Redskins Park like steps back. That’s how playoff teams, real ones, operate.
The Redskins need to stop someone. All they’re doing right now is stopping themselves.