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Of all the Redskins’ defensive woes, failure against the run is biggest concern
The numbers are not pretty anywhere on the defensive side of the field for the Washington Redskins. That has been a consistent theme through the first two weeks of the season.
But while there have been coverage breakdowns and tackling issues and penalties, too, there is one spot where all of those issues can be dealt with immediately.
"The number one thing that bothers me is we haven't done a very good job in the run game," Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said during a press conference on Thursday.
That wasn't a major concern coming into the season. Washington brought back most of its key players on the defensive line and ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (95.8) in 2012. And while defensive end Jarvis Jenkins and reserve linebacker Rob Jackson have been missed thanks to four-game suspensions for performance-enhancing drug use, not much was expected to change given the returning personnel.
Instead, Washington has allowed 402 rushing yards through two games. And while the Philadelphia Eagles have a dynamic back in LeSean McCoy, Green Bay did most of its damage with reserve running back James Starks getting most of the snaps. Starter Eddie Lacy was knocked from that game early in the first quarter thanks to a concussion after a helmet-to-helmet hit by Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather.
Washington ranks dead last in the NFL in rushing yardage allowed. The Eagles and Packers combined to average 5.5 yards per carry and 201 yards per game. That's a steep decline from last year's standard and, several Redskins said this week, likely a result of too many players trying to do too much.
"You can't press and feel like you've got to be super man," nose tackle Barry Cofield said. "You've got to do your job first and foremost and then, if everybody does that, there's no way they get that big chunk yardage."
The problem: Players trying to do someone else's job put everyone else out of alignment and give running backs bigger gaps to shoot through. Washington has its own tackling issues once that actually happens, but maybe the best way to stop those is by containing the run in the first place. That hasn't happened yet.
"Somebody wants to make a play so he jumps around a block, trying to make a play," Haslett said. "Obviously, he wants to do something for the football team, but he gets out of his gap and then the linebacker fits wrong and they get a 10 or 15 [yard] run. And that's what happened last week."
And too many third-and-short situations lead to what happened last year when the Redskins had the worst defensive third-down percentage in the league (44 percent). It also keeps Washington's pass rushers – linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo, especially – from what they do best.
"[Green Bay] quit doing as much drop back [passing] and they just were three steps, getting rid of the ball," Kerrigan said about the Packers in Sunday's loss. "That [stinks] for a guy that's rushing the passer a lot."
This year the Redskins have stopped 14 of 25 attempts on third down, which is again 44 percent, but ranks 11th in the league through the first two weeks given the small sample size. Detroit hasn't exactly been a dynamic running team early this season, either, and starter Reggie Bush has a knee contusion that could keep him out of Sunday's game. He has not practiced yet this week.
Of course, the Lions and quarterback Matthew Stafford rank seventh so far in passing yardage (630), which puts Washington in a bind defensively whether Bush plays or not. And Haslett has been impressed by Lions reserves Joique Bell and Mike Leshoure anyway. At this point, given what Starks did on the ground last week, Washington can't afford to be complacent based on the opponents' personnel. It hasn't been good enough to do that.
"Last year we were awesome," Haslett. "If you can stop the run and make a team one-dimensional that's where you get your turnovers, that's where you get big plays. And we haven't done a very good job in the first two games stopping the run."
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