The biggest problem with the Redskins is not the old, weak-armed quarterback who thinks Santana Moss is the team’s only wide receiver. It is not the special teams that yesterday allowed a blocked punt and returned two punts for negative yardage.
The biggest trouble spot on this troubled team is its defense.
The Redskins’ defense, a unit ranked in the top 10 in the league the past two seasons, was shredded yesterday by a Titans offense that entered the game averaging a measly 12 points. In the span of less than 16 minutes, the Titans scored 17 points — more than they managed in an entire game during their 0-5 start.
Titans running back Travis Henry, who gained just 866 yards in 23 games the last two-plus years, rumbled through the Redskins for a career-high 178 yards. A pass defense playing with top cornerback Shawn Springs for the first time this season surrendered four more receptions of at least 20 yards, sticking to its distressing weekly average.
When the Redskins, trailing 25-22 with 4:33 to play, desperately needed a three-and-out stop, the defense gave up runs of 14 and 10 yards to Henry. That forced coach Joe Gibbs to burn his final two timeouts, and the struggling offense got the ball back with just 66 seconds left and at least 50 yards removed from a game-tying field goal attempt.
The loss at home to the lowly Titans stunned more than one member of the defense.
End Phillip Daniels and safety Adam Archuleta sat on their stools in the locker room long after the game, still wearing their uniforms, their heads bowed. Archuleta and middle linebacker Lemar Marshall, the “quarterback” of the defense, declined interview requests. So did Daniels, at first. But then he began to talk, his eyes watering.
“It’s kind of embarrassing to lose to a team that hadn’t won a game,” Daniels said. “You get a 14-3 lead, you should be able to stop them.”
But the defense really hasn’t stopped anybody the past nine quarters: The Redskins allowed 57 points and 904 yards combined to the Jaguars, Giants and Titans.
“We’re not pushing people around,” Springs said. “We’re not dominating. I don’t know where our swagger has gone, but we obviously don’t have a swagger. People got to have the attitude to go out there and ball. If you don’t have that, [the swagger’s] not going to come back.
“We’re an average team. People are running through us. We haven’t done anything to make people fear us. We’ve got all these guys, but if you’re not making plays, it doesn’t matter. We’ve got to believe in each other, and I don’t know if I see that. If it’s not [turned around], it will be a real long season.”
At 2-4 overall, 0-3 in the NFC and 0-2 in the NFC East, the season already is plenty long. And only one of the Redskins’ 10 remaining games is against a team with a losing record, the Buccaneers.
“Sometimes you think you’re better than you are,” defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. “We can’t live in the past. The past two years does not dictate how we play now.”
Rather, opposing offenses now are dictating to the Redskins.
The lowly Texans torched the pass defense for two long completions. The inconsistent Giants gashed the Redskins for 411 yards last week, the most Gregg Williams’ defense has surrendered during his 38 games in command of the unit.
Many of those yards by the Giants came on carries by Tiki Barber to the left, where new right end Andre Carter never has been a run-stopper. Henry, naturally, spent much of the game running in the same direction. Unless, that is, he was pounding the middle, where rookie tackles Kedric Golston and Anthony Montgomery aren’t yet the tandem that injured Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave’a are when they’re healthy.
“This is a copycat league,” Carter said. “Tennessee analyzed what our weakness was from last week and exploited it.”
Said Wynn: “Teams are going to continue to do that until we stop it.”
The Redskins face top-five offenses in each of their next three games: the Colts, Cowboys and Eagles. Stopping the downward spiral seems beyond the ability of this suddenly floundering defense.