- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The New York Giants set the tone with their second third-down situation against the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

On their opening drive, the Giants converted a third-and-3. Now they faced third-and-7 at their own 39-yard line.

The Redskins rushed four, and Eli Manning completed a pass to Mario Manningham for a 25-yard gain.

It was the second of six third-down conversions by the Giants in their 23-17 win over the Redskins. Washington’s defense - which led the NFL in three-and-outs last year - got off the field just once in three or fewer plays in this year’s opener.

The futility on third down was a primary topic of discussion Monday at Redskin Park because the Giants had three drives of at least 10 plays and held a nearly 13-minute edge in time of possession.

“We knew coming in that we had to do that in order to win this game,” Hall said. “In the first half, they were 5-for-8. At halftime, we knew we had to stop them and give our offense a chance, and we didn’t do that.”

Defensive coordinator Greg Blache had stressed to the defense as early as Wednesday the game would be decided by third-down execution. And for the most part, he was right.

For the Redskins, it was a three-pronged breakdown on third down.

The pass rush got to Manning only once in 29 drop-backs.

Cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Fred Smoot gave too much cushion, often lining up beyond the first-down marker.

And free safety LaRon Landry operated in his own orbit, missing tackles and reacting late to several throws.

“Without question, that was [the key],” defensive coordinator Greg Blache said Sunday after the game. “We had missed tackles and penalties, but the No. 1 thing was our play on third down. Some of it is a credit to them, but a lot of the onus is on us. We have to do a better job of disguising, a better job of executing and recognizing what’s happening. They did some nice stuff on early downs, but on third down, there weren’t any surprises.”

The defense helped the Redskins stay in the game with three straight third-down stops, and entering the fourth quarter the deficit remained only 17-10. But the Redskins allowed a pair of 10-play drives that resulted in only two field goals but consumed 10:48.

The Redskins finished seventh in third-down defense last year (64.4 percent) and hoped to improve with the additions of Hall (who joined the Redskins at midseason in 2008), Albert Haynesworth and Brian Orakpo. And they may very well get better - they just weren’t good enough against the Giants.

Third-and-short wasn’t the problem - the Redskins stuffed the Giants on three third-and-1 running plays. What gnawed at the players and coaches was the Giants’ effectiveness on third-and-long, which should be, as middle linebacker London Fletcher put it, “a favorable situation” for the defense. But the Redskins allowed five conversions when the Giants needed 5 or more yards.

“It’s especially [frustrating] when we do so well on first and second down to get into those long situations,” defensive lineman Lorenzo Alexander said. “[The conversions] stop our momentum as far as what we’re trying to do. They strived off that.”

The Giants’ effectiveness began on their opening drive. Needing 3 yards, Manning threw 12 yards to Steve Smith on a crossing route from the slot position.

Three plays later came the 25-yard pass to Manningham, who became open when Smoot left him to account for a receiver in the flat and Landry reacted late.

On the next drive, with Haynesworth at right end and Orakpo at right tackle, Manning threw 17 yards to Smith after escaping Andre Carter. Other key conversions included a 30-yard touchdown pass to Manningham and a 26-yard pass to Smith.

Coach Jim Zorn on Monday said the Redskins’ cornerbacks gave up too much cushion.

“We need to ride closer to their receivers to make plays, and when we did, we proved we could knock the ball down and slide in there to potentially get an interception,” Zorn said. “But when we didn’t, when the [Giants’] protection was there, it was easy for them.

“Those are things we’ll learn. [Cornerbacks coach] Jerry [Gray] is a great coach, and our guys listen well, and we’ll continue to get closer and closer to their receivers.”

Zorn cited the Redskins’ limiting the Giants to two 28-yard field goals and a fourth-down stop at the 3-yard line as positives.

“I look around our defense, and they were flying around and working hard to get off the field,” he said. “I thought we did a nice job on drive-stopping plays in the red zone to force them to kick field goals. It was just some of those critical third downs and critical things that happened didn’t get us there.”

The defense did improve in one intended area; it got two takeaways: a sack with a forced fumble by Carter and a Hall interception.

“That’s about all we did well,” Blache said. “We didn’t do a lot of things well based on what we were hoping to get done. We weren’t good on third down, and we have to be better on third down.”

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