Mike Shanahan came to his weekly Monday news conference with a mental inventory of everything the Washington Redskins’ defense did well a day earlier in their 27-23 loss to the New York Giants.
Two interceptions, one sack, several hits against quarterback Eli Manning and only 260 passing yards allowed on Manning’s first 39 attempts. The performance seemed masterful, like an ornately-carved jack-o-lantern this time of year.
But it turned out Manning and receiver Victor Cruz were the rowdy teenagers who smashed that pumpkin in the street.
With 1:13 remaining, Cruz sprinted past safety Madieu Williams and cornerback Josh Wilson, and Manning hit him for a decisive 77-yard touchdown. The failed coverage cost the Redskins an important divisional win and sparked another round of scrutiny involving a secondary that continues to betray Washington’s thriving offense.
“Everybody is sick about it,” Shanahan said. “If we play it like we normally play it, we play a pretty good game. When you do give up that big play it negates all the good things.”
Wilson and Williams were in double coverage against Cruz. Wilson played with inside leverage at the line of scrimmage in the right slot, while Williams shaded to the outside about 15 yards off the line of scrimmage. Cruz simply sprinted between them.
Shanahan on Monday refused to discuss with reporters details of the breakdown.
“We will get those little things worked out in our meetings,” he said.
That’s a familiar refrain in a season full of big plays.
The Redskins have surrendered seven passes of at least 40 yards, tied for most in the NFL. They are giving up 7.71 per pass attempt, which ranks 27th in the league.
It’s a significant drop-off from last season, when Washington gave up only nine such passes and ranked 22nd at 6.98 yards against per attempt.
Any examination of the differences in the secondary between this season and last must start with the coaching change.
Raheem Morris was hired as the defensive backs coach after serving as Tampa Bay’s head coach for the previous three seasons. Incumbent defensive backs coach Bob Slowik was reassigned to the linebackers after Lou Spanos left to become UCLA’s defensive coordinator, and safeties coach Steve Jackson was let go.
Shanahan was asked Monday whether he thinks the coaching changes are negatively affecting the secondary.
“No, no I don’t,” was all he would say.
From a personnel standpoint, the Redskins signed strong safety Brandon Meriweather and free safety Tanard Jackson to replace LaRon Landry and Oshiomogho Atogwe, respectively.
Meriweather hasn’t played because of a sprained left knee. Jackson, who was suspended in Tampa Bay under Morris’ watch for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, was suspended indefinitely in September for the same offense.
So Plan A never materialized, and Plan B hasn’t been successful enough to protect late leads against St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Minnesota and now New York.
“I can’t really pinpoint it,” Williams said when asked about Cruz’s touchdown. “It’s something that we’ve got to take a look at the tape.”
One striking irony is that the Redskins and the Chicago Bears are the only teams with an interception in every game this season. Williams was one of the heroes in last week’s win against Minnesota because of his interception return for a touchdown. Cruz’s run to the end zone erased that from memory.
The play re-established the pass defense as a liability, one that is threatening the Redskins’ survival near the season’s halfway point.
“You get to pointing fingers, especially this early in the season, it’ll be a disaster,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “We’ve got to stick together. We’re still in the race.
“We’ve got to get some sacks, force some fumbles. We’ve got to do whatever it takes to limit these passing yards. Otherwise, we’re not going to be able to be successful.”