In the Washington Redskins’ locker room late Sunday afternoon, amid the dazed looks and downcast eyes, Barry Cofield said something interesting: “We get to finger-pointing this early in the season, it can be a disaster.”
Nobody on the Washington side was playing the blame game after the team’s latest gut-punch of a defeat, a 27-23 loss to the New York Giants at the Meadowlands, but it would have been easy to. When you get beaten by a 77-yard touchdown pass with 1:13 left — two plays after your rookie quarterback has taken you down the field for the go-ahead score — emotions can run high. Especially in an organization that has been down as long as the Redskins have.
In fact, if Jim Zorn was coaching this club instead of Mike Shanahan, there’s a good chance we’d be hearing the word “consultant” this week. As in: The Redskins have brought in a defensive consultant to see if he can stop the bleeding in Jim Haslett’s secondary. They’ve certainly put out calls for EMTs before (e.g. Sherman Lewis, Joe Bugel, Foge Fazio and Bill Arnsparger).
Let’s face it, the Redskins, during the Snyder years, have been great finger-pointers. After last season’s struggles, you may recall, they fired two assistants — one of whom, Steve Jackson, oversaw the safeties. His replacement, former Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris, was supposed to be a major upgrade. Well, how’s that goin’? The Redskins are on pace to give up more than 5,000 passing yards, which would be an NFL record, and repeatedly have been burned by deep balls.
What I’m driving at is this: For the most part in the NFL, you are what you are, regardless of who’s coaching you. If the talent isn’t there, the performance isn’t going to be there. And for the past two seasons, the Redskins have had four starters in their secondary who, individually, wouldn’t be considered better than average. When your best DB is average, when that’s your ceiling, offenses will throw and throw and throw some more. It’s the path of least resistance.
The Redskins’ problems have been compounded by the season-ending injury to Brian Orakpo, their most troublesome pass rusher. So much so that only once in the first seven weeks have they given up less than 300 yards through the air. (That was against the Bucs, who they “held” to 293.) No one would suggest Haslett is the next Buddy Ryan, but his options are fairly limited with the personnel on hand. I mean, if I were a quarterback and saw DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson, Madieu Williams and Reed Doughty lining up opposite my receivers, I’d fire away, too.
It’s a scary time to be a defensive coordinator. All the rule changes have thrown the game out of whack, pushed offenses further and further in the direction of the pass. Teams will send out five receivers, with the QB operating out of the shotgun, and good luck trying to cover them. Think about it: Who would want to be a defensive back these days? There’s hardly any glory in it anymore. Worse, you feel like you’re going against a stacked deck, like you’re running uphill and the receiver’s running downhill.
Trying to protect a lead at the end of a game is a nightmare. Sure, the Redskins secondary messed up Sunday — but only after the Giants messed up and let Robert Griffin III direct a 77-yard touchdown drive capped by a 30-yard toss to Santana Moss. In a league of one-possession games, it basically comes down to: Who messes up last?
The two Super Bowl finalists last year, the Giants and New England Patriots, tied for 20th in pass defense (based on opposing-quarterback rating). That says a lot about the state of secondary play in the NFL. Against the Minnesota Vikings, the 32nd-ranked pass defense, QBs had a rating of 107.6. To put this futility in perspective, Tom Brady had a rating of 105.6 last season and Drew Brees had a rating of 110.6.
None of this is meant to excuse what happened Sunday at MetLife Stadium. When you’re in double-coverage against a receiver, as Wilson and Williams were against Victor Cruz, you simply can’t let him get behind you. But is that a coaching mistake, a player mistake, a personnel department mistake — or some combination of the three? Where exactly does the buck stop?
Wherever it does, the Redskins can’t dwell on it — now, at least. The offseason is another matter; but at this stage, as Cofield said, finger-pointing does no good. There are no Ronnie Lotts or Rod Woodsons out on the street, waiting to be signed. There are no miracle-working defensive consultants sitting by the phone, either.
The Redskins have made their bed with these players and this coaching staff. Now they have to find a way to sleep in it — without falling out, time and again, onto the cold, hard floor.