ASHBURN — Bashaud Breeland lay face down in the New York Giants’ end zone and smacked the turf in anger. Odell Beckham Jr. had just beaten him on a post route for a 30-yard touchdown reception.
Breeland was in position to make the play, but Beckham plucked the ball out of the air to secure the catch in the fourth quarter of the Giants’ 32-21 victory over the Redskins on Thursday.
Ten minutes later, Breeland sat on the turf and watched as Rueben Randle put the finishing touches on a 41-yard touchdown reception — the ball deflecting off Breeland and into the Giants wide receiver’s hands.
Sometimes, a fluky deflection is all the difference between a turnover and a touchdown. Breeland knows those are the plays he needs to make if the Redskins hope to improve on their minus-5 turnover ratio, which ranks second-worst in the NFL.
“I felt like I had a chance to make those plays and I didn’t,” Breeland said after Monday’s practice. “It kind of put my team in a bad spot, even in the fourth quarter when when we started coming back. I put us in a bad position.
“As a defense, you want to get the offense the ball and that’s one thing we haven’t done in the first couple of games. The opportunities were there twice for me. I just didn’t come up with the plays.”
The Redskins defense has forced just one turnover this season — a wacky fumble recovery in their Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins after a Preston Smith strip-sack. The football rolled some 20 yards as the Dolphins failed to recover it and Smith dove on the loose ball.
Washington has turned the ball over six times — four interceptions from Kirk Cousins and two fumbles by Matt Jones. The Redskins have not been without their opportunity to make the plays. Against Miami, inside linebacker Keenan Robinson and cornerback Chris Culliver dropped interceptions. Culliver was also in position for another interception, but outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan batted the ball away.
The Redskins have forced three fumbles, but only recovered one.
After Week 3, the Redskins defense is allowing an average of 277.3 yards per game — second-best in the league — yet the lack of turnovers has frustrated coach Jay Gruden.
“We’re not getting enough pressure when the quarterback is throwing the ball,” Gruden said on Monday. “If we’re not going to get pressure, we have got to get some hands in the throwing lanes, tip some balls. We’re playing hard on defense. We’re stopping the run fairly well. They’re doing a lot of good things but we’ve just got to figure out ways to get the ball out, get them into some third-and-long and then bring some pressure.
“The Giants did an excellent job of keeping the lead, staying in third-and-shorts where we didn’t really have a lot of opportunities to rush. With that being said, if they are going to throw quick game and get the ball out of their hands quick then we’ve got to tackle, we’ve got to strip the football, somehow, somewhere. It happens every Sunday, so we’ve got to do a better job of doing that.”
Defensive end and seven-year veteran Ricky Jean Francois has seen the difference when a team can force turnovers. When he played with the San Francisco 49ers in 2012, their plus-9 turnover ratio ranked ninth, tied with the Baltimore Ravens — the team they lost to in the Super Bowl.
That season, the 49ers only played two games in which they did not force a turnover.
Jean Francois said that type of success starts with the mentality that the defense will try and force a turnover every snap.
“We need to overemphasize [that] every snap, every drill we do in practice, you must be trying to cause a turnover,” Jean Francois said. “You’ve got to get a turnover. The only way you’re going to be successful in this division and in this league, you’ve got to be on that plus side. If we don’t, we’re going to be in a dogfight in games and we’re not trying to make the game harder.
“Kirk Cousins can do as much as he can, but at the same time, we can make it easy for him. We need to force turnovers to get off the field.”
In the Redskins’ Week 2 win against the St. Louis Rams, Kerrigan forced running back Tre Mason to fumble in the fourth quarter. Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey dove on the loose ball at St. Louis’ 31-yard line.
The Rams ultimately punted on the drive, but by not recovering the fumble, the Redskins missed an opportunity to start their drive from within Rams territory. Instead, they started from their own 23-yard line after the punt.
“We have to force the issue a little bit more and not sit back and say, ‘Oh, let’s play it safe here,’” Kerrigan said. “We’ve got to force the issue because only one turnover in three games, minus-5 in the turnover battle, that’s not going to get it done.”