- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 6, 2016

If the Redskins are going to end their two-game skid and make a legitimate playoff run, Washington’s defenders know they have to be better at forcing punts than they were on Thanksgiving Day against Dallas and on Sunday against Arizona. 

The Cardinals were a jaw-dropping 10 for 16 at converting on third down. One of those first downs came on third-and-11, another on a third-and-12.

“Me personally, it just pisses me off that we can’t get off,” Redskins linebacker Will Compton said. “When it’s early, it’s more of just regrouping and saying, ‘Hey, we’re fine. We are smacking these dudes on first and second. We just have to take care of our business on the money down.’ We were getting good pressure on them on third down, but, for whatever reason [we couldn’t stop the Cardinals]. We have to understand what we are getting and execute our game plan.”

Those lack of defensive stops became deflating for the Redskins’ defense. Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer set the tone for game when he converted a third-and-11 with a 13 yarder to running back David Johnson on the game’s opening drive that ended with a 7-0 lead.

“It’s very frustrating,” Redskins cornerback Josh Norman said. “But, at the same time, this is what you sign up for.”

The inability to get key stops on defense also seems to be slowing down quarterback Kirk Cousins and the Redskins’ rhythym-based offense.

In Sunday’s first half — the same half that saw the Redskins give up the two big third-and-long conversions — Cousins and Co. couldn’t find their groove, managing just 89 passing yards and another 51 rushing yards. 

“It just sucks that our offense keeps responding over and over in the second half,” Redskins defensive end Chris Baker said. “We can’t off the field on third downs. It felt like they were 90 percent on freaking third down today. I don’t know what it is, but we’ve got to fix it somehow. We’ve got to find a way to get off the field. Our offense is doing an incredible job each and every week, but we just keep letting them down on defense. It’s very frustrating.”

The Redskins’ problems on third down aren’t just a matter of perception. According to Pro Football Reference, Washington is allowing a first on third-down situations at a 44.9 percent clip, which is fourth highest in the NFL.

But it gets worse. In third-and-five or higher situations, yardage that a defense should reasonably be expected to hold an offense, Washington is giving up conversions 38.1 percent of the time. That figure is not only the worst in the NFL, but is the second-highest conversion percentage in the league over the last five years.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden said the reason behind the high conversion rate on long third-down situations doesn’t fall on any one individual player. It’s an entire team effort, or, in this case, an entire team failure.

“I think it’s a combination of things we’ve said all along — the pass rush has to marry with the pass coverage. Sometimes it’s a coverage, sometimes it’s a rush,” Gruden said. “We just have got to keep doing a good job with our rush — being consistent with it and trying to get pressure on the quarterback and make him throw it when he’s not ready — and then our coverage has to be tighter from time-to-time, quite frankly. Any time you’re giving up third-and-long, it’s an ample opportunity to get off the field and get the ball back for your offense. We have to really, really focus on that and make sure we do a good job of that here coming up in the future because we’re going to need to.”

Improving that percentage on third down will be a focus for this week as the 6-5-1 Redskins look to revive their postseason hopes against the 5-7 Eagles on Sunday in Philadelphia.

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