- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 27, 2017

Despite sneaking out of FedEx Field with their first preseason win of 2017, the Redskins’ third-down defense Sunday looked like it was stuck in 2016.

When former defensive coordinator Joe Barry was fired in the offseason, the Redskins’ inability to get off the field on third down was a large reason why. Opponents converted a staggering 46.6 percent of third downs last year against the Redskins — the most allowed in the league.

Against the Redskins defense on Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals offense went 7-of-15 on third down.

The Redskins starting defense, which played all of the first half, gave up 67 percent (4-of-6) of their chances on third down to the Bengals’ starters.

Like last year, the Redskins allowed lengthy drives and longer conversions.

Cincinnati took advantage on their first drive, scoring a touchdown on a 15-play, 87-yard drive over the course of nearly nine minutes. On the series, the Bengals converted two third downs — each coming from beyond 10 yards.

“Both third-down conversions were huge,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “They put together a good drive, hats off to them. They got off to a better start and made the plays. We just have to figure out how to get in the passing lanes or get off the field somehow.”

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton connected with A.J. Green on third-and-13 for a 17-yard gain to keep the chains moving. Shortly after, Dalton connected with Green again, beating safety Deshazor Everett for a 14-yard gain on third-and-11 to the Washington 3-yard line.

Washington promoted outside linebackers coach Greg Manusky to the defensive coordinator role in January and the Redskins touted a new scheme that brought the pressure. The thinking went along these lines: pressure would limit chances and the lack of chances would get the ball back to the Redskins.

But against the Bengals, the lack of a pass rush was noticeable. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton went 8-of-13 for 70 yards, wasn’t sacked and had ample time to throw.

To be fair, the Redskins’ inability to get off the field on third down came mostly on the Bengals’ first series. And while the third preseason game is considered a tune-up, teams still aren’t opening up their full playbooks. There will be concepts and the plays the Redskins will wait until the regular season to unveil so teams won’t have tape of them beforehand.

The Bengals, though, were able to sustain a long drive in a similar fashion to the Green Bay Packers. Last week, the Packers scored on a 15-play, 75-yard drive in the first quarter against the Redskins.

Like the Bengals, the Packers also finished the game 7-of-15 on third down — falling right in line with the Redskins’ 2016 average.

Redskins inside linebacker Mason Foster said no one was discouraged on the sidelines after the Bengals scored.

“We definitely want to start faster, but at the end of the day, they get paid too,” Foster. “I have faith in all our guys. We have to make those plays and get off the field.”

The topic of starting fast has primarily been centered around the offense, though Foster said coaches have been stressing that topic to the defense as well.

“A lot of older guys have been talking — it’s something you have to get corrected,” Foster said. “But it’s part of football. You have to come out of the gate hot and shut ’em down quick. Then we’ll be on a roll. You can’t spot nobody points, that’s something that we need to clean up.”

The Redskins are still searching for their identity on defense, as most teams are. Gruden said he’d like to be a physical team on both sides of the ball.

But it they don’t solve their issues, the Redskins will be defined again by their woes on third down. Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said once the Bengals started to have success on third down, there was a snowball effect on the first drive.

“Preseason or postseason, it’s our guys against their guys,” Kerrigan said. “We can’t get off to those slow starts.”


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