- - Sunday, November 4, 2018


LANDOVER — Adding a good player is supposed to make your defense stronger, not softer.

This isn’t to suggest that newcomer Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is to blame for Washington’s showing on that side of the ball. But it looked nothing like the stout unit we saw in the last three games as Atlanta gashed its way to a 38-14 victory.

The defense will see better days. Clinton-Dix will grow more comfortable. And few remaining opponents have an offense as potent: Atlanta entered the week ranked third in passing offense, fifth in yards per play and seventh in yards per game. The production hadn’t paid off much, as evidenced by the Falcons’ now 4-4 record. But quarterback Matt Ryan (350 yards pass and four touchdowns) and his multiple weapons gave Washington plenty to worry about during preparations for the game.

The preparation was for naught, which proved the thin margin of error Washington operates with this season. If the defense can’t be counted on as a pillar of stability, the entire structure is at risk of crumbling. Notwithstanding the 38 points and 91 yards yielded, cracks and crevices surfaced all over on Sunday.

When multiple players go down on a reshuffled offensive line and your team is flagged 10 times for 147 yards in penalties, even the greatest defenses of all-time might struggle to pull out a victory. But when everything else goes wrong and your Top 5 defense has a subpar day, too, winning is … let coach Jay Gruden describe it.

“It’s impossible,” Gruden said, speaking specifically about overcoming so many penalties but it applies for the combined miscues, too. “You might as well give them the ball and give them the game.”

Washington isn’t designed to overcome two-touchdown deficits early in the second quarter, but Atlanta went up 14-0, moving down the field with ease. The score might’ve been worse if not for Quinton Dunbar’s interception at his team’s 9-yard line. Of the Falcons’ first five possessions, that was the only one that didn’t end with a touchdown.

“They out-schemed the crap out of us,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “They did a great job and they had two weeks to do it. They’re a high-octane offense and they showed that today.”

Conversely, Washington’s offense has been “leaded,” as in weighed down, slow and plodding.

That works fine when the team jumps ahead, Adrian Peterson grinds the opposition to dust, and the defense enters lockdown mode. Output during the just-snapped winning streak was 20 points, 20 points and 23 points. The vanquished were held to 17 points or fewer.

Atlanta had a 28-7 lead two minutes into the second half.

Washington picked a bad week to record its second-lowest score this season, though there were some bright spots. Wideout Maurice Harris had 10 catches for 124 yards and quarterback Alex Smith passed for 262 through three quarters, when Washington still had a distant chance.

“There was a lot of good in this game,” said Peterson, though he couldn’t include himself (17 yards on nine carries) behind the patchwork line. “When we watch the tape, there’s going to be a lot of things to help us out.”

We’ve been waiting for eight games now. It doesn’t help that wideout Jamison Crowder missed his fourth consecutive game and halfback Chris Thompson missed his third in the last four. It doesn’t help that tackle Trent Williams was out with a busted right thumb and three of his linemates suffered injuries against the Falcons. And it doesn’t help that Washington can’t stop playing hide-and-seek with tight end Jordan Reed, whose targets fell from 12 last week against the Giants to six against Atlanta.

The offense is back to the drawing board; no shocker there. But so is the defense, which we’d come to depend on. The previous three opponents had rushed for 191 yards, an average of 63.6 per game, but Atlanta amassed 154 yards on the ground, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. The Falcons converted 10-of-13 third downs and punted just twice.

“They just made plays,” linebacker Mason Foster said. “We can’t point fingers; it was all 11 of us on defense. Just a bad game all around for everybody.”

There’s reason to believe they’ll improve with the addition of former Green Bay safety Clinton-Dix. He started and tied Matt Ioannidis with a team-high seven tackles. “I’m still learning the defense and still creating chemistry with my teammates on the back end,” Clinton-Dix said. “We’re going to get better.”

They need to be better. Washington doesn’t have much room for error otherwise.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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