- The Washington Times - Monday, September 30, 2019

ASHBURN — The Washington Redskins have the worst third-down defense in the league, rank 26th in yards allowed and have given up the second-most points per game. All three statistics encapsulate the team’s 0-4 start — a shock to many within the Redskins, given the defense was supposed to be the team’s strength.

Despite all that, coach Jay Gruden backed defensive coordinator Greg Manusky when asked Monday why the linebacker-turned-coach is still the right man for the job.

Fans have called for Manusky’s firing and the coordinator even faced criticism from his own players last season when former Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger publicly questioned his defensive calls after a loss in Tennessee.

“Greg’s not covering and Greg’s not rushing,” Gruden said. “We have to hold each other accountable and he’s got to make better calls, too. It’s a team game really and I’m not going to put it all on Greg Manusky, I’m not going to blame it all on the players. It’s everybody in this building and we have to get better, we have to fight through it together.

“Making a change at coordinator, still somebody has to go out there and cover. … Whatever you call, somebody’s got to stand up and make a play.”

In the offseason, the Redskins spoke to notable defensive coordinators like Gregg Williams and Todd Bowles — moves some took as a sign Manusky was on his way out. Washington pushed back against that notion, saying the team wanted to add experience to help Manusky.

The Redskins hired defensive backs coach Ray Horton and inside linebackers coach Rob Ryan instead — both have experience as defensive coordinators.

In Sunday’s 24-3 loss to the New York Giants, the Redskins started slow for the second straight week. The Giants scored on their first two possessions, the latter of which was a 13-play, 94-yard drive. Washington started slow against New York and the Chicago Bears in back-to-back weeks.

Washington, though, has been encouraged by its second-half defense. The team went without giving up points after halftime, and Chicago scored on only a field goal in the final two quarters.

That was an improvement from the first two weeks — when the Eagles scored 25 second-half points and the Cowboys hung 17 of their 31 after halftime.

“We just have to make plays,” said cornerback Quinton Dunbar, who had two interceptions against the Giants. “The coaches can only call the plays. They can only do so much. So the plays they do call, we just have to take advantage and make those plays.”

Against the Giants, Gruden said the Redskins surrendered too many big plays.

“They had three or four big plays in that game that really should have been six-yard gains as opposed to 35-yard gains,” Gruden said. “If we can eliminate those and make a team go 75, 80 yards on us and make them work for every inch of grass that they get, we have a chance to be really good.”

Gruden listed two ways the Redskins can improve: Eliminate big plays and get better on third down.

Opponents have converted 63% of their chances on third-down, worst in the league by a wide margin.

Gruden said the Redskins have made strides — Washington forced four turnovers Sunday — but added his team can play better.

“Sometimes it’s somebody different on every time and it is hurting us,” Gruden said. “We’ve gotta all play together as one and I think we’re starting to do that. I think people are starting to have confidence in what we’re calling and how to execute it.

“I feel good about the thought of our defense being great. We’re just not there yet, but we’re getting better. We’ve played four games already, we’ve gotta turn it up quick.”

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