What we know is that the Redskins might be without defensive backs LaRon Landry and Carlos Rogers for the rest of the season, and will definitely be without Albert Haynesworth for the rest of the season. When the Redskins defense had played well this season, Landry, Rogers, and Haynesworth were a big part of the success they enjoyed. Without them, there's not a whole lot of youth to turn to in order to improve the performance of this unit.
In no way was this more evident than watching the tape of the Giants game. It may be difficult to remember, but the Redskins went into the bye week as one of the better rush defenses in the NFL, on the strength of LaRon Landry and London Fletcher being sideline to sideline backfield tacklers, as well as good run support on the edges by Carlos Rogers and DeAngelo Hall, and the irreplacable force that Albert Haynesworth was in short-yardage situations. Fletcher and Hall are still out there doing their thing, but they are surrounded by a lot of players who do not execute the scheme to the level we need to.
In this game, Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett went into the game with a pretty clear and sound gameplan for stymying the Giants injury-riddled offense based on stopping the run early and winning what he perceived to be the key match-up in the passing gmae: DeAngelo Hall on Mario Manningham. The Redskins won that match-up and were still dominated by the Giants because their front seven and eight simply could not beat the Giants on the ground. On multiple occasions the Redskins were beat by great blocking on the part of the Giants, but too often, a majority of the players did their job in terms of gap responsibility, only for the last guy or two guys to come over and not finish the play with an effective form tackle. This wasn't a breakdown in team defense, it was the abscence of 11 guys who all shared the same desire to stop the Giants from beating them on the ground. In other words: bad run defense independent of scheme.
If everyone had come to play as hard as SS Reed Doughty did, the outcome of this game would have been very different. Doughty limited his errors and wasn't targeted in coverage, basically spending the whole game running around and demonstrating correct form tackling. This was lost on pretty much everyone. I thought Phillip Daniels also had a really good game in limited time, and that Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Adam Carriker both played very well in the second half. That meant much better DL (and consequently, LB) play in the second half of this game than in the first, when the front seven was getting dominated.
While Doughty and Daniels deserve credit for being "good executers" on a day where the Redskins absolutely could not execute the defensive scheme, let's also give some credit to DeAngelo Hall and the pass defense in general. The plan was to go in and stop Eli Manning from being able to throw all over the Redskins like he had done in pretty much every other game against us thanks to scheme deficiencies. While the Redskins had no solution for Derek Hagan, who played like a number one receiver on this day (7 catches, 65 yards), Manning was largely ineffective. The Giants scored just once on a drive where they passed more than they ran, and that drive was only extended by a holding call on London Fletcher. The next play: a 28 yard TD run by Jacobs. I'll take that split of runs and passes any day of the week, but in order to not sound like a fool for saying that, the Redskins HAVE to be able to at least slow a rushing attack down. Good scheme in this one, not awful team defense, but terrible lapses in execution ruled this game.
The pass defense worked because Hall won his match-up. The strategy wasn't to overload and pressure Eli Manning, rather to take advantage of the Giants' tendency to max protect by winning the match-ups on the outside and trying to force coverage sacks. They didn't get any of those because they only won the battle one side at a time. They did get two holding calls on Brian Orakpo, however, and could have easily gotten three more with a more competent officiating crew (these guys had last years Giants-Redskins MNF game at FedEx and this year's Rams game as well). They (the Redskins) also might have jumped offsides once or twice if the officials had seen it. Oh well. There's only so much you can see with seven sets of eyes.
The other thing about the pass defense is that the Redskins are legitimately better at playing zone coverage than they were earlier in the season, and the pass coverage in the secondary is getting tighter by the week. Now, in this game, the Redskins were playing a little bit of man coverage, particularly behind their blitzes. But one way I measure zone coverage efficiency is by looking at how many uncontested completions the Redskins allow. When that number goes down, it's because the safeties, corners and LBs are doing a better job at passing off receivers at the right time and not allowing the quarterback to break down zones by throwing while receivers are uncovered. Here are the week by week occurences of uncontested completions allowed:
- Week 1 vs Cowboys - no data
- Week 2 vs Texans - 10
- Week 3 at Rams - 4
- Week 4 at Eagles - 3
- Week 5 vs Packers - 6
- Week 6 vs Colts - 6
- Week 7 at Bears - 4
- Week 8 at Lions - 3
- Week 10 vs Eagles - 2
- Week 11 at Titans - 0
- Week 12 vs Vikings - 1
- Week 13 at Giants - 0
The other way to look at this is to see how many passes the Redskins are defensing, looking specifically at the pass breakups from week to week (I count dropped interceptions as passes defensed, because I still love you, Carlos Rogers).
- Week 1 vs Cowboys - 2
- Week 2 vs Texans - 0 (1 INT)
- Week 3 at Rams - 3 (1 INT)
- Week 4 at Eagles - 2 (1 INT)
- Week 5 vs Packers - 2 (1 INT)
- Week 6 vs Colts - 5
- Week 7 at Bears - 1 (4 INT)
- Week 8 at Lions - 3 (1 INT)
- Week 10 vs Eagles - 0
- Week 11 at Titans - 3 (1 INT)
- Week 12 vs Vikings - 2
- Week 13 at Giants - 3 (1 INT)
Unfortunately, the decline in the play of the front seven, mostly in terms of run defense, has lead an overall decline of the Redskins defense, as we now feature one of the worst run defenses in football. The Redskins are now giving up 5.0 yards per carry, worst in football. In all games started by LaRon Landry, that figure was close to 4.0. The only team that ranks lower than the Redskins in run defense DVOA is...Tampa Bay, the Redskins next opponent. For a team that went through most of the season above average in run defense, the fall of the last four weeks is a nice reminder that, while a couple of really good run defenders really CAN make a great run defense, you can't always count on them being there. This team needs Adam Carriker and Ma'ake Kemoeatu to play every one of the last 16 quarters like they did in the second half of the Giants game, and not like they did in the first. They need Kedric Golston and Rocky McIntosh to...take a seat. I hope Jeremy Jarmon and Perry Riley are healthy enough to be in this lineup, because the Redskins need them.
The benching of Phillip Buchanon in this game was unfortunate, because it over-estimated the control that Buchanon had over the level of play of his match-up, Derek Hagan. To be clear, Buchanon was part of the execution issue the Redskins had in this game. He made a pair of lazy tackle attempts and didn't do much in coverage, allowing 69 yards in 7 targets. Kevin Barnes came off the bench and played...a little better. I really like Kevin Barnes because he reads plays well, will stick his nose in on a tackle, and provides good run support. I don't think he'll ever be a great coverage player though, and Buchanon is having a fantastic coverage season.
In this game, Buchanon was the weak link of the secondary. But the secondary wasn't the problem. The problem was that the game was lost in the front seven when the three starting defensive linemen as well as first backup Anthony Bryant failed to get anything done against a banged up Giants OL that still threw the kitchen sink at the Redskins in terms of rushing scheme. While they were able to slow down Ahmad Bradshaw anywhere except inside the ten yard line, they couldn't stop Brandon Jacobs anywhere. Too many guys who started for the Redskins in this game, including Buchanon, McIntosh, and Kareem Moore wanted no part of the physical nature of the game the Giants established from the second play forth. That is why the Redskins lost.