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Getting the ‘Skins in Sync – By the Numbers

After the Washington Redskins’ devastating overtime loss to the Houston Texans in week 2, players, fans and analysts scrambled to identify what went wrong. Certainly, something major went wrong for us to allow 20 unanswered points and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The near loss against the Cowboys brought praise for the Redskins’ defense and calls for the offense to step up. Only a week later, the near win against the Texans elicited the opposite: praise for the offense and calls for the defense to step up. So what happened? Did the ‘Skins really do a 180 degree turnaround in 7 days? Unlikely. Let’s compare the stats from week 1 and week 2.

On Defense

Upon further review of the numbers, I couldn’t find much to account for the defense’s decline from functional to ineffective. In week 1, the Redskins’ defenders combined for a total of 74 tackles, 1 sack for 5 yards, 4 tackles for a loss, 0 interceptions, 8 passes defended (remember this number to compare to week 2), and one fumble recovery. The defensive standouts were safety LaRon Landry (17 tackles, 1 pass defended), cornerback DeAngelo Hall (8 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 2 passes defended, and the all important fumble recovery), and linebacker Rocky McIntosh (10 tackles, 1 sack for a 5 yard loss, and 1 pass defended). Our defense more or less held the Cowboys’ stars at bay. We did a good job slowing the run game to hold Dallas to 103 total yards on the ground. Not so impressive were the 31 completions for 282 yards that Cowboys QB Tony Romo amassed through the air; nevertheless, Washington’s defense kept the pressure on and Dallas came away with a single touchdown for their aerial efforts.  (Cowboys fans would argue that Washington’s defense actually gave up two touchdowns, but that the holding penalty called against bungling right tackle Alex Barron cost the ‘Boys the game. I beg to differ. Alex Barron missed his blocking assignment as Brian Orakpo blew by him and barreled toward the stumbling Romo. If Barron hadn’t held onto the pro-bowl linebacker for dear life, Orakpo would have taken down the QB. Game over. )

The ‘Skins’ defense put up similar if not better stats against the Houston Texans. We combined for 95 tackles, 5 sacks for 29 yards, 6 tackles for a loss, 1 interception, 8 passes defended (identical to week 1), and 0 fumble recoveries. The outcome, however, could not have been more different. Though we slowed down Texans star running back Arian Foster from 231 to 69 yards and held Houston to a net total of 58 rushing yards, we allowed QB Matt Schaub to demolish us with the passing game. He completed 38 of 52 passes for 497 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception, and a 114.0 quarterback rating. Andre Johnson, whom many consider the best receiver in the game, caught 12 passes for 158 yards and the game-tying touchdown. Kevin Walter also had a big day, catching 11 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown. As of week 2, the Redskins’ defense is ranked 31st in the league in passing yards allowed at 372.5 per game and 32nd (translation: dead last) in the league in total yards allowed at 453.0 per game. Knowing well in advance that the Texans had the number one passing offense last year and are led by one of the most productive quarterback-receiver tandems in the NFL, Washington’s 1 interception and 8 passes defended look like a downright poor performance.

DeAngelo Hall expressed his frustration in a now infamous rant (link) demanding to cover the opponent’s number one receiver regardless of Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s wishes. Many media outlets gave too little attention to what he said and too much attention to how he said it.  Hall made the legitimate argument that a team’s best cornerback should be assigned to cover an opponent’s best receiver. He felt that the zone defense allowed Andre Johnson to overwhelm the shorter ‘Skins corner Reed Doughty and come down with the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. Hall didn’t suggest that he could have prevented the catch or shut down Johnson, but that the more chances he gets to cover the best receiver, the more big plays he will make. So goes the basic argument for man-to-man defense. I don’t mean to suggest that man-to-man coverage is always the best option, but rather that it could be the better option when facing opponents with such a high-caliber passing game. If Jim Haslett hadn’t been open to the idea before, he certainly has been forced to consider it now.

On Offense

Against Dallas, the Redskins gained a total of 89 rushing yards and no touchdowns, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Starting running back Clinton Portis had 18 carries for 63 yards (3.5 per carry). Larry Johnson had 3 carries for 9 yards (3 per carry). The next week, the ‘Skins rushed for a meager 18 net yards and 2 touchdowns, averaging 1.1 yards per carry.  Clinton Portis rushed for 33 yards and 2 touchdowns (2.5 per carry); Larry Johnson rushed for -7 yards (-3.5 per carry) and is now no longer with the team; and Santana Moss rushed for -8 yards on a single carry. Once again, the Redskins find themselves last in the league with only 53.5 rushing yards per game. After releasing LJ, we can only hope the team has a lot of faith in backup Keiland Williams.

Luckily some good news came out of the ‘Skins week 2 loss. Some very, very good news. Our new veteran QB Donovan McNabb, the offseason’s highest profile trade and Washington’s biggest gamble, lit up receivers all over the field to dominate the Texans’ defense, helping make it last in the league in passing yards allowed (one spot below ours)!  Against Dallas, McNabb looked average, completing 15 of 32 passing attempts for a total of 171 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 63.4 passer rating. He was sacked once for a loss of 10 yards. Against Houston, McNabb improved to 28 of 38 for a total of 426 yards, 1 touchdown, no interceptions, and a 119.0 passer rating. He was sacked 3 times for a loss of 23 yards. Despite the sting of an overtime defeat, ‘Skins fans should take heart in the knowledge that McNabb’s still got it. He proved he can move well in the pocket, throw bombs down field, make plays with a myriad of receivers, and lead the offense as well as ever. The dramatic improvement shows that Donovan is a fast learner and should have no problem settling into Washington’s offense. Confidence in McNabb’s ability to throw the ball is more important than ever given the pitiful state of the team’s ground game.

Washington’s week 1 performance showed fans that the defense can hold its own. Our week 2 performance showed fans that McNabb can get after it. Heading into week 3, the Redskins need to prove they can do both at once.

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