Redskins do or die with the single high

Redskins do or die with the single high
September 22, 2013, 5:30 pm
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Shanahan: "Be tough on yourself."

(Associated Press)

The Redskins aren't just playing bad defense this season, they're playing historically bad defense. 

Through the first three games of the 2013 season, the Skins have given up almost 1,500 yards of offense. The Skins D set a new NFL record for yards given up at 1,464 through three games, breaking the previous record of the 1978 Baltimore Colts. 

Against the Lions on Sunday, the Redskins surrendered 444 total yards, and Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for 378. In a Week Two loss to Green Bay, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers passed for 480 yards, and in a Week 1 loss to the Eagles, Philadelphia QB Michael Vick accounted for more than 250 yards of total offense.

"We have to look in the mirror and be tough on ourselves. We just have to make more plays," Skins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said after losing to the Lions. "We have to tackle, and we have to do a lot of things better."

Missed tackles have plagued the Redskins this season, but against the Lions, the defensive scheme left open many holes.

"The played cover one on almost every snap in the second half," Stafford said after the game. 

The single high safety look the Skins employed was likely a tactic to limit the big play potential of Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Cover one, or single high, leaves one safety deep in the field to prevent long passes, but the formation allows more space over the middle of the field. 

"We talked about putting them in a one-dimensional game," redskins coach Mike Shanahan said after the loss. "Obviously, I wish we would've done a little better on the passing game."

Even with the game plan designed to slow Johnson, "Megatron" still finished the game with seven catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. And with the extra focus on Johnson, other Lions receivers found themselves open, particularly Nate Burleson who finished the game with six catches for 116 yards.

"We didn't necessarrily start licking our chops, we just knew we had opportunities," Burleson said.

Multiple Lions players expressed surprise that the Redskins remained in the single high safety defense.

Reggie Bush, who did not play but watched from the sideline, said that the Lions had an advantage against that defense, and was confused that the Redskins did not get out of the base 3-4 defense and run more nickel coverage.

Burleson described the Redskins defense as "very aggressive." He explained that against the Skins defensive scheme, the Lions receivers needed to simply run good routes because they were in man-to-man coverage. In turn, Stafford hit open players in space.

"They played five base down linemen the whole game, five defensive linemen the whole game," Stafford.

Asked after the game if facing the Redskins defense felt like "being a kid in a candy store," Detroit's star wide out Johnson said simply "yes." Clearly Johnson felt comfortable against the Redskins secondary, and his mere presence let Burleson and the Lions move the ball efficiently.

All week leading up to the Lions game, Redskins players and coaches stressed the importance of stopping the Lions run attack. The team did a good job at that, limiting the Lions to just 63 yards rushing. But Lions running back Joique Bell, who started in place of Bush, caught four passes for 69 yards and still accounted for more than 120 yards of total defense.

But slowing the Lions run game did not translate to the win column, and the scheme let Johnson make plays.

"You hear all the noise about all the YAC [yards after catch} they're giving up, and all the yards they've given up the first two weeks of the season. So we knew we'd have opportunities, especially with the single-high [safety]," Johnson said of the Skins D. "We love it, especially the way they were playing."