After a strong outing against the Seahawks, the Redskins defense couldn't keep the momentum during the week and allowed too many big plays in the team's loss to the Vikings on Sunday.
Backed into a corner playing in a hostile environment last week in Seattle, the Redskins defense played inspired football – they attacked the quarterback, made key plays in the secondary and gave their offense the chance to win the game late in the fourth quarter.
A week later, at FedExField, looking to carry that momentum against a dynamic Vikings offense, the Redskins defense showed its inconsistencies, only finding its identity late in Washington's 38-30 loss to the Vikings. Safety D.J. Swearinger grabbed two interceptions to help spark a second half rally, but the turnovers and aggressive defensive play ended up being too little, too late.
"We've got to get going because we were just so lackadaisical," cornerback Josh Norman said afterward. "We didn't have crap today. After three scores I was just like 'Wow. What is going on?' We didn't have what we were capable of doing every single week in and week out. That's the most frustrating part about it."
The frustration mounted early. The Vikings converted on 8-of-12 third downs and produced 406 total yards of offense to average 6.8 yards per play. Not normally an issue for the Redskins, big plays – the majority of which belonged to wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen – scorched the defense throughout most of the first half.
That included a 51-yard deep ball to Diggs past a chasing Norman and included three passes, of 49, 38 and 38 yards, to Thielen through the middle of the defense.
"I'll have to take a look at the tape," head coach Jay Gruden said. "I think there is a combination when you give up big plays. One, we're not getting enough heat, and, two, we have to do a better job on coverage."
Minnesota scored two touchdowns to finish the second quarter and one to begin the third, using running backs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon to set up short third downs while quarterback Case Keenum, who remained upright all day, had time to find his playmakers.
"We didn't pay attention to the details as we should," Swearinger said. "I guess we got too high on ourselves for whatever reason, I don't know why. [We] started slow. They ran the ball on us, they passed the ball on us. We just weren't ready to play. That's [how] I sum it up. [In the] first half, the defense wasn't ready to play."
Swearinger, like other members of the defense, attributed the defense's slow start to a poor practice week that didn't progress to playing in the crisp manner they would have liked. With confidence rolling over from the victory over the Seahawks, the defense, he said, didn't stay mentally focused the way it needed to.
"I've been saying that all year, our Friday practices got to be the best practices we have," Swearinger said. "If we don't start that culture here, that our Friday practice got to be the best practice, our most mentally sharp practice, we're going to keep losing."
When the defensive line began getting pressure in the third quarter, the Redskins began to dictate the direction of the game. That occurred on a third-and-8 situation on the Redskins' 38-yard line, as Keenum threw a floater with defensive lineman Ziggy Hood in his face down the field, intended for tight Kyle Rudolph. Swearinger, part of three defenders in the area, leaped to grab his first interception of the season.
On the very next Vikings drive, after the Redskins couldn't convert on fourth down, Swearinger intercepted Keenum again, this time by sneaking under an out-route to Rudolph. He ran down the sideline 31 yards before getting pushed out at the two-yard line, setting up a Redskins touchdown.
"You've gotta force turnovers. He made some forced deep in the middle of the field, came up and made a play on the out with the tight end, it was just, you've got to have those plays to be successful defense. When you come back in the fourth quarter with your play like that, that shows you the capabilities of what we can do when we play the whole entire time like that. You can't just turn it on in the fourth quarter and expect us to come around here with a win. We didn't deserve to win today with the way we played. We've got to be better at it and we will be."
The last 20 minutes showed the blueprint for how this defense can play together and change the tenor of the game. This week, as it prepares for another first place team and high-powered offense in the Saints, the Redskins defense knows it must demand more focus and detail, during each day of practice and in each minute of preparation. Otherwise the emotional roller-coaster will begin taking its toll.
"We've got to start back over," Swearinger said. "You've got to stay consistent as a defense in this league. You've got to do the small things right. You've got to be together on everything. You've got take what the coaches – if they're telling you something, you've got to do it, period. We've just got to get better as a group and understand that we've got to do the smaller things right for the bigger picture to look HD."