The signs were there, even in last week's 52-17 thrashing of the San Francisco 49ers: The Redskins' run defense is struggling right now.
In Sunday's 36-0 loss to the New York Giants, the unit yielded 262 rushing yards and 5.8 yards-per-carry. Running back Tiki Barber turned in a career performance, rushing for 206 yards on 24 carries. He capped off his impressive afternoon with a 4-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
"It was a little bit of everything with how they ran the ball and controlled the football," head coach Joe Gibbs said. "For us, we couldn't run it. We couldn't control it."
"We are better than that," defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin added. "We are a lot better than that."
Barber got off to a fast start. On the game's first offensive play, he took a handoff from Eli Manning and raced around the left end and down the sideline for a 57-yard gain. Cornerback Shawn Springs made a touchdown-saving tackle, knocking Barber out of bounds at the Redskins' 16-yard line. The Giants netted a field goal from that drive.
In the second quarter, Barber was off to the races again. With Walt Harris coming in on a cornerback blitz, Barber raced past him and around left end. Once again, there was open field ahead.
Barber ran down the left sideline for a 59-yard gain before he was finally knocked out of bounds by Ryan Clark at the 1-yard line. One play later, Giants' rookie running back Brandon Jacobs burst across the goal line for a touchdown.
A week ago, in the Redskins' 52-17 win over the 49ers, the Redskins' run defense yielded a pair of rushing touchdowns, including 72-yarder by Frank Gore and a 17-yarder by Kevan Barlow. Those two touchdowns may have been somewhat overlooked in the aftermath of the win.
Two weeks earlier, in the Redskins' Week 4 game at Denver, the run defense yielded two long touchdown runs--a 34-yarder and a 55-yarder--to Tatum Bell.
One reason for the struggles may be a series of injuries along the defensive line in recent weeks. Cornelius Griffin has missed practices due to a hip injury and Joe Salave'a has struggled through a foot injury. Linemen Cedric Killings (ankle) and Aki Jones (hamstring) were inactive.
After the game, players refused to cite injuries as an excuse. This is a defense that has always prided itself at stopping the run.
Defensive coordinator-defensive line coach Greg Blache knows the importance of run defense. It's something he will almost certainly focus in on in the coming week of practice.
Said Blache: "To win in this league, you have to stop the run. No one has been able to win a championship without being able to stop the run. The worst thing in the world is to stand on the sidelines and watch as someone stuffs the football down your throat. You can always blitz to bring pressure, but if you can't stop the run, you might as well pack your bags, take the kids and go home. It's over with."