Defending against the Atlanta Falcons' high-powered offense on first and second downs wasn't much of a problem Sunday afternoon for the Washington Redskins' defense.
But third downs were a different story, as the defense couldn't get the necessary pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, who converted nine-of-17 third downs in the Redskins' 24-17 loss at FedExField.
"If you want to be a good defense, on third down, you've got to get off the field, get three-and-outs," said defensive end Jarvis Jenkins. "You've got to learn to shed those blocks a little faster and get a hand in Ryan's face and bat those balls down and then there won't be so many completed passes and conversions."
Coming into the game, the Redskins (2-3) knew they would have to get pressure up front on Ryan to slow down the Atlanta offense that was ranked third in the NFL in scoring coming into Sunday's game.
The end result was just one sack and three hits on Ryan, who was able to complete 34-of-52 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns.
The trio of tight end Tony Gonzalez and wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White were especially potent on Sunday, combining to catch 27 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns.
Falcons' head coach Mike Smith said his quarterback did a good job finding the right matchups on third downs to prolong drives and keep the Redskins' offense off the field.
"Our success on third down, I think, is a very good design," Smith said. "We have very good players, players that create matchup issues, and [Ryan] was able to get the ball to the guys that we think had the best matchup."
Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan said he saw overall improvement from the Washington defense from previous weeks, but said staying on the field for Atlanta's prolonged drives was eventually too much to overcome.
The Falcons won the time-of-possession battle 37:01 to the Redskins' 22:59.
"Normally, we control the tempo of the game," Shanahan said. "They are a good team, and to slow them down, you don't shut them down – you slow them down a little bit.
"I thought they were one heck of a football team."
Nose tackle Barry Cofield – who had the Redskins' lone sack in the game – said making plays on third down could've been the difference between a win or a loss on Sunday.
"I think our secondary made some good plays on the ball, but they've got a lot of talent," Cofield said. "Those situations, when you've got to get off the field on third down and you've got to make a big play – whether it be in the in the pass-rush or the secondary's coverage – sometimes those plays can erase a lot of sins, and we didn't do enough today,"