While the Redskins applied consistent pressure on the Eagles last Sunday, they couldn't wrap up quarterback Carson Wentz. They realize they need better execution against the Rams.
Despite holding the Eagles offense to just 58 rushing yards, returning an interception for a touchdown and producing a consistent pass rush, the Redskins defense struggled to execute when it mattered most last Sunday.
That was mostly a reflection of quarterback Carson Wentz, who extended plays with his feet and strength, refusing to fall down after numerous Redskins defensive players had their chances to tug and wrap him to the ground. The scrambling led to chaos in the secondary, and Eagles wide receivers managed to break free for bigger gains, the majority of which felt even more back-breaking because they occurred on third down.
The most costly happened on the first drive of the game, with the Eagles facing a long third down, when Wentz spun away from three defenders and found wide receiver Nelson Agholor wide open, breaking a D.J. Swearinger tackle and running into the end zone. It stung even more considering cornerback Josh Norman had dropped an interception falling backwards in the end zone on the first defensive play of the game, plastering wide receiver Torrey Smith on a deep route.
"I don't know, I think the plays are there," Norman said. "We just need to make them. Have the quarterback wrapped up, we got to bring him down. We got to have our hands on the ball. We got to bring that down as well. Just little things. My errors, my keys, that I can be better in."
The third down struggles continued, with the Eagles converting 8-of-14 of them, six of which coming on third-and-long. It was the glaring issue in what was otherwise a solid debut for defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, whose unit faced a lot of short fields thanks to four turnovers on the day.
The inability to get off the field on third downs was something that plagued the team last year – they finished last in that category, allowing for conversions 46.6 percent of the time. For reference, Tampa Bay's defense was the best at getting off the field last season, holding opponents to a 34.3 percent conversion rate.
"Rushing the passer. Got to rush the passer," head coach Jay Gruden said of finding more success on third down. "You can play different coverages, there's going to be a hole in a zone if you play zone, man-to-man you're going to have to buckle down and play good, tight man-to-man. At the end of the day, you've got to rush the passer. You can't give the quarterback time to throw and set his feet that easily like we did. It's easy for pro quarterbacks to pick you apart and find an open receiver if they have time."
It wasn't as though the defense didn't get pressure on Wentz. Linebacker Preston Smith recorded a sack early in the game and Kerrigan and defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis teamed up for another later. But many other instances the Redskins left sacks on the field.
"He was playing backyard football, scrambling around, making plays with his feet," defensive lineman Ziggy Hood said of Wentz. "Give credit to him where's he's due. Like I said, it was just a tug-of-war match and we lost on a couple of them."
"A lot of their plays came from broken plays, from being outside the pocket and us missing the sacks," linebacker Zach Brown said. "If we get those sacks it's totally different, we just got to make sure next time we go against them, our goal we think about is 'We got to make sure we get the quarterback to the ground.' That would eliminate at least three or four third down [conversions] and it's a totally different game."
Check out these photos of the Redskins' defense and special teams preparing for their Week 2 game against the Los Angeles Rams Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
Both Brown and Hood said their position groups take the responsibility for the breakdowns in coverage, noting that receivers will usually have an easy opportunity to get open when a quarterback is given eight seconds to roam around in the backfield. Norman would agree, but also realized that the defensive backs were in position to make a couple of interceptions on Sunday, too.
As the Redskins prepare to take on the Rams and limit quarterback Jared Goff, they can feel confident in the talent they have on the field and the game plan to stop Los Angeles. They just want to make it all count.
"You put all that work into getting into that point of attack and then you're there, but you just got to finish the play," Norman said. "That's the easy part. Just finishing. I think the hardest part is getting to that. Once you can, you just got to capitalize and be great."