Redskins' NFL-worst 3rd-down defense is obstacle to playoffs
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) Josh Norman would really like to get some water and sports drink on the sideline, but he and the Washington Redskins' defense can't get off the field.
No team in the NFL is worse on third down than the Redskins, who are allowing conversions 48 percent of the time. They're on pace to have the second-worst third-down defense in the past 15 seasons behind only the 2011 San Diego Chargers.
Opponents are even converting on almost 35 percent of third-and-long situations of 10-plus yards. Needing to likely win three of their final four games, beginning Sunday at the Philadelphia Eagles, third-down defensive struggles are the Redskins' biggest obstacle to a playoff berth.
''We go to get off the field,'' Norman said. ''It's not magic, not kind of conjuring up a spell. That's just what it is: You got to get the heck off the field.''
Defensive coordinator Joe Barry said the Redskins' weekly goal is to hold opponents to 35 percent on third down, which only a handful of teams are accomplishing. Even being mediocre on third down could mean a couple of extra victories for Washington (6-5-1), but the trend is worsening as the Arizona Cardinals were 10 of 16 last week.
''The only stat that matters is the scoreboard and as long as we hold our opponent to one point less than we score, that's the only stat that matters,'' Barry said Thursday. ''Every single third down, whether it's the first third down of the game or the last third down of the game, those are crucial. You've got to win the matchup, and right now we're not.''
On the strength of another career season by quarterback Kirk Cousins, the Redskins' offense is averaging 25 points and 419 yards a game. The defense is giving up just over 24 points and 369 yards a game, and the frustration is evident.
Injuries have played a role, but with an All-Pro cornerback in Norman and linebacker Ryan Kerrigan sitting on 10 sacks, third down shouldn't be such a source of concern. But it is.
''It's no excuse,'' Norman said. ''We got to lock down because on first and second down we kick tail and then come third down you get in those situations, it shouldn't happen. As guys playing the ballgame, we've got to make it happen regardless of what coaches call.''
Coach Jay Gruden can't put the onus on one unit or one element of the defense. There's plenty of blame to go around.
''Sometimes it's a coverage, sometimes it's a rush,'' Gruden said. ''We just have got to keep doing a good job with our rush - being consistent with it and trying to get pressure on the quarterback and make him throw it when he's not ready - and then our coverage has to be tighter from time to time.''
Middle linebacker Will Compton said it's up to every individual player to take care of his job and execute. He wants himself and teammates to ''look in the mirror'' about mistakes when watching the film and adjust accordingly.
Veteran defensive lineman Ziggy Hood considers it a matter of technique and inches.
''If you have a step away, that's the difference between a completion, a batted ball and an interception,'' Hood said. ''It's the small stuff that we have to work on, and the great thing is those things you can easily correct. Now, is it going to be that easy to do it? No, as you can see it week by week we're last in third downs. The margin of error is real small, and if we don't better ourselves individually, it's going to hurt the team in the long run.''
It is already; the Redskins have lost two in a row despite scoring 26 at Dallas and 23 at Arizona. Yet Hood isn't worried about the psychological effect of struggling on third down.
''We're going to pick things up,'' Hood said. ''I just hope we pick it up on time this week coming up.''
NOTES: Left guard Shawn Lauvao (groin), center Spencer Long (concussion), tackle Ty Nsekhe (ankle), defensive linemen Chris Baker (ankle) and Anthony Lanier (shin) and safety Will Blackmon (concussion) didn't practice for the second consecutive day. ... Gruden said tight end Jordan Reed, who missed the Arizona game with a sprained left shoulder, looks better in practice but the coach has ''absolutely no idea'' if he'll play.
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