- The Washington Times
Sunday, September 10, 2017

Redskins defensive end Jonathan Allen rushed toward Carson Wentz, diving for his legs and the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback spun away. Seconds later, Preston Smith dove to tackle Wentz — just missing him.

Under fire, Wentz stepped up on the run and found receiver Nelson Agholor wide open for a 58-yard first-quarter touchdown, with Agholor cruising past safety D.J. Swearinger — who whiffed on a desperation tackle as the last line of defense.

On their first drive, the Eagles had turned a third-and-12 into the game’s first score.

The play encapsulated the Redskins defense in Sunday’s 30-17 loss. Close, but not good enough.

“At the end of the day, I have to make that tackle,” Swearinger said. “That’s a first grade tackle. I’ve been making that all my life.”

The Redskins had their moments against the Eagles, sacking Wentz twice and keeping Washington in the game until the final minutes. Washington even had a defensive touchdown, with linebacker Ryan Kerrigan picking off Wentz for a 24-yard return.

But when plays broke down and Wentz scrambled outside the pocket, the defense wasn’t able to come up with stops. The Eagles were 8-for-14 on third down.

“It was all the scrambling around, it’s tough,” linebacker Mason Foster said. “You can’t say it was the [defensive backs] or this or that. It’s hard to cover anybody for six or seven seconds. … We just have to make more plays.”

The Redskins had opportunities to make game-changing plays, too. For instance, two plays before the Agholor touchdown, cornerback Josh Norman almost had a pick on a deep ball for Torrey Smith. While Norman had eyes on the ball the whole time, he mistimed the jump and the ball fell through his hands.

Norman repeatedly used the word “backbreaker” to describe not capitalizing on chances.

Norman spent the week warning of Wentz’s effectiveness outside the pocket. Wentz is only in his second year, but the Redskins have seen what he can do.

“We had him sacked, but he just made something happen,” Norman said. “That’s what extended the drive. … You get an opportunity to get your paws on the quarterback, you have to bring him down.”

The Redskins spent all offseason touting a commitment to be more aggressive on defense, and they routinely sent extra defenders and generated pressure.

The Eagles, however, took advantage of coverage break downs. Wentz had success finding tight end Zach Ertz, who caught all five of his targets.

Wentz spent most of Sunday’s game relying on familiar receivers, like Ertz and Agholor. With 9:27 left in the game, Wentz connected with Ertz on a third-and-12 for 23 yards.

“Anytime you have an athletic tight end, it poses a matchup problem” Kerrigan said. “It puts him against guys you know can put him in an advantageous situation. He’s been a good player for them for a long time now.”

For the Redskins, who face the Los Angeles Rams next week, the question becomes what does this defense have to do to get off the field.

Swearinger said the secondary has to do a better job of “plastering” — shadowing the nearest receiver when a quarterback scrambles, regardless of coverage. “On the back end, I’ve got to do a better job of plastering and seeing who is open.”

Communication between Swearinger and fellow starting safety Deshazor Everett and Foster, the mike linebacker, can improve as well, Swearinger said.

Still, though the defense was under pressure all day, defending short fields and chasing the elusive Wentz, coach Jay Gruden said the unit played well enough to win.

The Redskins limited the Eagles to only one red zone opportunity and forced nine punts. Philadelphia also had three field goals.

“The bad defenses, they got out there and go ‘Ah, we’re out here again,” Swearinger said. “If you want to be a championship defense that wins games for your team, you have to embrace those moments.”

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