NEW ORLEANS — When the Redskins took the field Monday against the New Orleans Saints, the team was anxious.
At least, that’s what Jay Gruden noticed after he had time to digest his team’s 43-19 loss. The Redskins coach said Tuesday that many of the mistakes happened when his team tried to press — causing players to freelance and get outside of the designed scheme.
“It was ‘Monday Night Football’ and [we] had 15 days off,” Gruden said. “Maybe they were too excited and played out of the confines of the defense or offense.”
Whatever the case, the Redskins were sloppy and looked unprepared. The loss was another instance in the Gruden era in which Washington came crashing back down after pulling off an impressive win in the outing before.
It was also the latest indication that this Redskins squad has particular problems with playing from behind.
It’s not just enough for Washington to lose control of a game late or fail to execute when it matters. In both of their losses — to Indianapolis and now New Orleans — the Redskins have spiraled out of control when their game plan doesn’t work from the start.
From there, the games got ugly in a hurry.
“We didn’t have much success early,” quarterback Alex Smith said after the Saints‘ loss. “Got down. The crowd got going. All of a sudden we got one dimensional and those guys are feasting they know it’s a pass situation, so it kind of becomes worse. If you do have some success early, you keep the game balanced, you can handle that better.”
Smith had his worst outing with the Redskins — throwing for 275 yards on 39 attempts while committing two costly turnovers in the third quarter. This version of Smith was what fans feared when the Redskins traded for the 34-year-old in the offseason: a version that unravels when facing consistent pressure and large deficits.
Against the Saints, Smith missed open receivers. He held the ball too long, then tried to force last-minute throws. On two separate occasions, in particular, he carelessly threw the ball to Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson with defenders right beside them.
In both instances, the running backs got crushed. Peterson was evaluated for a hyperextended knee, while Thompson suffered a rib injury.
Gruden took some responsibility for Smith’s night, saying he needed to do a better job of adjusting the gameplan on the fly. Afterward, Gruden said he had Smith dropping too deep and should have tried to stick with the run game, which was abandoned early on.
“We’ve got to make sure we get on the same page as him, dissect his brain a little bit today, go forward and make sure we are all on the same page for doing what we are trying to get done on each given play,” Gruden said. “We will move forward and we will get him in a better situation to succeed.”
Washington’s defense didn’t help matters. There were too many blown coverages. Too many “Day 1” mistakes, Gruden said. Cornerback Josh Norman was even briefly benched to start the second half.
As defensive lineman Jonathan Allen best put it: “We shot ourselves in the foot.” Gruden added opposing teams have to earn “every blade of grass.”
Now, on a short week, the Redskins have the 3-1 Carolina Panthers coming to town.
“We have a cloud looming over our head with a lot of issues right now that we have to clean up,” Gruden said. “I have faith that this veteran team will clean it up and they won’t accept that game. But we do have to learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
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