The Redskins defense has had a third-down defense problem all season, but it became most apparent in Sunday's loss at Arizona. This week, Washington's defenders are taking pride in fixing it.
Heading into his weekly press conference on Thursday, Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry was definitely ready for questions on one specific topic.
Following a 31-23 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday, the criticism surrounding the Washington Redskins was focused on third-down defense, and for good reason. Arizona was 10-for-16 on converting third downs – a 63 percent clip.
To put that figure in perspective, Washington is currently last in the NFL, and they're still only allowing 48 percent of third downs to be converted by opposing teams. The Redskins had appeared to have taken care of following a rough start on third downs to begin the season, but Sunday's loss brought the issue back into the limelight.
"Yeah, it was frustrating last week, it really was," Barry said. "But, you know, the No. 1 statistic that we preach and that I'm really ultimately concerned with, 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."
That seems like an obvious thing to say, but despite all of Washington's third-down issues, the Redskins were in Sunday's game at Arizona, losing by one possession for a fourth time this season. As Barry pointed out, both of Arizona's fourth-quarter touchdowns came on second down, not third.
However, continually allowing third-down conversions can wear on a defense both emotionally and physically. Of course the momentum swing of an offense converting on third down exists, but the physical result is more time on the field. In Sunday's loss at Arizona, the Cardinals possessed the ball for more than seven minutes longer than Washington did. The Cardinals had three scoring drives of at least 10 plays.
"It's going to wear on you, but that lets you know what kind of character, what kind of person you are," defensive end Ziggy Hood said. "(If) you're going to let that keep beating you down, then it's going to take you over.
"For me personally, if they get the third downs, that's just more opportunity for us to get in and smack them, hopefully cause a fumble, an interception or something like that. I hope everybody else feels the same."
Barry told the media Thursday that the team's goal is to allow 35 percent of third downs to be converted each week – a figure that would rank in the top five among NFL teams. But for reasons that are hard to pinpoint, the Redskins have consistently fallen short of this mark. In the Redskins six wins this season, Washington has allowed opponents to convert 41.9 percent of their third downs, which wouldn't be great – it would still rank 25th in the NFL. In the six games Washington hasn't won, including a disappointing tie in London, the Redskins have allowed 54.1 percent of third downs to be converted.
Defensive end Chris Baker has been one of the Redskins' most vocal defensive players in taking the blame for back-to-back losses – Washington has allowed 31 points in both games – while the offense is ranked second in total yards and continues to produce.
"We've got to find a way to get off the field," Baker said Sunday. "Our offense is doing an incredible job each and every week, but we just keep letting them down on defense."
Just like Barry was prepared to discuss the third-down issue, the players have been too. There's an eagerness among Redskins defenders to take the field Sunday and correct the mistakes that have been made.
"It's very prideful, especially for any defensive player, any defense," Baker said with more optimism after Thursday's practice. "Third down is always called the money down and it's up to us to make the plays and get off the field. We'll just have to do a better job among all 11 people, coaches, everybody will just have to be on the same page and when it's time for the defensive coordinator to call the play, it's up for us to go out and execute, but all 11 of us have to be on the same page. We've done a good job this week in practice getting our communication down and people being in the right place at the right time."