One week after limiting the high-powered New Orleans Saints to just 270 yards of total offense in an upset win, the Redskins' defense took a step back in Sunday's 37-31 overtime loss to the St. Louis Rams.
The Redskins allowed a season-high 579 yards of total offense to the Rams. They struggled against the run, allowing running back Steven Jackson to post 150 rushing yards on 33 carries. They struggled in pass coverage, allowing QB Marc Bulger to complete 25-of-38 passes for 388 yards and four touchdowns.
The defense had made strides late in the season, rising to 21st in the NFL heading into the Rams game.
Now? The Redskins are ranked 30th in the NFL in defense.
"We have to learn from this--as a staff, as coaches, as players," assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. "You have to learn from every single opportunity you have. We have one more week to set the kind of stage we want heading into the offseason."
Certainly, it has been a trying season for Williams, who guided one of the NFL's top defenses the last two years in Washington.
In 2004, the Redskins finished with the fourth-best defense despite a 6-10 finish. Last year, the defense was ranked ninth as the Redskins went 10-6 and earned a playoff bid as a Wild Card.
This year, the Redskins are 5-10 heading into next Sunday's season finale against the New York Giants at FedExField. Williams will be watching his players closely to see how they rebound from Sunday's loss to the Rams.
"I look at it week to week," he said. "They are professionals in the National Football League. You can never turn away the opportunity you have to play in this league. You have to play every single game like it is your last play and last game. We evaluate it that way."
Asked how much it matters the way a team finishes a season, Williams replied: "I think it always makes you feel a little bit better for the offseason. You are remembered more on how you finish the total season than how you do earlier in the season."
In Sunday's loss to the Rams, the defense was plagued by inconsistency--a recurring theme this season.
"We played well in spurts," Williams said. "We had a couple of good plays, and then all of a sudden we'd have a big play. We had some opportunities to make plays on balls, and we missed them...We weren't tackling as well as we normally do and we didn't make enough stops. And when we did make a stop, it wasn't good enough for us to win."
The defense, already without linebacker Marcus Washington who was placed on injured reserve, lost cornerback Shawn Springs with a shoulder injury on the game's first set of plays.
That had an impact on Williams's blitz packages and it forced backups Kenny Wright and Ade Jimoh into extended playing time. In the second quarter, Jimoh was called for a 43-yard pass interference penalty and Wright was part of coverage that yielded a 43-yard pass play from Bulger to wide receiver Isaac Bruce.
"Shawn allows us to do a little bit more when he is in there," Williams acknowledged.
The loss of Springs appears to have had a significant impact on the Redskins' season. Springs was sidelined for six full games this season due to injury, and he was limited in two other games. The Redskins' record in those eight games: 2-6.
Williams would not let injuries factor in as an excuse for the defensive performance.
"We still have to do our job," he said. "We have enough guys with experience throughout the course of the year and in playing time. We have to hold up our end of the bargain. We have to do our job, make the stops, get our offense back out there on the field and slow those guys down.
"I thought our matchups coming into [the St. Louis game] were going to be critical. We wanted to come into the game and play physical. We didn't want Torry Holt to get going, but Isaac Bruce was able to make some big plays. One of the reasons for that was Marc Bulger was as accurate as I've ever seen him."
"You have to give Steven Jackson credit, too. With his combination of power, speed, elusiveness and pass-catching ability, there's an obvious reason why he made the Pro Bowl."