ASHBURN, Va. – Passing yards are easy to come by when playing the Washington Redskins, to the point where other teams have figured out they don't need to run the ball nearly as much.
On first-and-10, the opposition is throwing 58.8 percent of the time, gaining a heel-rocking 8.4 yards per pass. It's pretty easy to keep a drive going when faced with a second-and-1 or second-and-2.
That's a lot through the air even in the pass-happy modern-era NFL. Overall, teams this year have passed 48.6 percent of the time on first-and-10. They're passing the most against Chicago (60), Miami (59.1), San Diego (58) and Washington.
Those numbers were relevant Thursday when defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said he wanted to talk about the "positive side" of a defense that ranks last in the NFL in pass defense. He pointed out, for example, that his players have done a decent job of stopping the run.
It doesn't take "rocket science" — to use a popular term of the week — to figure out why. Running against the Redskins might as well be a chance to take a breather in between any of the 29 passing plays of 20-plus yards allowed by the defense the season. Every quarterback Washington has faced this season has thrown for 300 yards except for Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman, who settled for 299.
"We're doing a great job on the run game. We're getting turnovers. We're scoring points on defense," Haslett said. "We've got the fix the back end part of it. It's not just the back end — it's everybody, the coaches, we've got to get on the same page, make sure we're doing the right thing."
Nothing has looked much uglier than the 77-yard pass from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz that decided the game in the final moments of the 27-23 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday. The defense had the right call: Cruz was supposed to be double-covered as he raced down the field, but he ran past cornerback Josh Wilson and safety Madieu Williams as if they were part of his trailing entourage, not two people employed to stop him.
Cornerback DeAngelo Hall caught some flak from the Giants for saying Manning didn't have to employ "rocket science" to complete the pass because the Redskins played it "as bad as possible." Given how open Cruz was, there seems to be quite a bit of truth to Hall's words.
Four weeks ago, coach Mike Shanahan openly challenged the secondary following a 38-31 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. There's been scant, if any, improvement since. Coaches and players say it's not a matter of changing scheme or personnel; the players simply need to play better. To that end, Haslett used the word "execute" or "execution" eight times during his 12-minute session with reporters.
To be fair, the defense has played short-handed all season. The starting safeties were supposed to be Tanard Jackson and Brandon Meriweather, but Jackson is suspended for the season after failing a drug test and Meriweather has yet to play because of a knee injury.
"I haven't really played with them to know what I'm missing," Hall said, "but it definitely would have been a different ballgame so far this season with those two guys out there."
In addition, linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker were lost for the season in Week 2 with injuries — taking a bite out of the pass rush — and captain London Fletcher's status for this week's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers is very much in question because of head and hamstring injuries.
With just an average performance by the secondary, the Redskins (3-4) could be leading the NFC East with an explosive offense led by rookie Robert Griffin III. Recent history says they don't have to improve but so much: Last year's Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots allowed the first- and second-most yards passing in NFL history, yet both coasted into the playoffs.
"We'll get all this fixed the best we can," Haslett said. "Because as good as our offense is playing right now, it's exciting to watch. We've just got to do our part and not give up big chunks of yardage."
Notes: Despite the return of Chris Cooley following a season-ending injury to Fred Davis, Shanahan said Thursday that Logan Paulsen is the No. 1 tight end. Paulsen set career highs with four catches for 76 yards against the Giants. ... Griffin's musical taste was on full display Thursday. The Heisman Trophy winner put on a sultry Usher tune at high volume as reporters entered the locker room.
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