Redskins' defensive troubles mitigated by turnovers

BY: John Keim October 15, 2012 | 12:00 am
Larry French/Getty Images Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander had a fumble recovery, one of three Redskins takeaways, during Sunday's win over Minnesota.

Takeaways have led to 49 points so far

ASHBURN -- Sometimes it's a forced play: The Redskins' Perry Riley shoves the running back deeper into the backfield, where he brushes up against the quarterback's arm and the ball pops free. Lorenzo Alexander is there to grab it and run.

Other times it's not. Madieu Williams drops into his zone and waits for the quarterback to make a throw. The quarterback isn't under duress; he just doesn't move his feet or turn his shoulders to the target. Williams goes to his knees, catches the overthrow and takes off running.

When it comes to the Redskins and turnovers, they're doing a good job of being in the right spot. They're also doing a good job of forcing the action. And it's why they're tied for fourth in turnovers forced and tied for third in turnover differential. The Redskins' defense has enough issues to cause concern. But they've forced turnovers, scored four defensive touchdowns and created numerous opportunities for the offense. The Redskins already have scored 49 points off turnovers this season, which is six more than in 2011.

"The teams that win are teams that are good in the turnover area," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said.

Washington's defense ranks 27th in the NFL in yards allowed and 26th in points allowed. The problem: Of the Redskins' last 10 games, seven come against offenses currently ranked in the top 11. Stopping them will be difficult.

The pass rush is inconsistent. The secondary struggles at times. So it's tough to sustain those numbers and win, though with an explosive offense it's possible. When New Orleans won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season, its defense ranked 25th in yards and 20th in points. But the Saints caused 39 turnovers, making up for their shortcomings.

It's what the Redskins likely will have to do. The defense still gives up too many big plays and has allowed at least 26 points in nine of the last 16 games dating to last season. A year ago they forced only 21 turnovers; in 2010 it was 27. They're on pace to force 37. Only two teams surpassed that total in the NFC last year, Green Bay and San Francisco both with 38.

The Redskins caused three turnovers in Sunday's 38-26 win over Minnesota, two interceptions and a fumble.

"It's huge," said DeAngelo Hall, who intercepted a pass. "Some of the best teams in the last couple years, the Super Bowl champions, their defenses get turnovers and give the offense opportunities to score points. We feel we have that combination. We have had problems keeping yards to a minimum. We keep continuing to fight to keep yards down, but at the end of the day we want to win games and get turnovers and try to score on defense. That's what we've been doing a great job of these last couple weeks."

But to make it work, the offense must take care of the ball, too. The Redskins have only five turnovers -- second lowest in the NFL behind Pittsburgh's four. Since 2002, the teams that lead the NFL in turnover differential have a combined record of 133-43. In each case they won at least 11 games.

So far the Redskins are tied for third with a plus-9 turnover differential; Sunday's opponent, the Giants, are at plus-7. There are other ways the defense can help itself. On Sunday, for example, the Redskins held Minnesota to two touchdowns in seven red zone trips. But turnovers, both for and against, are the key.

"It gives you a chance to be better for the season," Shanahan said.

jkeim@washingtonexaminer.com

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