There was plenty to critique about the Redskins’ defensive play-calling and execution on Detroit’s final drive on Sunday, on which Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford drove 75 yards in six plays for the game-winning touchdown.
In the locker room immediately after the 20-17 defeat, two stalwarts of the defensive line, Ricky Jean Francois and defensive co-captain Chris Baker, faulted the decision to send just three pass rushers and drop eight into coverage on what proved the game-winner — an 18-yard strike to Anquan Boldin with 16 seconds remaining.
With a morning to review game video, Redskins Coach Jay Gruden acknowledged Monday that he wished the defense had gotten “more people around Matthew.” And the coach didn’t fault his outspoken defenders for publicly second-guessing the call, presumably defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s.
“I think as a pass rusher, if you’re a defensive lineman, you don’t want to drop into coverage,” Gruden said. “I mean, I respect their problem with dropping into a hook instead of rushing the quarterback because they really get paid to rush the quarterback. They don’t get paid to back pedal.”
As for his own view of the call to rush just three linemen, Gruden said: “I think when you look back at the call you’d like to get more people around Matthew. He does a great job of buying time and then finding seams and holes in the zone. He almost threw a touchdown earlier, scrambling out to his right because we didn’t get a lot of pressure on him. But at that time we were playing against the clock obviously; we wanted to stop a check-down so we decided to drop eight.”
Gruden was quick to credit Stafford and his receiving corps with making exceptional plays on the series, facing a four-point deficit with 65 seconds remaining. After firing a 23-yard completion to wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. off his back foot, Stafford ran up the middle for 14 yards, with outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan just missing a chance at a sack.
“A great play by Matthew,” Gruden said.
Former Redskin Andre Roberts caught a 12-yard throw up the middle.
And after two fruitless throws, on which Golden Tate stepped out of bounds and Redskins cornerback Greg Toler provided strong coverage, Stafford fit the touchdown throw in an exceedingly tight window against a three-man rush of Kerrigan, Baker and Preston Smith. The ball zipped just beyond the outstretched fingers of middle linebacker Will Compton.
“Compton was right there in the hook zone and just missed the throw by a fraction of an inch,” Gruden said.
After giving the Lions credit for making plays when the Redskins didn’t, Gruden said: “If you second-guess every call that didn’t go our way, I’d go crazy. And I pretty much do that on the sideline all the time; our coaches hate me for it. But it’s just something where we have to play the call; we have to do the best we can to execute. And after the game we’ll address why we called it, and if it’s not good enough we won’t call it again. But it’s easy to second guess, but we have to execute the call no matter what it is.
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