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Washington Redskins almost defenseless on third downs

By The Sports Xchange
Arizona Cardinals' David Johnson (R) leaps as he changes direction in the fourth quarter of the Cardinals-Washington Redskins game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, on December 4, 2016. The Cardinals defeated the Redskins 31-23. Photo by Art Foxall/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/febeb8698f9e19a50a70940b8e50cc84/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Arizona Cardinals' David Johnson (R) leaps as he changes direction in the fourth quarter of the Cardinals-Washington Redskins game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, on December 4, 2016. The Cardinals defeated the Redskins 31-23. Photo by Art Foxall/UPI | License Photo

LANDOVER, Md. -- The Washington Redskins are still struggling to get off the field on third downs and it could be what costs them a playoff spot.

It happened time and again in a 31-23 loss Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals, who converted five times when it was third-and-8 or longer.

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"It just (angers me) that we can't get off the field," inside linebacker Will Compton said. "When it's early it's more of a regrouping. 'Hey, we're fine.' We are smacking these dudes on first and second down. We just have to take care of business on the money down."

It's been an issue all season. The Redskins were comically bad early in the season with opponents converting on 57.5 percent of all third downs. That small sample size wasn't going to last and it didn't. Even Detroit -- ranked No. 31 in the league on third downs at the time -- was 10 percentage points better.

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But that sample size isn't so small anymore with just four games remaining. Following a resurgence at midseason, Washington is back to worst in the league at 47.97 percent on third-down conversions allowed. The Cardinals converted 10 of 16 times on third down.

It put way too much pressure on Washington's offense and left the defense exhausted by game's end. It finally broke when Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer hit J.J. Nelson for a 42-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter, where the wideout skated almost untouched into the end zone.

The Redskins get worse the longer the distance. Twice on Sunday the Cardinals converted on third-and-12 plays. Washington has faced 26 such situations of third-and-12 or longer this season and allowed a first down nine times. The Redskins can get better this week against Philadelphia, which has an offense ranked 26th on third downs (35.8 percent). Something has to give.

"It's very frustrating," Washington cornerback Josh Norman said. "But at the same time -- this is what you sign up for. We're out here playing hard. We just aren't capitalizing."

REPORT CARD VS. CARDINALS

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PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Grade on a curve because they were without star tight end Jordan Reed (shoulder) and on the road facing the second-best pass defense in the NFL. The Redskins still have had better days. Kirk Cousins passed for 271 yards, with a 59-yarder to DeSean Jackson and a touchdown to Jamison Crowder, but threw an interception on the game's final drive. Cousins too often appeared uncomfortable in the pocket, left several easy dump-off passes short and was sacked twice.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- After three strong games to start his NFL career, are defenses catching up to rookie Rob Kelley? He did have 63 yards on Sunday and averaged 4.5 yards per carry. But he couldn't find his way into the end zone on a few drives inside the 5-yard line. Put some of this on the Washington coaching staff, too. The Redskins far too often abandon the run even when it's productive and Kelley only touched the ball 14 times, with Chris Thompson adding two carries for 24 yards. Kirk Cousins had a quarterback sneak for a touchdown.

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PASS DEFENSE: D -- Gave up 300 passing yards and three touchdowns to Carson Palmer, couldn't contain Larry Fitzgerald (10 catches, 78 yards) at all, gave up a 25-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter, struggled to stay with running back David Johnson out of the backfield and allowed conversions on a third-and-11, a pair of third-and-12s, a third-and-9 and a third-and-8. Other than that ... It wasn't a good day for Washington's defense.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- Tackling has been an Achilles heel all season for this group and the Redskins struggled again vs. Arizona running back David Johnson -- even at 225 pounds one of the NFL's best at making you miss. The Cardinals did a good job of keeping Washington on its heels. Johnson had 18 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown. The biggest play? A fourth-and-1 conversion at Arizona's own 34 with a 24-23 lead and 3:47 to play. Johnson broke up the middle for 14 yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- A quiet game here. Punter Tress Way had a 59-yard punt and pinned Arizona inside the 20 once. Kicker Dustin Hopkins got back on track after missing two kicks in the Dallas game. He hit field goals from 20, 47 and 53 yards. Jamison Crowder had a 10-yard punt return to set up decent field position in the first half. The one blip: Kick returner Maurice Harris got lucky on the second-to-last play of the first half. He fumbled a squibbed kickoff after a short return to the 21. If Arizona recovered it could have kicked a field goal on the final play of the half.

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COACHING: C -- Defensive coordinator Joe Barry will take some heat for this one. Washington just couldn't handle Fitzgerald or David Johnson. Inside linebacker Su'a Cravens is fast. Johnson is better and routinely won their battles in the slot. Even Josh Norman -- playing out of position inside - struggled to contain Fitzgerald when Arizona used him in the slot. There were also too many missed tackles again. On offense, the Redskins never did stay patient enough with Kelley. That's a frequent criticism of offensive coordinator Sean McVay's play calling. The third-down fade pass from the 1 to DeSean Jackson -- not exactly a big target -- was questionable as Washington settled for a field goal on its final drive of the first half.

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