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The two Cowboys games illustrate how much the Redskins' defense has fallen off recently

The two Cowboys games illustrate how much the Redskins' defense has fallen off recently

The helmets they wore were the same. The personnel they used was largely the same.

But the Redskins' defense's effectiveness in their two games against the Cowboys this year was not the same. At all.

In Washington's Week 7 win over Dallas, the Burgundy and Gold stifled Ezekiel Elliott, forced two turnovers and tackled extremely well throughout.

The showing was so strong that afterward, DJ Swearinger was asking his teammates to try and emulate the 2000 Ravens, a team with one of the most feared defenses in the history of football.  

But just a month later in their Thanksgiving loss at AT&T Stadium, Greg Manusky's unit hardly displayed any of the traits that were present throughout the group just 30 days ago.

Elliott finished the day with 121 yards and had no problem finding open lanes at the line of scrimmage.

There were plenty of turnovers, meanwhile — but the Redskins were the ones giving the ball up, not forcing them.

And when it comes to their tackling? It would've been questionable for flag football, let alone an NFL primetime contest. 

Just like everything else between the two efforts, Swearinger's mood following the second was the opposite of his mood following the first.

"We lose two games in a row because of the defense," the safety said. "You wanna be a championship defense, you gotta hold that weight on your back."

"When you've got teams that can play with you, you gotta prepare," he continued. "You gotta tackle. You gotta do the simple things right. If you don't do the simple things right, you're gonna get embarrassed on national TV."

At 6-5 with five weeks to go, the Redskins are still very much involved in the NFC playoff picture and the division race. Looking at that is a reason for optimism.

But there are also many reasons for concern, including imporant ones such as the recent QB change and the running game really tailing off. However, the defense's decline is the most worrisome.

Aside from a collapse in New Orleans, that side of the ball suffocated opposing RBs and limited game-breaking plays during the first half of 2018.

Yet since then, the Falcons registered 38 points, the Bucs racked up 500 total yards, the Texans left FedEx Field with 139 rushing yards and the Cowboys, namely Elliott, Amari Cooper and Dak Prescott, broke free basically whenever they wanted to.

"We gotta be better if we wanna win," Jonathan Allen said flatly. "I say 'consistency' is the word."

Whatever the word is, the Redskins need to identify it during this layoff before they visit the Eagles for a Dec. 3 Monday night game.

If they're tired, this will be the time to rest. If they're serious about correcting their tackling, this will be the time to address it. If they need to self-scout and figure out why they're all of the sudden so vulnerable against the run, this will be the time to tighten up.

It's simple: Whether this edition of the Redskins ends up in the postseason or not will largely fall on if the defense can stop their slump. 

If they're able to return to the level they were at the first time they squared off with the Cowboys, then there's hope. But if they keep playing the way they did on Thanksgiving, a once promising year will end the way so many others in the past have.

There was a time not long ago when Swearinger was talking about the 2000s Ravens. Unfortunately, things are trending in the direction of the 2000s Redskins.

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Somehow, the Redskins still have a fairly straightforward playoff path. Somehow

Somehow, the Redskins still have a fairly straightforward playoff path. Somehow

You're going to feel absurd for reading the following sentence, but probably not as absurd as it felt to type the following sentence.

The Redskins, who are on their fourth option at QB, who made the '18 Giants look like the '72 Dolphins and who are large underdogs this weekend to the 4-9 Jaguars, actually still have a straightforward path to the playoffs.

Now, the word "straightforward" only applies to the path on paper, because realistically, there's nothing straightforward about fixing the litany of issues that are plaguing Washington at the moment.

Regardless, by losing on Monday night to the Seahawks, the Vikings blew a chance to separate themselves from a pack of NFC teams chasing(?) them and their final wild card spot. The Redskins are one of those teams, and here's how they could pass Minnesota to qualify for the postseason:

With the way the season is unfolding, you'd expect the Burgundy and Gold's playoff scenario to involve a bunch of teams losing a bunch of times in these final three weeks. The tweet above illustrates that's clearly not the case. They only need Minnesota to drop one more to go along with the Redskins winning out.

Of course, the Redskins stringing three straight plays together without committing a holding penalty feels like too much to ask for, so anyone expecting a three-game winning streak is either a bit crazy or a relative of Josh Johnson. But still, they're not out of the hunt quite yet. Somehow.

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Jay Gruden not considering changes to his coaching staff

Jay Gruden not considering changes to his coaching staff

The Redskins gave up 40 points and more than 400 yards in a loss to the Giants last Sunday, and that was without Odell Beckham suited up for New York. 

The Redskins have lost four straight games, and five of six, while giving up more than 30 points three times. 

The Redskins surrendered more than 200 rushing yards to the Giants, and have not held an opponent under 100 yards rushing in their last six games. 

You get the idea. 

After the Washington defense got out to an impressive start to the season, things have fallen apart down the stretch.

Despite the struggles, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden has no intention of shaking up his coaching staff.

"No. Not really," Gruden said on the Redskins Talk podcast when asked about any coaching changes. 

As the Redskins struggle and lose their grip on a playoff spot, it's not unheard of to think some staff changes might be coming. The Panthers fired two defensive assistants last weekend, and as the NFL season approaches the finish line, more coaches will lose their jobs. 

In Washington though, it seems the staff is safe. Still, the Giants loss stings. 

The Redskins' offense has been decimated by injuries, particularly at quarterback and along the offensive line. There was some leeway for a loss to New York, but not when the home team got down 40-0 to a 4-8 Giants team. 

That type of deficit brings questions. Questions about the coaches, questions about effort.

On Sunday, Gruden made clear he understands his future is week to week.

"We have a game to win next week in Jacksonville," the coach said. "We have to go about trying to find a way to do it."

On Monday, he made clear his assistants are safe. As far as he is concerned anyway. 

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