ASHBURN, Va. — After giving up 33 points to rookie quarterback Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan blamed himself.
"I have to do a better job of making sure that we're better prepared during the week," Shanahan said, "because our defense is too physical and too good."
The thing is, defense isn't Shanahan's strongest suit. He's known more for his offensive prowess, especially his work with quarterbacks, but back-to-back dour performances on the other side of the ball have obviously commanded the coach's attention.
After starting the season strong, Washington allowed 400-plus yards each to Philadelphia and Carolina, with the Eagles piling up 175 yards on the ground and the Panthers rushing for 192. While it's not hard to understand why the offense has sputtered during the two-game losing streak — injuries and a quarterback change have shuffled the lineup — the defensive struggles of are potentially more troublesome.
"We're disappointed in ourselves," Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "We know we're a lot better than that."
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said the problems last week were due largely to the Panthers' unique college-style attack, which required a lot of cramming over just three days of practice. As for his bosses' words about the defense not being sufficiently prepared, Haslett implied it was no big deal.
"Obviously, he's a great offensive mind," Haslett said, "and he knows how to defend all of these types of things. It's good to have a guy that you can go in and talk to and say, 'How do you think this should be played?' That's what I do with him a lot."
The Redskins lead the NFL in sacks with 21, but they've forced only eight turnovers. Both of those stats showed up when Orakpo had a clear shot at Newton's blindside last week and sacked the quarterback with a thunderous hit to the back — without reaching around to try to strip the ball.
"The thing about me is I'm not right-handed, so the technique is not quite there yet," the third-year linebacker said. "As I progress, it'll get better. If I was coming on the left, this is easy all day. The right hand is a little different for me."
Orakpo said the hard hit is often enough to jar the ball loose, but Newton is a big quarterback who can take the pounding and hold on.
"You want to get the guy down," Orakpo said. "That's the one thing I never want to have happen, me missing a sack or bringing a guy down. ... You just always want to make the for-sure tackle."
On Sunday, the Redskins (3-3) go to Toronto to play Buffalo (4-2), which has allowed a league-low seven sacks. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is spreading the ball around.
"Games like this, you could really just take out the offensive lineman and play 7 on 7," Orakpo said. "That's how (fast) the ball is coming out."
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP