The Final State of the Defense
By: Rich Hilts 
Posted: 2004-01-14
Category: Washington Redskins News
In examining the final state of the defense that the Redskins fielded this year, there are questions that must be asked. Could they have done better in the scheme used? Could they do better in a more aggressive scheme? Was the defensive line weakness too much for the back seven to compensate for? In answering these questions, one must examine each position and how the players grade out overall. In the greater scheme of things, did the coaching of an inexperienced coach who couldn’t seem to adjust to what other teams were doing affect the outcome of games? The answer, quite simply, is yes.

Defensive Line:

While this unit was certainly the weakness of the whole defensive unit, there were a couple of players that did make improvements or show good play. There is also the fact that this line did not receive any support from the linebackers in a timely fashion due to the nature of the cover 2 defense. Regan Upshaw, when he was given a chance to play, actually did disrupt the run to the right side of the defensive formation as much as his counterpart, Renaldo Wynn did on the left. Both of these men drive straight up the field attempting simple straightforward penetration to disrupt the plays in the backfield. Unfortunately, even with Martin Chase having a few bright spots occasionally at tackle, there was no middle support. Russell and Dalton had problems staying consistent, with the line being separated at the tackle position. This simply means that the tackles would be at far different positions upfield towards the quarterback, opening gaping holes for running backs to exploit. When two defensive tackles work in tandem and stay on the same horizontal level, there are far smaller holes for the middle linebacker to plug. This, unfortunately, did not happen as fans can easily see in reviewing tapes. When Smith was pulled from the right end spot and Upshaw inserted, teams simply turned to the middle of the line where trucks could have been driven through. Now that Bruce is retiring, a new defensive end for the pass rush will be acquired. With Willams’ aggressive style, look for a large defensive tackle or two to stop up the middle, demanding double teams and allowing the ends to acquire one on one blocking allowing easier paths to the quarterback. While Wynn and Upshaw were solid, this line needs a major overhaul as solid doesn’t do it in this league. They can provide solid depth, however.

2 Quarters

Linebackers:

With the season grinding to an end it was difficult to really judge the linebacking corps with the freelancing going on. There were many times that the linebackers responsible for the play of the tight ends or backs would just abandon their posts for shots at the quarterback. This will end under Williams, but so will the lack of aggression shown by George Edwards. There will be an upgrade to the line, so there will be better lanes for blitzes. Expect that the linebacking corps will improve next year as Williams and Gibbs will recognize the potential of the three pro bowl linebackers on the team. All three are downhill type players, and the scheme expecting them to sit on their heels until the play developed did not allow them to use their talents properly. This part of the roster is much better off than most fans will give credence to. Their past exploits show what they are all capable of, and fans were shown little flashes this year. When looked at in the proper perspective, they did their jobs as best as possible when given a 5-6 yard handicap as well as the other players getting a 3-4 second head start on their plays. Expect the three to return and show their true abilities under a coach who likes to attack downhill.

4 Quarters

Secondary:

There has been some disagreement among the fans on the secondary. Ohalete, Bowen and Bailey have all been targeted as problem children. The question still remains as to whether or not to retain anyone but Smoot in the secondary, depending on the person you speak with. Bailey was burned for an inordinate number of touchdowns this year, as well as a number of plays given up due to large cushions. Ohalete and Bowen both had problems having to help fill in the run support. Smoot did give up passes underneath, many on hitches and hooks, although he wasn’t burned deep for a large majority of the year. The problem once again – the quarterbacks on the opposing teams had too much time and the zone defense versus most teams running a ball control passing attack proves to be porous once again. Misdirection and drag routes (one receiver following another) can clear zones and allow the quarterback to see the receiver open clearly. Also, most zones are desperately vulnerable to particular passes depending on the scheme selected. This was exploited time and again using particular routes that succeeded all year. When offensive coaches see a defense not adjust to certain patterns, they will swarm like piranha. The safeties, due to the run support called for in this cover 2 scheme, were horribly vulnerable to play action. This coupled with the defense not attacking and stopping the run allowed teams to go for the jugular down the middle of the field with play action. The basic concept of a zone defense states that seven men in coverage can cover seven windows well enough to allow the defensive line to get to the quarterback. This is a flawed concept – if one attacks a quarterback so that the secondary rarely gets tested using stunts and blitzes, the entire team improves. If the run is halted using close in run support and using the linebackers with attacking styles teams will have their tempo dictated to them. What happened against this secondary this year should not have happened, and for that fans can lay it at the feet of the coaches. This is a much better secondary than it would seem, even if Champ starts hearing the voice of God dictating contract terms. With a better line next year, with more aggression, this secondary, even without Mr. Bailey, should improve drastically.

4 Quarters

The ratings presented here not only represent the actual play on the field during the season, but the honest evaluation of the talent represented on the defensive side of the ball. If the style is upgraded and the line is upgraded, the defense will improve to the top 10 next year if not higher. Simply put, there was no aggression this year. It showed in the tackling, the poor pursuit, the bad execution, the large cushions granted receivers. When aggression was shown, when the Skins battered someone into submission and gained a lead, they quickly backed off and allowed the opponents to recover and come back. The “play not to lose attitude” is, hopefully, a thing of the season past. For all of us fans, we bite our nails to see if the team comes out with the tiger unleashed or if they are contained once again, poodles on a leash.

In grading out this past year and looking at the coaching included in the final grade, the whole system would require a much lesser grade than shown in the individual positions above. Simply put – lack of experience, lack of adjustment, lack of knowledge and lack of discipline cost this vast talent dearly.

Final Defensive Grade: 1 Quarter
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