It's interesting to see what Greg Williams and Joe Gibbs are doing with their choices in the free agent market. What is somewhat amusing is the fact that none of the experts out there are picking up on what the Skins are doing with their acquisitions. It would appear that rather than concentrating on the deep pass defense, which is a risky proposition in the first place, the Redskins are concentrating on stuffing the run and stopping the short passing game.
There are a few indicators that would point in this direction rather than towards the all out pass rush. First, the Skins have picked up free agents that are stronger versus the run than they are imminent pass rush threats. Griffin and Daniels are good additions to players like Wynn and Upshaw. These guys have shown the ability to change their point of attack to stop a runner going wide as opposed to being single minded in their pursuit of the quarterback. It seems that 'all around' players are more what the defense is looking to build on, rather than the mindless crushing of the field marshal. Wynn and Daniels can both switch to the inside, allowing more speed and less bulk on passing downs, while the line of Wynn, Noble (if he returns), Griffin and Daniels could prove to be harsh to run against.
A second indication is the style of defense that Greg Williams likes to run. The 4-6, as well as the 4-2-5 and the 3-3-5 are not based on huge speed rushers on the ends. The defenses are built up on a solid wall of initial defenders tying up the offense and allowing speed backers to rove and crush what comes their way. Often times, this is used in the Cover 2, which is a much-abused system if the team is not built around getting to the Quarterback. As last year showed, with average linemen, the Redskins didn't provide any pass rush, and the linebackers were forced to sit back and react rather than attacking. In the Williams style of defense, the linemen are there for one reason - tie up the front five of the offense and allow holes to be plugged by linebackers shooting gaps to hit runners or chase quarterbacks. This is indicated by the speed backers that Williams is bringing in, and the older backers being let go or put into role positions.
The third indication that we are going to be seeing the backers as the pass rush, as opposed to the linemen, is the statements of the front office regarding the draft. They are, if not posturing, stating that they are certainly focused on Sean Taylor. While some of the fans, myself included, would rather see another big body in the defensive line, the coaching staff is leaning towards another player who can create problems for the quarterbacks across the middle, allowing the speedier linebackers time to get through the line and get to the quarterback. With the addition of Springs and possibly Brown in addition to Bauman and Smoot, we would have a good secondary. With Taylor and Bowen as the safeties, we would have a secondary that can cover, intercept and hit. Even playing the dime defense, as Williams does with no quandaries; he could still bring five or six attackers towards the line of scrimmage to pressure the quarterback.
In addition, since the Redskins were 13th against the pass and 22nd against the rush last year, it is obvious that the latter is a much greater problem than the former, even with the loss of Champ Bailey. With the ability to go to a nickel defense with the proper depth at corner, and a linebacker like Lavar Arrington who is good at dropping into coverage, the defense is then free to blitz with one or two players from different directions. Marcus Washington has proven he can get to the quarterback, and despite the talk of cutting Jeremiah Trotter, he has shown that he remembers how good it feels to get a sack. It wouldn't be inconceivable on a third and 10 or longer to see Arrington, Washington, Wynn and Daniels playing the line with Trotter and Warrick Holdman/Michael Barrow/Brandon Short playing behind them with the secondary of Springs, Smoot, Bowen, Taylor and Brown in coverage. They would have the beef, they would have the speed, they would have the hitting and they would have the coverage.
All in all, since Williams handed the Redskins their beloved Burgundy and Gold lunch worse than most teams last year - including the Superbowl Champs, it's safe to say that he knows where Washington is weakest. His running back had a career day, and with mediocre talent in many offensive positions, they handed the Redskins one of their most difficult defeats. The Skins seem to be going with the mobile defense, and aggressive linebacking corps because Williams is expecting the line to stop the run, the secondary to do the covering and the backers to play particular roles depending on what the situation calls for - either attacking the line or dropping back.
Where is this different from any other team? Take last year where the secondary was expected to come up and stop the run, the backers were held back from the line they were supposed to be backing, they didn't know when to drop into coverage because they were waiting on seeing something to react to. The linebackers and the safeties were vulnerable to play action worse than ever because we couldn't stop the run and there was no pressure from any player on the quarterback.
With the line having a clear mission - stop the run - the backers having a clear mission depending on the situation and the secondary having a clear mission - stop the pass, our defense is ready to take the field and hold our opponents to a much lower score than last year.
Keep one thing in mind, without a clear cut running game, most teams tend to falter and falter badly. When teams take away 50% of a team's offense, the team doing the taking away usually wins. When the opponents walked into games with Washington last year, running games got better, then their passing games came to life. It was a pattern repeated over and over and the Redskins lost over and over. Had the Bills not had the run against us last year, they wouldn't have won with the corps of receivers they had and their overall record supports that theory.
Teams had their longest drives, best running games, best receiving games and highest scoring games against the Redskins. And it all points to a wishy-washy defense, not committing to stopping one phase or another of the opponents' game. It certainly appears there is a man in charge on the defense that is willing to take the gamble to win the games, making it clear which way we are looking to go. It is about time.
This article was released on 2004-03-13.
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