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State of the Defense

By Rich Hilts | October 26th, 2003

While the defense started out fairly strong in the first part of the year, certain adjustments seem to be happening to fix what wasn’t broken. The Redskins shut down the run and the pass in the first few games, only to have certain weaknesses exposed by the Giants. While it seemed that the opponents studied the tendencies of the calls made by George Edwards in particular situations, it didn’t seem that George made any adjustments to foul up well tailored plans.

Defensive Line:

The inside tackles are being misused, trying to get a pass rush as if they were both Warren Sapp. With the size and speed of the interior linemen being shuffled in and out of the game being questionable at best, there is an unrealistic expectation for these men to collapse the pocket. While containment is possible, with George electing to try to get a speed rusher inside, the line becomes undersized. There are no “locomotives” (like Sam Adams or Tony Siragusa) on the inside, and the whole defense is having to adapt to this fact. Having to support the interior line with linebackers robs the defense of a good east to west pursuit as the linebackers get trapped by tight end and full back blocks off the ends. This sets up the opponent to run all day against Bruce Smith, a known danger as a pass rusher, but a weak spot against the run. When Bruce moves outside, the run play to the left of the offensive line moves in, and vice versa. The tight end and full back move downfield, blocking the linebackers to the inside. If the blocks are performed well enough downfield, it is even possible for the safety and defensive back to be blocked. This is why fans are seeing a predominance of runs to the outside, whether off tackle, pitches, screens or flat passes. Renaldo Wynn, fortunately, has provided a better anchor on the right side of the line, and while he hasn’t made a stupendous amount of tackles, he has stretched out the running plays or just stopped them dead by being where he needs to be. The pass rush hasn’t been there, simply due to the fact that the opponents running game has been so strong off the edges, which will always keep the defensive line and linebackers cheating out to stop the run. This allows the quarterback the extra second or two, especially on play action, to step up and complete a pass. While the defensive line has crowded the quarterbacks at times, it hasn’t been nearly enough to cause interceptions, fumbles or sacks. It would seem that the line coach would play more to the line’s strength which would be simply to play tight and wall off the offensive line, while letting the linebackers do the job to the outside, which will be discussed next.

Grade: D


Arrington is playing hard but undisciplined and recklessly. Armstead is proving to be a good stopper on the left side of the defense, and Trotter continues to be a good presence over the middle, considering the scheme. It seems, with the number of passes defended by Arrington, 9, and the number of tackles for loss by all three Pro Bowl linebackers, 5, that there isn’t much attacking of the line happening from this position. As has been noted after several games, George Edwards’ security blanket (a la Linus) is the soft zone, read and react defense that leaves the linebackers in a Purgatory of not being able to attack and having to wait until the half back comes around an end before they are allowed to do anything. It makes no sense to have three of the faster linebackers, including the man that had the most sacks on the team last year, cooling their heels instead of run or pass blitzing. When the Redskins had less talent under Ray Rhodes, there was no shortage of blitzing, and that defense was one of the best against the pass in the NFL. Most of the teams that have beaten the Redskins have used the linebackers to attack the line of scrimmage, having the confidence in their secondary as well as their scheme to stop the play. When the linebackers stay stacked in the middle with their primary responsibility to stop the run up the middle because the tackles are stunting trying to achieve a pass rush, they are less likely to be able to cover a back out of the backfield (a la the Bucs game) or the tight ends (Bucs and Bills). Simply put, play the biggest tackles they have, play them straight forward, stop up the middle, spread the outside linebackers outside off the offensive tackles and use the linebackers to achieve the pass rush. With the defensive line played tight, the backs will have to bounce outside, where Arrington and Armstead will be in a position to make the play or string the run towards the sidelines. If the back gets through the middle, Trotter is still in a position to make the play. Quit using the linebackers as defensive backs unless the tight end or running back comes out of the backfield, as in most cases they will get burnt by a receiver anyway.

Grade: F

Defensive backs:

With two corners who have proven they can play against most any receiver one on one successfully, the safeties can cover the slot receiver and tight end or both slot receivers, possibly using a bump and run to take the WR off his pace. Why in the world is George using players like Bailey and Smoot in outside run support when that causes them to be so vulnerable in play action. There is quite a bit of proof in the drop off of pass coverage from last year to this year. With Bailey and Smoot having to look inside first to see if it is a run, the receivers are schooling the corners with sharp cuts and moves. Against the Bills, they used play action with the half back to freeze literally everyone towards the inside, leaving the receiver on a corner route that burned Bailey. Against the Buccaneers, a number of the plays that were so successful were play action, once again, freezing nearly every Skin. In reviewing tape, you can easily see 9-10 heads turn towards the fake, and by that time Brad Johnson is moving towards the outside. The tight ends just turn and the ball is there with no linebackers in sight because they were trapped inside. The safeties have it even tougher, since they are run defense support, but with Champ and Smoot getting burnt because their heads are on a swivel, it keeps looking like Ohalete and Bowen, two of the five leading tacklers on the team are getting there 2 days late and 8 dollars short. One other question that must be asked is why not more bump and run? Why not keep the receivers from releasing down the field?

Grade: D

Quite bluntly, with George not having faith in the defensive line and using backers and defensive backs to defend against the run on plays where they should be looking for the pass, this will continue. If the Redskins wanted to make a move to help themselves, they should have signed about 800 pounds of beef in the middle of that line to make the offensive lines pull double teams off the ends resulting in more pressure from the outside. Moving the backers to the outside, tightening the alignment of the line, quit being fancy inside, and let the corners do their job on the receivers without having to worry about the backs will enable the Skins to get some semblance of defense working. Blitzes have to become a staple to cause issues in the backfield of their opponents, whether on a run play or pass play. Quit trying to rush up the middle unless using a linebacker or safety as it just isn’t working. If there are four targets for a pass on a play, drop four backs and hit the line with the rest. If the confidence isn’t there for that big a sell out, drop five to cover four and blitz six. With the Quarterback not receiving or blocking, there should always be a mismatch possible on the line, and George simply isn’t using that. The scheme is soft, and the opponents know it. The tackling is soft, especially after the read and react allows the opponent to hold onto the ball for so long. The fundamentals of defense as a whole seem relatively soft. The adjustments during the game and at half time are non existent, and without those teams will continue to pick the Skins apart as offensive coordinators continue to make their adjustments and dissect what is proving to be a large part of the Redskins problems. Above all else, the defense seems to need to re – learn the art of tackling and wrapping up. They need to quit being hot dogs, quit trying to get Madden face time with flying shoulder pad tackles that opponents just rebound off of. They don’t need superstars with stupendous hits, they need fundamentals to stop what is happening and while most have achieved greatness at one point in time or another, missing tackles is not the way to continue to achieve it. The question that begs to be asked is where is the coaching on the defensive side of the ball? Why haven’t adjustments been made when the scheme has been exposed as a Ponsi scheme of the worst sort? When do the coaches learn from the mistakes that the opponents have surely been learning from?

Overall Defensive Grade: D

Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Rich Hilts

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