As they watch their former team struggle through yet another campaign, Redskins greats Darrell Green and Charles Mann believe that they have pinpointed the root of the problems – particularly on defense.
The unit ranks 31st in the NFL in total defense and 27th in points allowed (27.6). The secondary has struggled mightily, and is on pace to give up 4,826 passing yards, and the front seven has struggled to get to the quarterback and has only 14 sacks through nine games.
Green, who made seven Pro Bowls during his Hall of Fame career, and Mann, who made four Pro Bowls and like Green won two Super Bowls, and played in three, both believe that poor technique is to blame for many of the Redskins’ struggles.
While both acknowledge that Washington faces challenge playing without four starters in Brian Orakpo, Adam Carriker, Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson, they believe that defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and his staff should be able to get more out of the players that they have.
“On good football teams, when people have to go down because of injury or whatever the case is, you normally have people that can step up and get their opportunity and make it work. We haven’t seen that,” Mann said.
Both former players see plenty of talent in the Redskins’ defensive ranks. And neither questions the schemes that Haslett has dialed up. But they question whether the players are being taught how to capitalize on their natural ability and elevate their games.
“You’re seeing – in my humble opinion – you’re seeing a lack of skill development. We’re not talking about can they do it? I’ve said this before on Twitter and television. We’re not saying, can they play? But I think there’s a lost art of people knowing how to teach you how to do what you’re supposed to do,” Green said. “When they talk about the great genius coaches, they were talking about from a schematic standpoint. His scheme: the Tampa 2, the Run-and-shoot, Four-wide, the West Coast. They were talking about scheme. They weren’t talking about a guy that can teach you how to get into your stance, how to take that inside away and how to really get out of a break, how to back-pedal. I think the league lacks that, and in my opinion, they’re lacking that here. I know some of these kids, and I know they can do it. But when I watch, I go, ‘Wow, he doesn’t even know.’ … That’s not to blast anybody. It’s easy to say, ‘Old retired guy. He’s just talking.’ But I know what I know, and I know what I’m seeing, and I know Josh Wilson well, and I believe in that kid, and I think that with that kind of understanding, that input, that kid is a great player, I think he can be a great player. And I think many of the other ones as well.”
Green said strong technique can help a player better react to wrinkles from an offense because at times, the scheme can only go but so far and that players often must respond to improvise while still playing within the structure of the defense.
“It’s like when your mama cooks, and yeah, her mama taught her, but she practices and she tries this and she tries that, and it’s between the coach and the player. You make a cake,” Green said. “You learn, ‘Oooh, last time I tried this and I tried that,’ and you find, ‘whoa, Grandma could make a cake.’ She didn’t always do it that way, but through trial and error, through participation, you learn it. That should be a culmination of player and coach.”
Mann agreed and said that over the bye, the Redskins’ defenders need to focus on sharpening their skills.
“I think that it starts back with fundamentals,” said Mann, who recorded 83 sacks in his career. “Every time under Joe Gibbs when we weren’t doing what we needed to do, when we weren’t getting it done, offensively, defensively, special teams, we went back to basics. I think we need to go back to basics here. We need to go back to training camp, we need to learn how to rush the passer, we need to learn how to play the run better, to have gap responsibility. Those are basic things that this team has learned, should know, and you don’t see it on game day. So, when you play a gap defense, if somebody doesn’t take their gap, it exposes a whole defense.”
The Redskins have struggled to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks prior to this season, and Mann said he believes Washington’s pass-rushers haven’t reached the next level in their development because while talented physically, their knowledge is limited.
“If you don’t have on your staff a person who knows how to rush the passer, if they can only look at film, but don’t have anybody to demonstrate it for you — I was very fortunate when I played here from 83 to 94, during that course of my career, Tony McGee was here,” Mann said. “Tony McGee had 115 career sacks. Dexter Manley was here. He has 99 sacks. So, these guys were guys that knew how to rush the passer, and if I wanted to compete and play on this team, I needed to learn from them and learn how to rush the passer. On this team, you don’t have that right now.
“Pass rush is an art. It’s an art. And you’ve got to learn it,” Mann continued. “A lot of guys have natural ability. Ryan Kerrigan, Brian Orakpo, they have natural ability, but that will only take you so far. Then, you need somebody to train you.”
Neither Green nor Mann believed that all hope is lost for the 2012 Redskins, however.
Asked how long he thought it would take to correct weaknesses in the secondary, Green said, “It can be done in a day. Now, it has to be perfected over time, but to say, ‘Let me diagnose this.’ It’s like a doctor. He diagnoses it in a day. He can tell you your arm is out of place in a moment. It can be done in a short period of time. And I think it will. I’m not giving up on them.”
Said Mann: “It’s not too late now. In practice you need to learn. Again, do they have the coaches – and I’m not dogging or talking bad about anybody – but you have to have a coach, who can rush the passer, that can demonstrate it. Or, maybe you put together a tape of great pass rushers, and they study that and they watch it, practice it and try it. It’s trial and error until you figure it out. Put a tape on of Dwight Freeney or Michael Strahan. Doesn’t have to be Dexter or myself. Put a tape on and let these guys look at this and say, ‘OK, this is how they did it.’ And then demonstrate it, because that’s not happening.”