Redskins have been creative on defense, without success so far

September 24, 2013

Brandon Meriweather (31), attempting to make a tackle here on the Lions’ Calvin Johnson, was the only safety in the secondary against Detroit. (Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The defense of the Washington Redskins has yielded the most yards that any NFL team has allowed in the first three games of a season since 1966, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Those 1,464 yards by their three opponents are evidence that whatever the Redskins are trying on defense isn’t working particularly well. But defensive coordinator Jim Haslett can’t be accused of failing to be creative to attempt to come up with solutions.

The Redskins started a cornerback, E.J. Biggers, alongside rookie Bacarri Rambo at safety in their opening game against the Philadelphia Eagles, with Brandon Meriweather sidelined. In this past Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Lions, they benched Rambo and started only one safety — Meriweather — to go with cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson and David Amerson in their secondary.

The unusual one-safety, three-cornerback alignment allowed the Redskins to keep their standard defensive front seven on the field to deal with the Lions’ running game even when Detroit had three wide receivers on the field. The Redskins had been particularly vulnerable against the run in their first two games when opponents had spread the field with additional wide receivers in the lineup but then handed off.

The setup also put stress on the cornerbacks to cover receivers with less help than usual, though. The Lions had only 63 rushing yards but Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 385 yards. The Lions had two 100-yard receivers.

“Our game plan was to stop the run,” Wilson said Monday. “We did that.”

Asked about the demands of playing cornerback with only one safety on the field, Wilson said: “You play man-to-man — it’s like boxing, you’re gonna get a couple punches in but eventually he’s gonna hit you. You’ve got to understand that, and we’ve got to be able to roll with that. When you sit there all day like that, it’s gonna be a fight.”

Coach Mike Shanahan called the defense’s performance against the Lions “much better than our first two games. Not as good as we want to do. Any time you give up that many big plays, there’s deficiencies there. But I like the direction we’re headed.”

Shanahan called the three-cornerback, one-safety setup “a different game plan” but didn’t rule out using it in future games.

With the Redskins off to an 0-3 start, Wilson said: “We’ve just got be realistic about winning a game, and stop worrying about everything else and figure out how to win. And come up with whatever game plan and everything to win a game. …I don’t care about any yards. I don’t care about anything else but winning, man. At the end of the day, that’s what we did last year to get to the playoffs and we let everybody else calculate the stats.”

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesday.

What’s ahead:

● The Redskins say it’s time for action, not words.

● Mike Jones’s mailbag posts mid-day on Tuesday.

More on the Redskins and NFL:

D.C. Sports Bog: The Redskins, the Lions and Eminem More Bog

Bog: Cris Carter on Smoot’s RGIII comments | Maske’s top 10

Wise: Fletcher, Redskins veterans deserve better than this

Hamilton: High expectations are yielding low results

Keeping Fletcher fresh, and getting more out of Rambo

The Early Lead: Ravens’ Jones in fight on party bus | More NFL

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @Insider | Insider on Facebook

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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Keith McMillan · September 24, 2013