The task of shutting down Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos’ league-leading offense basically represents “Mission Impossible” on a regular week for most NFL teams. But the job got even more daunting for the Washington Redskins this week following the suspension of safety Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty’s concussion.
The status of Doughty, who has started the past three games at strong safety, remains uncertain. The eight-year veteran is hesitant to predict whether he will play Sunday.
If he can’t, those absences will force defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and secondary coach Raheem Morris to try to put a capable tandem on the field despite limitations.
Haslett remains confident in his ability to put what remaining talent he does have to use and contrive a plan to slow Manning and the Broncos’ passing Sunday.
“We feel good about the guys we have playing. . . . We’ve got some options. Hopefully, obviously, I’d like to have Reed back, but if he’s not, we’ll move on and we’ll be fine,” Haslett said Thursday.
First-year pro Jose Gumbs has seen significant playing time at strong safety while rookie Bacarri Rambo, who opened the season as the starting free safety but got demoted for the past four games, has handled a heavy workload in practice this week, Haslett said. Trenton Robinson, signed last week to help boost the special teams units, also has seen time at safety. Cornerback E.J. Biggers, who in the past two games has rotated in and out with Doughty at free safety on passing downs, has gotten more work at that spot, Haslett said. And the team on Tuesday brought back Jordan Pugh, who has the ability to play both spots.
“We’ll see how it plays out at the safety spot and then go with what our gut feeling is on what gives us the best chance to win the game,” Haslett said.
The shuffling at safety is nothing new for the defensive coordinator. In the past three seasons, LaRon Landry, Kareem Moore, Doughty, O.J. Atogwe, Madieu Williams, DeJon Gomes, Meriweather, Biggers, Rambo and Pugh have all shuffled in and out at the two safety positions because of injuries and poor play. The team drafted strong safety Phillip Thomas in the fourth round, but a Lisfranc injury forced him out for the entire season.
Haslett seemed to have found a tandem that brought some stability as he paired Meriweather with Doughty. But now his tinkering resumes again.
It’s possible the Redskins could start Biggers at one of the safety positions. Biggers has replaced Doughty, the starter, on passing downs the past two weeks. He admittedly struggled against Philadelphia because of the adjustment to having to account for a larger portion of field and read and react to the whole offense. Now with three games of experience under his belt, he believes he is capable of playing well.
“I’m comfortable at whatever position coaches need me to play, and whatever the team needs me in,” Biggers said. “I stay with my head in the playbook and I watch the older guys in front of me, so like I said, I’ll be prepared for anything the coaches need.”
The injuries represent a chance for Rambo to work his way back into the coaches’ good graces after he went from opening-day starter to special teams contributor to inactive for back-to-back games in a span of six weeks. Rambo did a solid job in pass coverage. However, he struggled mightily with his tackling and found himself relegated to the bench after just two weeks.
“It’s been miserable,” said the former all-American, who is tied for first on Georgia’s all-time interceptions list. “I ain’t sat there and watched ever in my life, at least not since 2008 when I redshirted. But I’m not in the slumps. I’m just looking at everything in a positive way. I’ll go out there, work on everything — like I said, my angle tackling, work on my coverage.”
Even if the Redskins get Doughty back and have just one hole to fill, things don’t get much easier. Cornerback Josh Wilson described Manning as “one of the greatest, if not the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.” Manning and the Broncos boast the top offense in the league, averaging 469.3 yards and 42.6 points a game. Wide receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas rank second and fourth in the league in receiving yardage, and Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas are tied for the NFL’s lead with eight touchdown catches each.
“You’re not talking about Bo-bo and Jo-Jo. You’re talking about Wes Welker, and D. Thomas is out there doing his thing and Decker,” Wilson said. “It’s not like they’re nobodies. They’re great players, too. . . . You’ve just got to play ball. Everyone’s going to be stressed, but everybody has to step up.”
Said Doughty, “I don’t think it’s ever great timing to face Peyton Manning. He gives you a full day’s work in everything that he does. We’re going to have to play our best game, and whoever goes in there has to step up and make plays.”