With the stakes rising, Haslett has no interest in revealing what has worked best during Washington’s five-game winning streak (in the past three games combined, the defense has given up just 21 second-half points).
“Why don’t you just write about the players?” Haslett asked me the other day. “They deserve the credit.”
Referring to strategy, Haslett said, “We really don’t want to get into that.”
Fortunately for Redskins fans, we do. And you don’t need to understand each linebacker’s responsibility on every zone-blitz play to follow the bouncing ball. Some of what Haslett has done to improve Washington’s defense is obvious. For the more complicated stuff, we’ve brought in help.
What Haslett did, according to two longtime NFC defensive assistants who have studied film of the Redskins, was utilize the entire defensive roster, try to put players in favorable matchups based on their skills and, when all else failed, Haslett went after quarterbacks with every blitz in his playbook.
Most coaches would rather have 11 great players requiring minimal substitution. Haslett isn’t so lucky.
It’s not uncommon for coaches to use more players late in a season when starters are worn down (by December, not even columnists are 100 percent). But according to one of the NFL assistant coaches, during the winning streak Haslett has expanded the defensive rotation to 19 players, an unusually high number. It seems that the Redskins’ defensive players have had more pep in their step during the fourth quarter compared with opposing offenses, which don’t rotate as much.
“When a lot of guys play and contribute, it just makes it easier on everybody, especially” after halftime, lineman Kedric Golston said. “Coach Haslett is coming up with ways to help everybody be at their best.”
Haslett is finding the right spots to use players. Call it situational hitting.
When Brian Orakpo was injured, outside linebacker Rob Jackson moved into the starting lineup. Orakpo was an every-down player who made big plays against the run and pass. Jackson is as productive against the run, but Haslett has used special teams standout Lorenzo Alexander, a pretty good pass rusher, on the majority of passing downs. Combined, throughout the streak, they’ve become an effective replacement for Orakpo.