Redskins juggling lineup combinations in search for answers on defense

October 15, 2012

The search for answers on defense, along with a lengthy list of injuries, led the Washington Redskins to use some new lineup combinations during Sunday’s triumph over the Minnesota Vikings.

The experimenting met with some success, including red-zone stands that Coach Mike Shanahan said Monday were the difference in the victory, and the tinkering could continue as the Redskins prepare to meet the New York Giants on Sunday. The Redskins will give more playing time and perhaps expanded roles to players who produce when given opportunities.

“When you do have people hurt and you do have some depth on your football team, you’re going to experiment with different groups, personnel groups, and try to find the personnel group that works best,” Shanahan said. “So we’ll constantly do that in our base packages and nickel packages, give people a chance to earn a position or earn a starting job. That’s how these players get a chance, at least some of these young players . . . to show us what they can do. And a lot of them never give the position up.”

The Redskins are playing without three injured starters on defense. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker are on the injured reserve list and won’t play again this season. Safety Brandon Meriweather hasn’t played all season because of a knee injury and will be sidelined until November, Shanahan said last week. Third cornerback Cedric Griffin has missed the past three games because of a hamstring injury.

The Redskins originally planned to split playing time at Orakpo’s spot between reserve linebackers Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson. But while Jackson participated in 42 of the Redskins’ 84 defensive snaps in Sunday’s 38-26 win over the Vikings, Wilson was in the game for only two defensive plays.

Lorenzo Alexander, the Redskins’ special teams captain, was put into the rotation at linebacker and played 27 defensive snaps. Recently signed linebacker Mario Addison was on the field for 11 snaps and rookie Keenan Robinson was in the game for five defensive plays.

“I think our coaching staff is going to put whatever works out there,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said in a conference call with reporters Monday, a day off for Redskins players after Sunday’s win. “Feelings aside and emotions out of it, they’re going to put whatever guys give us the best opportunity to win. It might be some mix [and] match rotations out there, things like that. But we’re just trying to get the most out of our guys.”

Alexander made the most of his chance Sunday, with 11 / 2 sacks and a fumble recovery that set up a Redskins’ touchdown, along with five tackles and four quarterback pressures.

“We had a package going in early,” Alexander said Sunday. “It was between me and Keenan, just how the game felt. After going in and making a couple plays, they kind of stuck with me.”

Madieu Williams played 81 of 84 snaps at one safety spot. Reed Doughty, the team’s most recent fill-in starter for Meriweather, was given 44 snaps while third-year pro Jordan Pugh had an expanded role, with 36 snaps. Former starter DeJon Gomes was on the field for only six plays on defense.

At cornerback, with Griffin on the inactive list, rookie Richard Crawford took only one snap while David Jones moved into the third-cornerback role and participated in 40 plays.

“Lorenzo got the chance and really rose to the occasion,” Hall said. “We’re going to try different things. We had Jordan Pugh out there, Madieu, Reed Doughty.”

Said Shanahan: “If a guy like Lorenzo has a great game, we’re going to try to find ways to get him in the football game. . . . If it’s base, if it’s nickel, we’re going to try to get players who help us win on the field as much as possible. We can use players a lot of different ways.”

The Redskins, who are ranked last in the league in pass defense and 27th in total defense, once again failed to shut down the opposing offense Sunday. Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder passed for 352 yards and Minnesota had 421 total yards.

But the Redskins held the Vikings without a touchdown for nearly 31 / 2 quarters. Williams’s touchdown on an interception return gave the Redskins their second defensive score in two games and fourth of the season. The Redskins evened their record at 3-3 and have a chance to claim a share of first place in the NFC East if they beat the Giants this weekend in East Rutherford, N.J.

“Some of the best teams that have been in this league the last couple years, Super Bowl champion teams, their defense would get turnovers and give their offense opportunities to score points or actually score points,” Hall said. “We feel like we have that combination. We have been having a little bit of a problem keeping the yards to a minimum. . . . But at the end of the day, we want to win games.”

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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