The Washington Redskins have spent most of this season trying to repair their secondary. They had to patch together a lineup after losing both of their projected starters at safety and they had to search for answers after opposing quarterbacks began piling up passing yards at a dizzying pace.
The defense has fared better against the pass in recent weeks during the team’s three-game winning streak. Now, with a playoff spot within reach, there are new issues to be addressed in the defensive backfield due to the suspension this week of one cornerback, Cedric Griffin, and an ankle injury suffered by another, DeAngelo Hall.
Members of the secondary say the adversity is nothing new for the group.
“We’ve lost guy after guy,” cornerback Josh Wilson said. “It’s unfortunate. But like I say, the next guy has to be able to step up without a hitch and make the plays he was making, if not more.”
The Redskins enter Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens at FedEx Field one game behind the first-place New York Giants in the NFC East division race and a game in back of the Seattle Seahawks in the chase for the second of two NFC wild-card spots.
Hall hurt his right ankle early in Monday night’s triumph over the Giants. He was on crutches Tuesday and had his right foot in a protective boot Wednesday at Redskins Park.
The NFL announced Tuesday that Griffin had been suspended for the final four games of the regular season without pay after testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing substance. Griffin’s positive test was related to the use of Adderall, according to a person familiar with the case.
“It’s part of the beast,” Hall said. “Whether it’s of somebody else’s own doing or a freak injury or something like that happens, there’s nothing I can do to control it, nothing these coaches can do to control those particular situations.”
Hall added, “The next guy has to be able to play, has to be able to go out there and perform and step up for us.”
Hall resumed practicing Thursday, participating on a limited basis. He vows to play Sunday, saying there’s no way he will miss the game. But with Griffin out as the third cornerback behind starters Hall and Wilson, the Redskins likely will have to rely on young cornerbacks Richard Crawford and D.J. Johnson when the Ravens use formations with three or four wide receivers.
“We’re excited to get those young guys out there, get them on the field, see what they can do,” Hall said. “No stage and no time like the present. They’re stepping into some bright lights. Hopefully they’re up for the challenge and we’ll keep getting them prepared out here in practice and in the film room so that they’re ready to go.”
The Redskins are ranked 31st among the 32 NFL teams in pass defense, but there has been improvement lately.
Six of the first seven opposing quarterbacks to face the Redskins this season topped 300 passing yards. The only one who didn’t, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Josh Freeman, threw for 299.
But only one of the last five quarterbacks to face the Redskins has reached the 300-yard mark. That was Tony Romo of Dallas, who threw for 441 yards during the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day loss to the Redskins. But Romo’s numbers were a bit illusory since 344 of his passing yards came in the second half after the Redskins had built a 28-3 halftime lead en route to a 38-31 win.
Wilson said the improvement has been attributable to “just locking in, making sure we take away the big play. A lot of the passing yards that we gave up were just big chunks. We weren’t going and getting gutted. We were just giving up the 80[-yard], 70-yard passes. And that can make you look real bad on the stats.”
Instability has been the norm for the Redskins’ secondary all season. One would-be starter at safety, Tanard Jackson, was suspended for the season for a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. The other, Brandon Meriweather, played in only one game because of a series of knee injuries.
Now the mixing and matching comes at cornerback as the Redskins ready to face Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and his two productive wideouts, Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Both have more than 700 receiving yards this season.
“The train is going to keep going,” Hall said. “We’ll throw guys off. We’ll pick guys up. Some guys will jump off. But we’ll keep moving. It’s the nature of the business.”