By Michael Wilbon
Monday, October 17, 2005
KANSAS CITY, Mo. We start with the subject Joe Gibbs doesn't want to talk about anymore, but the one that has to be addressed in the wake of Sunday's loss to the Chiefs: LaVar Arrington.
What the Redskins so desperately needed, particularly in the second half Sunday, was their own Jared Allen. It doesn't make a difference that you've never heard of Allen, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound second-year defensive lineman from Idaho State; he was the star. Yes, Trent Green and Priest Holmes hooked up on a critical score, but the star of the game, indisputably, was Allen.
He sacked Mark Brunell three times, forced three fumbles (but was credited with two) and recovered two.
Allen was so disruptive to the Redskins' offense, Dick Vermeil gave the kid the game ball.
And that's why we have to talk about Arrington. The Redskins needed a guy with the speed and strength to get to the quarterback and force him to cough up the ball or throw it to the wrong guy or hit the turf behind the line of scrimmage. The Redskins needed a guy, just like Jared Allen, to make Green nervous, to disrupt his timing, to bust up plays, to force the Chiefs into a bunch of Plan Bs.
This wouldn't be Topic A had the Redskins who did play been able to do this, but they couldn't. They haven't been able to do it at all this season.
The defense, as good as it has been, has forced a measly two turnovers in five games -- and none in the last four. There has only been one sack-and-strip of the opposing quarterback. Gibbs spent what seemed to be five minutes of his postgame news conference talking about the lack of turnovers forced by the defense.
He said he and his staff "do a lot of stuff to emphasize taking the ball away, forcing turnovers in practice." And Gibbs added that he is going to have to find "some creative way" to get the defense to intercept the ball and come up with fumble recoveries. The players might see more "strip drills" in practice this week. "Maybe," Gibbs said, "there's something I can do."
Well, perhaps there is indeed.
Find a few snaps for LaVar Arrington.
After the game, when asked about finding Arrington some playing time, defensive boss Gregg Williams answered by asking, "Okay, who do you want me to take out?"
His point is that Renaldo Wynn, Marcus Washington, Lemar Marshall and Warrick Holdman are playing very, very well. And there's no disputing that.
There's no arguing that. In fact, you won't read any real criticism of Gregg Williams in this space because all the guy has done since he showed up at Redskins Park (with the help of Greg Blache and some very sharp assistants) is put a top-five NFL defense on the field virtually every single week for 21 games. Williams, in that time, has been as good as any defensive coach in the NFL. In fact, you wouldn't even be reading about this topic today except that defense is deficient in one area: forcing turnovers.
So while those two positions are perhaps at odds, there must be a way for Gibbs and Williams to stick with 90 percent of what they're doing and still get Arrington on the field to do what the others haven't been able to do: snatch the ball.
I would sooner be convinced that Martians will land on the South Lawn of the White House than believe that Arrington, at 27, can't hunt down a quarterback, strip him of the ball and fall on it.
If Arrington can't do anything else for the rest of his life, he can bust up a quarterback . . . probably while wearing blinders. If you don't believe me, ask Troy Aikman, whose final play of his career was being blasted into retirement by Arrington on a sideline hit down in Dallas. If you don't want to believe a former Cowboy, then believe a former Redskin, Trent Green.
Asked if he approached this game with Arrington in mind, Green said: "Initially, I did. I thought, 'Okay, this is the week where they put him in there.' Look, LaVar is a beast. He creates a lot of problems for an offense. I don't know exactly what's going on, and I don't know the reasons. But when I heard some of the comments coming out of Washington later in the week, I said, 'You know what, this isn't going to be the week.' Joe Gibbs obviously has a certain way he wants his team run. And the defense was the fifth-ranked defense in the league without LaVar playing."
So I asked Green if he, or all quarterbacks for that matter, would be happy if Arrington just stayed on the sideline. "If he doesn't play?" Green said, beaming. "Oh yeah. It's not that [a quarterback] can ever relax, but it's nice to know he's not going to be breathing down my backside."
A future Hall of Fame quarterback said last week in a conversation about Arrington, "He and Sean Taylor are the guys that scare you, and if they want to sit him for whatever reason, every quarterback on their schedule will take that."
Not only that, but why would any team continually waste a roster spot? So when a three-time former Pro Bowl linebacker doesn't play a snap, the coaches are saying there's no possible situation where they think he can help his team.
That's a bunch of junk. The great coaches -- and Gibbs is one of the greatest ever -- figure out a way to reach players and get something out of them. Arrington isn't some bum. He's not Kwame Brown, some stiff who doesn't have the goods who's asking for a handout. When Arrington hurt himself last season, he did it trying to practice too soon and because he was trying to get back on the field. I don't doubt for a minute that Gibbs and Williams and all the other assistants are frustrated with Arrington and the way he hasn't fit the way they want him to into a very successful system.
Now, with two turnovers produced through five games, it's time for them to get over it.
I know at least one Redskins defender who could have run down Priest Holmes on that 60-yard screen that went for a touchdown: Arrington.
After the game, Arrington had one message he hammered home several times.
"If they put me in, I'm going to play my butt off," he said. "It's not frustrating, it's hurtful. I'm ready to play. I don't hold grudges. I'll do whatever they want me to do." Arrington said "it hurts" to see his team "losing by one and two points" when he feels he could have helped.
Arrington has some work to do. The coaches have some work to do. It's stunning to hear someone with Arrington's talent almost begging to play, especially considering that whatever his problems are should be largely attributed to a dysfunctional franchise that changed defensive coordinators in each of his first five seasons. Who in any profession prospers under that sort of managerial turnover?
The Redskins have a chance to be a playoff team this season, but the offense needs to occasionally play on a short field and the defense has to help in that regard. If the Redskins can't see that, particularly after getting hammered by Jared Allen, then a whole lot of smart, accomplished, well-paid men at Redskins Park are missing a very important point.