It's the Defense That Now Is Offensive

Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs shakes hands with Buccaneers Coach Jon Gruden after a game in which Washington's defense let the team down.
Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs shakes hands with Buccaneers Coach Jon Gruden after a game in which Washington's defense let the team down. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
By Mike Wise
Monday, November 14, 2005

TAMPA -- About Gregg Williams taking over for Joe Gibbs in the next couple of years . . . never mind.

Okay, that's a bit harsh. But Williams was given the title "assistant head coach-defense" for a reason. Gibbs hired him and forked over head coaching money because Williams is one these mad scientists in the same mold as Tampa Bay's Monte Kiffin, Philadelphia's Jim Johnson and Dallas's Mike Zimmer. These men -- usually Type A, simmering powder kegs -- are paid to concoct chaos in film rooms and make young quarterbacks like Chris Simms fidgety and neurotic, if not downright scared.

Here's what Simms had to say after Washington gave up 36 points for the second time in three weeks -- and a pivotal 54 yards in 54 seconds -- to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early Sunday evening in a jarring loss.

"I thought the pressure was so-so," said the third-year quarterback, who threw for 279 yards and three touchdowns and finished with a passer rating a shade under 120. "They came early with a double-corner blitz and another couple of times they came late. But in between, I didn't get much pressure at all."

Inside the visiting locker room at Raymond James Stadium, the players looked at this 36-35 thriller like a good, old-fangled NFL shootout in the mold of the Dolphins-Raiders classics. It's the NFL way. After a crestfallen loss on the road, you pack your bags and move on and focus on next week.

But coaches and league observers know better. Four of the last five weeks, Williams's defense has been susceptible to the big play -- the third-and-long slant pattern that neither the linebackers nor the safeties step up to stop.

Four of the defense's worst performances against the run have come in the last seven weeks. Seattle, Denver and the Giants combined to rush for 546 yards. Even the pitiful 49ers ran for 140 yards. The last two weeks, the secondary also has been fraying. It's one thing to give up 304 yards to an ailing Donovan McNabb. But 279 yards to Simms? Letting Edell Shepherd beat you for 30- and 40-yard plays, like Walt Harris and Carlos Rogers did. That's unacceptable for a team with playoff designs.

This has become less an aberration than a real worry, and Williams knows it.

"Defensively, since we've been here, we've been able to negate those plays," Williams said. "We've usually done a good job in coming back in adverse situations."

In a kill-the-quarterback league, Williams did an outstanding job and earned every accolade that came the way of the NFL's third-ranked defense a year ago. But this is 2005, and it's that once-inept offense that has carried Gibbs's team in the second half, not Williams's defense, which came into the game ranked 21st against the rush and sixth against the pass.

This defense is not merely bending, it's breaking in the crucible of big games. Williams was right in playing down the controversial two-point conversion run by the Buccaneers. Depending on your allegiance, Mike Alstott either was stopped or scored. "But we shouldn't have let it get to that point," he said.

Williams did a tremendous job early this season in patching the holes after Antonio Pierce and Fred Smoot left via free agency. He often boasts how any player could be plugged into his aggressive, come-at-you-from-40-different directions, controlled-mayhem system.

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