For the Redskins, Pressure Situation
Sunday, November 27, 2005
There was a moment when Gregg Williams saw his perfect definition of beauty. It came in the first quarter last Sunday at FedEx Field, on the Redskins' first defensive series against Oakland. On third and eight from his 13-yard line, Kerry Collins took the snap and drifted back. He looked left, toward Randy Moss, cocked and prepared to throw to one of the most feared wide receivers in the NFL.
As soon as he raised his right arm, Collins felt sharp resistance at his elbow from linebacker Chris Clemons, who forced an errant throw. The doomed pass wobbled downfield and landed in the arms of another Redskins linebacker, Lemar Marshall, who charged 17 yards for a touchdown.
For Williams, the Redskins' assistant head coach-defense, this was exactly the kind of execution that justifies his almost steadfast belief in a blitzing defensive system that stresses unpredictability as much as pressure, discipline as much as instinct. An outside speed rush created chaos on the offensive line while disrupting the quarterback's delivery, and Collins, pressured quickly by Clemons, couldn't locate Moss and hurried his throw toward Marshall, well positioned for success. The scheme created pressure from the right side, maintained its discipline on the left and produced an ideal result.
It was the type of play expected to define Redskins football this year after the defense finished in the top five in several categories last season.
It was an extension of the reputation Williams had earned in Buffalo as head coach and in Tennessee as defensive coordinator. It is why Williams is expected to be at or near the top of a short list of potential head coaching candidates at season's end.
But with six games left in the season, the Redskins' defense at times remains in search of itself. For every Marshall touchdown or Ryan Clark interception near the goal line, the Redskins have surrendered bigger plays, such as Reggie Brown's 56-yard touchdown catch for Philadelphia and Edell Shepherd's 30-yard touchdown reception for Tampa Bay, which led to the winning two-point conversion.
Last season, the Redskins' defense gave up one play longer than 50 yards -- an 80-yard pass from Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb to Todd Pinkston on Dec. 12. This season, the defense has allowed seven plays of 50 yards or more. It also has allowed four additional plays of 40 yards or more, the last being a key 49-yard touchdown from Collins to Jerry Porter on Sunday.
Against the Raiders, the defense was at times spectacular, evidenced by Collins's 14.0 passer rating in the first half and the Raiders' 1.7-yards-per-rush average. The Redskins rank 12th in passing yards allowed per game, but because of the number of deep passes permitted, they are 21st in average yards per pass. Moreover, few teams could even consider making the playoffs with the fewest forced turnovers, but the Redskins are squarely in the hunt.
The result is a sort of unevenness this season to the Redskins' defensive personality, and Williams and his staff have been faced with two simple but crucial questions. The first is whether offenses have discovered important keys to beating the Washington defense, if not consistently then for momentum-changing plays. The second is potentially more distressing, that the Redskins do not have the personnel to execute Williams's aggressive style to peak performance.
"You can only be who you are, and Gregg Williams is an aggressive, come-after-the-quarterback type of coach and defensive coordinator. So he can't all of a sudden one week be real vanilla and play it safe. If he does, then his defense will be worse," said Phil Simms, the former New York Giants quarterback whose son, Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms, passed for 279 yards and three touchdowns two weeks ago against the Redskins.
Williams and his staff must determine whether the cause is primarily injuries to Sean Taylor, Cornelius Griffin and Carlos Rogers, or if they overestimated the ability of their players and need to acquire more impact-style players next season. The question is apparent in the lack of pressure generated by the Redskins' front four, especially without tackle Griffin, who has missed the last three games and is questionable for today's game against San Diego. If it wasn't anticipated early in the season, it has become clear that a top priority for the offseason will be a defensive end who can pressure the quarterback.
"The mark of a good coach is to be able to adjust to what we have," Williams said. "And we haven't even been close to playing with what I expected us to play with. Sean Taylor has been out there, but he hasn't been close to playing healthy. We haven't had Cornelius Griffin, and LaVar [Arrington], we're just getting him back now. I honestly believe that along with Bill Belichick up in New England, we do it the best.