Defense Is Hurting; LB Play Criticized

Defensive tackle Joe Salave'a, who has missed 3 games with a calf injury, confers with Andre Carter and Renaldo Wynn.
Defensive tackle Joe Salave'a, who has missed 3 games with a calf injury, confers with Andre Carter and Renaldo Wynn. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 19, 2006

Washington Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers said yesterday that he will not be able to play on Sunday against the undefeated Indianapolis Colts because of a broken thumb, and four other defensive starters were unable to practice fully because of injuries.

Tackles Cornelius Griffin (hip) and Joe Salave'a (calf) said it may be difficult for them to play against the NFL's fourth-ranked offense and linebackers Marcus Washington (hip) and Lemar Marshall (ankle) are expected to see action, but are not completely recovered.

Linebackers coach Dale Lindsey criticized the performance of his group of players, who before the season were considered one of the team's strengths.

"My people are not doing a good job with their hands on their blocks, and they're not doing a good job rerouting receivers" in zone coverage, Lindsey said. "I'm not happy with that. They're doing all right in man coverage, I don't have a problem with that. Their assignments -- [are] okay. But the mental errors and missed tackles are too much. You can't have the number of those we've had and be a winning team, just from that [linebacker] position alone."

The Redskins rank 22nd in the NFL in total defense, 24th in points allowed, 24th against the pass and 17th against the run. The defensive backs -- including Rogers, who has dropped several easy interceptions -- have been criticized for repeatedly giving up huge plays (25 or more passes of 20 or more yards in six games) and intercepting only two passes all season. The defensive line has been held to one sack or fewer in four of six games -- a problem the past three years -- with end Andre Carter, a free agent signee in the offseason, drawing most of the criticism.

But the linebackers have been largely spared the criticism. Washington, a Pro Bowl player in 2004, missed practice much of last week with hip problems as well, and has limped at times. Marshall, the quarterback of the defense as the middle linebacker, has been trying to overcome offseason knee and shoulder surgery, and hurt his ankle Sunday. But while Lindsey acknowledges Marshall may not be at 100 percent, he wants to see him make more of an impact around the ball, as he did last season when he was moved from the weak side to the middle.

Injuries "may be part of the problem, and it may not be part of the problem," Lindsey said. "It may be people are ripping our butts, and we're not making the plays. But [Marshall] is just not where he was completely last year. He is mentally, but he hasn't been physically."

Losing Marshall or Washington would be a significant blow, as there are no proven options behind them, but both said they will play Sunday. Rogers, selected ninth overall in the 2005 draft, has struggled this season, but had been the team's No. 1 corner with Shawn Springs just returning from groin and abdominal injuries last week. It is likely that Springs and Kenny Wright will start against the Colts, and veteran safety-cornerback Troy Vincent could play despite just being signed on Monday.

"I probably could handle" starting, Springs said, "but it's not my decision."

The Colts use three- and four-receiver sets to spread the field, which will test the depth of any secondary, let alone a faltering one. Pins were surgically inserted in Rogers's thumb this week and his right arm was in a cast and sling yesterday, but he is aiming to play against Dallas in Week 9. "After the bye, I should be back," he said.

Salave'a and Griffin, who are both listed as questionable, are the run defense's linchpins, but the team has allowed a total of 349 rushing yards in consecutive defeats to the New York Giants and Tennessee, and could be forced to start rookies Kedric Golston, a sixth-round pick, and Anthony Montgomery, a fifth-round pick, again Sunday. Salave'a missed two weeks with a right calf injury; he is now going on a second week with a strained left calf, and took limited individual drills yesterday.

"I'm not good. Not good," Salave'a said. "Unfortunately, I don't have control over the healing process. What is really hurting me is that I haven't been able to be in there for the fight."

Griffin, by far the team's most effective defensive lineman, missed Sunday's game and, while eager to get back by the weekend, realizes he is coping with a potentially long-term injury. A cautious approach might be best in this situation, he said, even with a bye Oct. 29.

"I've got to be smart," Griffin said. "It's one of those things where I could play one game and then miss four, and then that hurts the team more. I have to be smart about what I do, and I don't want to hurt the team doing it."

While the injuries to linemen and defensive backs have major repercussions for the linebackers, Lindsey is focused on his group. "That falls on me and I'm trying to get it corrected," he said. The linebackers have combined for two sacks all season, with one fumble recovery and no interceptions. Eleven linebackers from other teams have surpassed that sack total individually -- although many play in 3-4 defenses that allow for more big plays from that position. The league credited the Redskins' entire linebacker group with 11 tackles in the loss to the Titans, and not having Griffin and Salave'a in front of them at Indianapolis would not make life any easier.

"You have to play with whoever is there," Lindsey said. "That's no excuse. The rookie tackles are maybe not as good a Griff or Salave'a, but they gave us a good effort, and regardless of who you are you've got to go make your plays anyway. No excuses. No excuses. You either play good or play bad."

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