By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
In the short term of the Washington Redskins' season, it is unlikely that a single event has embellished the fates of two men more than what occurred in the waning seconds to Redskins safeties Adam Archuleta and Troy Vincent on Sunday.
Vincent, playing in only his second game as a member of the Redskins, was the hero in the wild 22-19 win over Dallas, blocking the field goal attempt with six seconds left that first kept the Redskins from losing a heartbreaking game and then led them to a stunning win, when fellow safety Sean Taylor picked up the loose ball and ran 30 yards, setting up Nick Novak's winning 47-yard field goal.
Had Vincent not interceded, the lasting image of Sunday afternoon would not have been the elation that at least for one afternoon elevated a slumping team but of a loss caused by the return of a constant nemesis: the Redskins' inability to defend the deep middle part of the field.
With 13 seconds left in a tie game, Dallas tight end Jason Witten beat Archuleta down the right hash mark for a 28-yard catch from quarterback Tony Romo that for the moment appeared to set up the winning field goal for the Cowboys.
Those two plays in the final seconds seemed to take on a certain symbolism, for that day assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams replaced Archuleta with Vincent in the starting lineup. It marked Williams's first major change of the season in his defensive lineup and was the first time this season that Archuleta, the safety the Redskins signed to a six-year, $30-million contract with $10 million guaranteed -- the biggest contract for a safety in NFL history -- did not start a game for the Redskins.
Archuleta, who was not at Redskins Park yesterday, was unavailable for comment and his agent did not return a call seeking comment.
Archuleta's play clearly is not the only reason the Redskins have given up so many big plays -- teams have thrown at safety Sean Taylor, targeted every cornerback and linebacker on the roster, and the inability of the defensive line to produce consistent pressure has left the secondary vulnerable -- but during the bye week Williams began devising a new role for him and unveiled it Sunday.
It appears that Archuleta's new role will be closer to the line of scrimmage, where he can shut down the run and blitz the quarterback. Against Dallas, when Williams employed a 3-2-6 formation, he used Archuleta as a third safety, in his words a cross between a linebacker and safety. Of Archuleta's skill set, pass coverage -- especially in the Redskins' scheme where a safety is asked to cover deep patches of the field while still reacting to run coverage -- represents his weakest area.
"We need to put players in the best situations for them and Adam needs to be around the box more, and we finally have the personnel situation where I can get him around the box more," Williams said. "We blitzed several times and he was close to getting there. And we'll continue to do that. He's like that hybrid safety, hybrid linebacker and we're going to get him around the line of scrimmage as much as we can."
If the move was not a repudiation of Archuleta, who has struggled finding his rhythm and place in his first season in Washington, it underscored the need for change in the defensive secondary beyond merely having its best players healthy. Sunday's game was the first time the Redskins put their projected lineup on the field since the first preseason game against Cincinnati on Aug. 13, but Williams nevertheless felt he needed to sit Archuleta in favor of Vincent.
Vincent does not refer to himself as replacing Archuleta or succeeding him. He says this because it is unfair to a teammate, and because after being in the NFL for 15 years, he says the worst mistake a player can make is to turn the good fortune of one game into a mandate.
"I'm not the answer. I just want to be a piece to the puzzle," he said. "I don't take anything for granted, and I have to earn my position every single day, not just on Sundays but Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, making sure my teammates know they can hold me accountable because I'm going to hold them accountable."
Within days of Vincent's signing, a coming change was obvious. Vincent replaced Archuleta in key passing situations in a 36-22 loss to Indianapolis on Oct. 22, even though he had practiced just twice with the team. Entering Sunday, the Redskins had given up more pass plays of 40 yards or more than any team in football. Only the Green Bay Packers had given up more plays of 30 yards or more. A disturbing percentage of those plays had occurred over the middle of the field, between the hash marks.
And Sunday, Vincent was in the seam when Terrell Owens got past him for what -- had Owens not dropped the ball -- would have been a game-breaking 74-yard touchdown.
During yesterday's news conference, Coach Joe Gibbs said Archuleta plays in numerous defensive packages. Yet, there is no question Archuleta's playing time in passing situations has decreased since the arrival of Vincent.
"I don't think he's just in the box. I think he's doing quite a bit of stuff for us," Gibbs said. "He's our captain on our punt return. I think he plays all the things. He plays in the secondary in coverage. I think what Troy brings to the table is someone who has a lot of experience and can make a lot of the calls, and is very sharp."