Familiarity Breeds . . . ?
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
After suffering his worst year in Washington, a year in which the Redskins finished 31st in the NFL in total defense, 23rd against the pass and 27th against the run, it would have been easy for assistant head coach Gregg Williams to overhaul the defense. The questions were too apparent to ignore.
But Williams resisted whatever temptation may have existed to rebuild from scratch. His reasoning has been consistent since the end of last season: He and Coach Joe Gibbs believe that last year's inability to make plays was an aberration, one of those years when players were in the right spots, had chances to become playmakers, and simply did not.
The result is a defensive unit that this year desires to vindicate the faith Williams has shown in the group. Nearly half of the regular players on the defense were brought to Washington by Williams in his first two seasons or have a prior relationship with him in Buffalo or Tennessee.
"I know I've got a lot to prove," defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said. "After the year we had last year, you don't want people to think this is what you are. The more guys who play like they have something to prove, the better."
The defensive line produced 13 sacks, which could have been construed as proof that it could no longer be the game-changing force it had been in 2004, when the Redskins were a top five defense, and 2005, when the Redskins ranked in the top 10 in total defense and made the playoffs.
The argument could have been made that they were old and battered and that while Williams had squeezed strong performances out of a gallant group, last year proved it was time to move on.
The linebackers, because of injury and ineffectiveness, did not produce big plays, and the weak side -- where former Redskin Warrick Holdman played last year -- was weak against the run.
The defensive backs were beaten down the sidelines in man-to-man coverage and throughout the seams in zone situations. Only New Orleans gave up more pass plays of 40 yards or more than the 15 given up by the Redskins, and the Redskins yielded an NFL-worst 55 passes of 20 yards or more. Some of the trouble could have been attributable to a weakened pass rush, and some of it to a lack of playmakers in the defensive backfield.
During the offseason, the Redskins adjusted, but did not overhaul. They replaced safety Adam Archuleta with LSU safety LaRon Landry, who yesterday agreed to a five-year contract with $17.5 million in guaranteed money. They replaced Lemar Marshall at middle linebacker with London Fletcher, another Williams protege from when he coached in Buffalo. Williams left the defensive line intact.
In other places, Williams added Fred Smoot, who is returning to Washington from Minnesota, as a nickel cornerback, and Omar Stoutmire at safety. He signed former Arizona cornerback David Macklin. Holdman is gone, and Rocky McIntosh, the second-round draft pick the Redskins traded for in the 2006 draft, is the starting weak-side linebacker.
For his part, Williams seems rejuvenated. He now sports more of a crew cut and lost considerable weight in the offseason -- he estimates 25 pounds.
"We've got a lot to prove. We've got to prove ourselves again. I think that I'm a better coach when we're in that fashion, with a chip on our shoulders," he said. "Nobody should be feeling good about last year. I'm certainly not feeling good about last year. We've got a bitter taste in our mouths."