Redskins' 'D' to Have A Lot Thrown Its Way

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 7, 2007

Not long after the Detroit Lions set an NFL record with 34 f ourth-quarter points last Sunday to stun the reigning NFC champion Chicago Bears, Lions quarterback Jon Kitna proclaimed that Detroit's burgeoning offensive juggernaut was based on passing the ball, consequences be damned.

"The reality of the fact is we are a pass-first offense," Kitna said after the 37-27 Detroit victory. "Point-blank, it's who we are. It's what we do best is throw the football. It's what I do best is come out and put the pressure on the defense of having to defend us in the passing game."

That statement quickly made the rounds at the Washington Redskins' training facility in Ashburn as the Redskins prepared to play the Lions and their multiple-receiver formations at FedEx Field today. The Lions, who lead the NFL with 313 passing yards per game, will test Washington's rebuilt secondary, which ranked last in yards allowed per pass in 2006. And a trio of other top passing clubs await the Redskins in the following three weeks -- Green Bay, Arizona and New England.

The Redskins' ability to nullify, or at least mitigate, those air attacks could have much do to with how the first half of the season unfolds, and whether they can surpass last year's 5-11 record. The Redskins' next four opponents are equipped to expose pass-defense weaknesses. They have bold offensive schemes that often deploy five receivers at a time and have coaches willing to run the shotgun offense and throw the ball regardless of the down and distance.

"We're going to attack and make the defense have to defend every inch of that 53-yard-wide and 100-yards-long field," Kitna said.

Green Bay and New England are led by two of the top quarterbacks in the NFL -- Brett Favre and Tom Brady. And each of Washington's upcoming opponents has at least one dominant wide receiver and, in most cases, several outstanding wideouts with height, skill and speed. Detroit has Roy Williams (6 feet 3, 211 pounds) and Calvin Johnson (6-5, 239).

The measure of Washington's offseason attempt to buttress its secondary with free agent cornerbacks Fred Smoot and David Macklin and rookie safety LaRon Landry will be taken by the end of October.

"Teams that throw the ball, we welcome that," safeties coach Steve Jackson said. "We look forward to the challenge. That's why you play the game; it's not really fun for us if you run the ball 40 times and pass 10 times as far as the secondary is concerned. That's why we added [defensive backs] in the offseason. More teams are now going to more spread offenses, and you've got to have the right situational guys to cover the field."

Gregg Williams, the Redskins' assistant head coach-defense, is keenly aware of the talents of Detroit offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who led the St. Louis Rams offense that bested the Williams-coached defense of the Tennessee Titans in the Super Bowl following the 1999 season. In meetings this week, Williams explained how unconventional Martz is, players said, and how he is willing to sacrifice sacks, turnovers and, for much of the game, running the ball in the name of a quick-strike approach.

The subtle interplay of adjustments between Martz and Williams creates a compelling subplot to today's game.

"We understand their offense," Williams said. "The big thing is, do you have the players to be able to stop them in the matchups? It's going to come down to some critical-play matchups. Is our athlete as good as their athlete? Can we get two athletes on their one athlete at times? All that type of stuff. Hopefully our guys understand our plan well enough that we'll have a chance."

Deploying four and five wide receivers with regularity, as do the Lions and the Redskins' subsequent three opponents, leaves fewer tight ends and backs in the backfield to help protect the quarterback. The offense is predicated on the quarterback taking three- and five-step drops and quickly delivering the ball. Tempo and timing carry the scheme. With little extra protection for the passer, the pass rush often comes down to four defensive linemen against five offensive linemen because the multiple-receiver sets force linebackers into pass coverage duties or off the field in exchange for extra defensive backs.

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