Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Every time an opposing quarterback threw a deep pass last season, Washington Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington got a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach. Long attempts often resulted in long completions against the Redskins' secondary, making things tougher for a defense that struggled in many areas.
Now, with the addition of rookie safety LaRon Landry, the improved health of cornerback Shawn Springs and safety Pierson Prioleau, and the return of Fred Smoot as a nickel cornerback, the secondary is part of an ongoing defensive turnaround, contributing to the Redskins' 3-1 start. No longer worried about opponents taking deep shots, the Redskins are getting good vibes from their defensive backs.
"Nothing deflates you more than giving up a big play," Washington said yesterday at Redskins Park. "It happened a lot. Those guys had a tough time back there, but they came back this year with something to prove. They've been doing a great job, and that's just helped our whole defense. You can see what a difference it makes."
Last year, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Redskins were last in the NFL in average yards allowed per pass attempt, giving up an average of 6.91 yards. This year, they lead the league with a 4.52-yard average after their performance in Sunday's 34-3 victory over Detroit at FedEx Field. With the secondary providing tight coverage against three- and four-receiver formations, the Redskins limited the past-first Lions to 76 net yards passing out of 144 total net yards, the fewest total yards an opponent has gained against them since the Denver Broncos had 128 in Washington's 34-3 victory on Oct. 12, 1992.
The defensive line's ability to provide consistent pressure against Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna was the centerpiece of the plan designed by Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, to slow down the Lions, enabling the linebackers to drop in coverage and help the defensive backs. But the secondary was in top form, too, the Redskins said.
"I was thanking them," defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said. "They did a heck of a job back there in coverage. Pass rush and coverage go hand in hand, you can't have one without the other, but I feel like Detroit probably has the best skill guys in the league as a group. Our secondary did a heck of a job."
Kitna completed only 16 of 29 passes for a 34.6 passer rating. The Lions' longest pass completion was 16 yards, and cornerback Carlos Rogers returned an interception 61 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, punctuating the team's best overall performance to this point.
Late in the fourth quarter of a 24-17 loss to the New York Giants on Sept. 23, Rogers failed to tackle Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress after a short reception, which resulted in a 33-yard, go-ahead touchdown for New York. For the most part, however, Washington's defensive backs have kept opposing receivers in front of them.
"I'm real proud of those guys," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "We felt really good about their ability to improve their play, and they're making plays like we thought they would. I like what they're doing, and I like the depth we have back there."
The Redskins couldn't overcome a lack of quality depth in the secondary last season.
Springs, considered the Redskins' best defender in man-to-man coverage, missed seven games last season because of injuries. In 2006, Prioleau hurt his knee on the opening kickoff of the first game against Minnesota and was sidelined the remainder of the season.
The Redskins gave up a league-worst 55 passes of 20 yards or more. Only the New Orleans Saints gave up more pass plays of 40 yards or more than the 15 given up by Washington. Overall, the Redskins finished 31st in the league in total defense, and bolstering the secondary topped Washington's offseason to-do list.