By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Watching the tape provided confirmation, though the buzz around the league was proof enough for the Washington Redskins. New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush has risen to a higher level, and the rest of the NFL is trying to catch him.
"There's a lot of great running backs, a lot of guys who make plays, but Bush . . . just deadly, man, deadly," Redskins free safety LaRon Landry said. "You always need to know where he is. You always need to watch him, because if you don't, you could be looking at [a touchdown] real quick."
The Redskins intend to focus on Bush tomorrow when they play host to New Orleans in their FedEx Field opener. Much of Washington's defensive plan involves the third-year player, who had an impressive performance in the Saints' season-opening victory over Tampa Bay, defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. The Saints' productive offense, however, also presents other challenges to a defense with several key members slowed because of injuries and whose personnel might not be suited for the basic approach Blache used in Washington's opening loss to the New York Giants.
In transition with Blache in charge defensively, the Redskins face another big test.
"Reggie Bush presents a problem that's totally unique in and of itself," Blache said. "He's better than anybody else in the league right now in a one-on-one situation. He's a Barry Sanders that they use in a lot of different spots. This guy is a game-breaker. He's one of the most exciting people I've seen in my 20 years in the league. He creates mismatches with anybody."
In a 24-20 victory over the Buccaneers, Bush rushed for 51 yards on 14 carries and had game-highs with eight receptions for 112 yards. With 7 minutes 35 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, he caught a swing pass from quarterback Drew Brees and outran defenders for a 42-yard touchdown that provided the go-ahead score. And with leading wide receiver Marques Colston sidelined after thumb surgery, Brees could rely on Bush even more.
Bush lines up in the backfield, in the slot and out wide, "and he can do whatever they ask him to do," strong safety Reed Doughty said. "He can do the swings, he can do the screens, and he can be a receiver. He's got the talent to do it all."
The Redskins are not in the best position physically to contend with someone so versatile. Weak-side linebacker Rocky McIntosh is working back into form after having season-ending reconstructive knee surgery in 2007. Strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington (hamstring, hip) missed most of practice this week and will be a game-time decision, Coach Jim Zorn said. Washington sat out four full games last season and missed parts of others because of recurring hamstring problems.
If Washington is sidelined, reserve linebackers Alfred Fincher and H.B. Blades could have bigger roles against the Saints. But regardless of who plays linebacker for the Redskins, the Saints are expected to attack the unit with Bush and tight end Jeremy Shockey.
Shockey, acquired in July from the Giants, had six receptions for 54 yards against Tampa Bay, and "if you look at the second half of the Tampa game, that's when he became a huge impact in that game, catching the ball in the seams and keeping the chains moving," Blache said. Linebackers "started to concentrate on him. All of sudden, Reggie is hitting you. It's a heck of a 1-2 combination. It's kind of like in the old days fighting Muhammad Ali. You knew what he was going to do, and you knew how to fight him, but he still knocked you out a lot of times."
And Shockey's blocking in the running game could pose problems as well. Defensive end Jason Taylor struggled against the run in the opener, losing many individual battles against New York tight end Kevin Boss -- not considered a top blocker at his position.
The Giants totaled 154 yards rushing on 32 attempts (a 4.8-yard average), and running back Brandon Jacobs had 116 yards on 21 rushes (a 5.5-yard average). In the second half, Blache moved ends Taylor and Andre Carter out wider to change their angles and help with some of the looks they were getting from the tight ends. The Giants had 54 yards rushing and 113 total yards after halftime.
"Our coaches made the adjustments, and you see what we did then," Carter said. "That definitely shows we can be something special."
Taylor was playing for the first time since injuring his right knee Aug. 23 in a preseason game against the Carolina Panthers (earlier this week he acknowledged his knee "isn't 100 percent"), and scouts have expressed doubts about Taylor's effectiveness against the run.
In his first 11 seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Taylor, who is listed at 244 pounds on Washington's roster, sometimes weighed less than 240 pounds. It appeared the Giants targeted Taylor either because of his injury or the belief he is a weak link in the Redskins' run defense, and Shockey is considered a better blocker than Boss.
"We feel like he'll be better this week just physically [because] his knee's better," Blache said of Taylor. "You've got to understand it was a heck of a task for him to show up last week and compete. I have a lot of respect for the man doing it."
Players hold Blache in high regard. Many in the locker room were pleased when owner Daniel Snyder, after deciding to fire former assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams, promoted Blache, who had coached the defensive line for four seasons, to run the defense.
A successful defensive coordinator for five seasons with the Chicago Bears before joining the Redskins, Blache has streamlined Williams's system so much that "what they are doing on defense now, it's like night and day from how they looked under Gregg Williams," said a league source who has studied the Redskins' defense on tape. "It's so basic now. They're not really trying to hide much. It's like the Colts or the Bears, but I'm not sure they have the players to back it up. There's no [Brian] Urlacher or [Lance] Briggs. There's no [Bob] Sanders or [Dwight] Freeney. It's a very different look now."
But different does not mean worse, players said. "Oh, man, it was just one game," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "Yeah, you want to win, but you look at the adjustments our coaches made [at halftime], and I think they did a great job. We just have to keep it going now and do what we're supposed to do."
Staff writer Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.