By Jason La Canfora
Monday, December 15, 2008
This loss began for Carlos Rogers the way last week's ended, with the cornerback on an island in man coverage, the rest of his teammates assigned to attack the quarterback in an all-out blitz, and the ball landing behind him for a touchdown.
This time, shaky quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was the beneficiary of the blown cover-0 scheme, without a single defender able to harass him on the play despite the heavy blitz. Wide receiver Chris Henry was allowed to pull off a double move, with enough time to fake an inside slant before getting behind Rogers to catch what was a fade to the back of the end zone. It was a replay of the touchdown Derrick Mason caught to cement Baltimore's win last week.
"That touchdown pass wasn't on Carlos," said defensive coordinator Greg Blache, calling this "almost an identical scenario" to the Mason catch. "There should have been some pressure in that guy's [Fitzpatrick] face that didn't happen. You shouldn't be able to get a double move on a [cover] zero play."
Sunday's 20-13 debacle at Paul Brown Stadium against Cincinnati, a 1-11-1 team at the start of the day, had many of the same stark overtones as last week's setback. The Redskins' defense received no support from the offense and, while holding an opponent to a manageable point total, was chasing the game from the opening drive. There was never a hint of a sufficient pass rush -- allowing another novice passer superior protection. That deficiency has long undermined this unit, and the Redskins botched opportunities to grasp deflected and errant passes, forcing no turnovers against an outfit that entered the game with the fifth-most giveaways in the NFL.
Late in the game, Washington could not get a struggling opposition offense off the field, with the Bengals' 7-minute, 13-second scoring drive putting the game away just as Baltimore's 7:52 scoring march did last week. A widespread breakdown on a predictable screen pass -- which went for 79 yards -- was a pivotal play in Cincinnati's other touchdown drive, and now the season is all but over, a 6-2 start devolving into a 7-7 mark that effectively will leave the Redskins playing for nothing but pride in the final two weeks.
Perhaps, given that reality, we may see more of the hodgepodge of defenders that Blache put together yesterday, with injuries and what he dubbed "executive decisions" resulting in unusual personnel groupings. Little-used draft picks received much more playing time; more established veterans sat and watched.
The sight of Rogers and starting linebacker Rocky McIntosh sitting side by side, their feet next to heaters, as the season slipped away, was far removed from how it began, with both recovering from reconstructive knee surgeries far ahead of schedule and contributing regularly. Rogers earned praise for his Pro Bowl-caliber play. Now, both wonder about their future as this organization claws for direction once more.
Rogers, Washington's top corner for the first three-quarters of the season, was a sparsely used nickel back Sunday. McIntosh, his chronically ailing knees aching again, was spared further physical abuse and spent all but the first few drives on the sidelines.
So with the season in the balance, Blache turned to safeties Mike Green and Kareem Moore, linebackers Alfred Fincher and H.B. Blades, corner DeAngelo Hall, tackle Ryan Boschetti and end Rob Jackson, all of whom were either not on the roster before this 1-5 slide or almost exclusively on special teams.
Rogers said he was shocked to learn of his limited role and said he did not know that he was not starting until he heard the announcement of the lineups over the public address system before the game. "Nobody said nothing, nobody explained nothing," said Rogers, the ninth overall pick in 2005 and a free agent after next season. "I guess I've got to go back and evaluate how I play." McIntosh echoed those remarks about his role. "I was surprised, but you have to ask Coach about that one," he said.
Blache pointed to Rogers's missing practice much of the week with a stomach ailment and going for blood work Wednesday. Also, against a run-heavy opponent, Blache's game plan relied on the three-safety Cobra package, which kept just the starting corners -- Shawn Springs and Hall -- on the field in many third-down nickel situations.
(Blache did not mention Rogers's predilection for dropped interceptions, but with the team desperate for turnovers, some players believe that had something to do with the demotion.)
McIntosh, who has required numerous knee surgeries since being drafted in 2006, has been slowed and ineffective recently, with the chronic condition worsening (his knee issues scared away many teams in the draft, but the Redskins traded up to get him). "Rocky's struggling," Blache said. "He is worn down. He wasn't playing Rocky kind of football, and there's a point where you do things you have to do [to spare] his body, because he's a warrior."
Both were still involved, however, in one of the pivotal sequences. Leading 7-0 and backed up to the 8, the Bengals faced a second and 19, an obvious spot for a screen pass. Blache had the Redskins in cover-2, with two deep safeties, but as a receiver went in motion some players became confused, he said, and thought they were in cover-3. "We didn't have good communication," Blache said.
The coaches had spent a good bit of Wednesday emphasizing the screen game, pointing to situations inside the 10 when the Bengals lean on it, but the Redskins failed to corral running back Cedric Benson until he was at the Washington 13, with LaRon Landry, the safety playing the left side of the field, never close. Henry's touchdown came two plays later.
"There was definitely a lot of confusion on the play," Landry said. "I got blocked. A guy chopped me."
Blache said he and the staff will put off determinations on how much turnover is required within the unit until the regular season is complete, but to many players there is no secret to their limitations as a defense. They rank sixth in the NFL in points allowed but go weeks without producing a game-changing moment.
The defensive line has been ignored in the draft for a decade, the class of free agents signed in 2004 to bolster the unit is aging and oft-injured, and players acquired this offseason to address critical areas -- aside from injured seventh-round pick Chris Horton -- have been busts.
"We don't have the horses, man," one veteran said. "We all know it. You tell me how many playmakers we got on this defense? We can only really run a few coverages. There's only so much we can do. When do we ever get a pass rush? Who's making the plays?"