By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 18, 2009
Just a week into the season, the Redskins' biggest earner has become the team's quietest player.
Albert Haynesworth last spoke publicly about his play, briefly, in the moments following the Redskins' season-opening loss at the New York Giants. As the team turned its attention to Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams, Haynesworth has remained mum. On Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, the big defensive tackle shooed away reporters who approached him at his locker.
By way of explanation, he offered this week in a text message: "I will let my play speak for itself. . . . That's just the way I feel right now."
If that's the case, fans and coaches alike will be eager to hear from him Sunday. The subject of Internet catcalls and talk-radio bloviating for his first regular season game with the Redskins, deserved or not, Haynesworth will have a lot of eyes cast in his direction.
While fans weren't thrilled to see Haynesworth winded and at times removing himself from the game against the Giants, the tenor of analysis from Washington coaches couldn't be more different. Defensive coordinator Greg Blache said Haynesworth was "definitely a factor in how the game transpires."
"I thought he played well. Thought he did a good job," Blache said. "Made some plays in the run game, got some pressure at times in the passing game."
Washington gave Haynesworth a contract this offseason that could be worth as much as $115 million. To open the season, television cameras often focused on Haynesworth on the sidelines, at times taking a knee. He played in 45 of 64 plays, which is more than 70 percent of the snaps, and coaches said they entered the game knowing there would be regular rotation among the team's interior linemen. All seven defensive linemen played at least 10 snaps. Andre Carter was the only one who played more than Haynesworth.
"That's about what we anticipated in the first ballgame," Blache said. "Your first ballgame, the speed picks up much more than it's ever been in the preseason, the intensity level is up so much further, so you expect to play guys. It's the excitement of the first game, the speed of the first game, guys are antsy before they go."
Haynesworth's exact contribution thus far isn't easy to discern. Despite his production last season with Tennessee -- 51 tackles, 8 1/2 sacks -- defensive tackle isn't traditionally a position best judged by statistics. The NFL doesn't consider tackles to be an official statistic, but the league's official Web site credited Haynesworth with four tackles in Sunday's opener. However, the numbers maintained by the Redskins suggest he played a role in seven tackles.
Haynesworth did not face double- and triple-teams on every play, and Blache did not want to attribute other players' successes to Haynesworth's presence on the line.
"Albert's a good player, but let's not make him King Kong. He did his job. That's what we want him to do," Blache said. "Good player -- very, very good player -- but not Superman."
While some fans -- especially the sort who have cellphones and listen to drive-time sports talk radio -- have been quick to compare Haynesworth with the likes of Dana Stubblefield, the pricey free agent defensive tackle who flopped for the Redskins a decade ago, the Rams aren't quite writing him off entering Sunday's game "There aren't many tackles in the NFL that can disrupt the whole game," said Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, "and I think he's one of them. I think that's why Washington brought him in. He's such a wide body, has good experience now, and is good technique-wise, so we have our hands full with him."
Haynesworth's ability in the middle -- paired with veteran defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin -- forces opposing offenses to game-plan specifically for him. A week ago, the Rams' offensive line struggled to fend off the Seattle Seahawks. Bulger was sacked three times.
"As a quarterback, I don't watch the fronts too much," Bulger said. "Sometimes there are keys for blitzes and stunts. I'm more focused on the linebackers and secondary, but our scouting reports bring up Albert at times because he is such a good player."
Against the Giants, Haynesworth had several impact plays and forced New York running backs to run to the outside. On the first play of the second quarter, the Giants attempted a fourth and one from the Redskins 3-yard line. Haynesworth stopped Brandon Jacobs, New York's super-size running back, for no gain, and the Redskins took over on downs.
"That was all him. He crashed down and made the play," linebacker London Fletcher said. "He did the things we want him to do. I was pleased with what he did. He dominated. There were plays where he really dominated."
But it was also Haynesworth who jumped offsides in the fourth quarter on third and eight, essentially turning a 50-yard field goal attempt into a 45-yarder, which Lawrence Tynes had no trouble making.
And there were still other plays -- Andre Carter's third-down sack and forced fumble in the second quarter that teammate Lorenzo Alexander recovered -- that Haynesworth watched from the sideline.
Players reviewed tape of the Giants game on Monday, and regardless of the stats and despite the plays Haynesworth missed, Fletcher said he liked what he saw from the team's big offseason spending splurge. "He was disruptive," Fletcher said. "He made a lot of good plays for us."
"A lot of times, especially at the defensive tackle position, you may not get the praise, so to speak, for what's happening," Fletcher said. "In this instance, when you watch it [from a recording], and you know what the defensive concept is and things like that, that's when you really see it. Especially on some run plays. Where he's back side and he's coming, crashing down, when the running back doesn't have the opportunity to cut back with him there, you really see it. And there were a couple instances where he actually made the play. He chased from the back side and made the play."
Staff writer Jason Reid contributed to this report.