By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 2, 2009
With the unit he coaches beset by inconsistency and an inability to stop teams on third downs, Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache took two steps Thursday. He pulled second-year strong safety Chris Horton -- charged with a key pass-interference penalty in Sunday's loss to the Detroit Lions -- from the starting lineup, and replaced him with veteran Reed Doughty, who is off to a fine start.
And in the midst of announcing and analyzing that move, Blache said one person is to blame, more than anyone, for the defense's early struggles: himself.
"Quite candidly, in 2009, things go bad, somebody's got to go under the bus," Blache said. "Being the leader of this defense, I should be under the bus, and I'll dive under. If somebody won't throw me, I'll dive under. Because going under the bus, you hurt your feelings a little bit. . . . I can deal with the hurt and stuff, and we'll go on and play."
The Redskins, who added all-pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and potentially dynamic rookie Brian Orakpo to a defense that last year ranked fourth in the NFL in yards allowed, are last in the league in third-down-conversion defense. They allowed the Lions drives of 99, 86, 85 and 74 yards in last weekend's loss.
With a good deal of criticism heaped on the offense -- which has scored five touchdowns in three games and has been miserable inside the 10-yard line -- Blache said he felt like he has to take responsibility for the struggles of a unit that is supposed to be the Redskins' strength.
"Because I'm the leader, and quite honestly, if the calls aren't real good, that's my fault," Blache said. "If the players don't play with detail, that's my fault, because it all comes back to coaching. If we didn't have talent, then you'd say, 'Well, there's a talent issue.' We have talent. But in our league, the most talented teams don't always win. The teams that play the best win.
"Like Sunday, I thought we were a better football team, but we didn't play better. So that comes back -- when you stop, when you look in the mirror, you go through all the details -- that comes back to coaching. And quite candidly, [I] have no problem accepting that. I've talked to the players about it. I've told them, 'I'll do a better job of giving them calls. I'll do a better job of helping them on third downs [and] put them in situations where they can be successful.' "
Part of that will be replacing Horton, who beat out Doughty for a starting job early in 2008. Blache said Horton and Doughty, who missed all but four games last season with chronic back problems, were closely matched throughout preseason drills and into the early weeks of the season. Horton, though, was called for pass interference while defending Lions wide receiver Bryant Johnson in the end zone on Sunday, a play that led to Detroit's final touchdown and a 19-7 fourth-quarter lead. Doughty played in the Redskins package that calls for three safeties, and he was in on five tackles, two of them for losses.
"Reed's actually played better the last couple of weeks, and Chris has struggled a little bit," Blache said. "He had a play last week with bad eyes; we got a big interference call. He had an incident the week before where it was not a good fit.
"And it's not that we're down on him, but the fact that you have a guy in Reed that's so close to him, it gives him an opportunity, gives Chris a chance to catch his breath, refocus and come back strong and gives Reed a chance to get out on the field more."
Horton, a seventh-round pick in 2008, has started 13 games in his career, including all three this season. Now, he will turn to backing up Doughty, likely seeing time in third-down packages, and playing on special teams.
"I don't even know the reasoning," Horton said. "Probably one of those things where I had a mistake here or there maybe. But it wasn't my call. It was Coach's call. I've got to go off of whatever they say."
Doughty, 26, said he feels better than ever after deciding to have surgery to resolve nerve problems in his back last fall. "He took a risk in getting that surgery," Coach Jim Zorn said. "Back surgery's not easy." Now, Doughty is pain-free and, coaches say, noticeably stronger.
"Last year, I was hurt during the whole preseason, and then it just kind of got worse," Doughty said. "I couldn't focus on football. I was focused on trying to get healthy instead of focused on what I'm supposed to be doing on the field. Now I can focus completely on the game."
Zorn, Blache and others cited Doughty's improvement as the driving force behind the move -- "It was dramatic, even in training camp," Zorn said -- rather than dwelling on Horton's failures. On a defense that has, at times, struggled with discipline, Doughty has also shown the ability to stick to his assignments and responsibilities.
"He's got a lot more quickness, a lot more explosion," safeties coach Steve Jackson said. "He's always had a knack for knowing how to get to the ball, when to get to the ball, doing the things that we ask of him."
Because the Redskins have lost two of their first three games and are yet to have an impressive performance, scrutiny has followed nearly every decision and move. Zorn said he appreciated Blache taking the blame and turning some of the focus away from the players, but that it wasn't necessary.
"First of all, I wouldn't even give it to Greg," Zorn said. "It's my responsibility. I'm in charge of offense, defense and special teams. Greg doesn't have to do that."
But he did. The implication: The calls must be better and more aggressive, regardless of which players he's using.
"I've got to be just a little bit more of a maverick," Blache said. "Not necessarily a McCain-Palin maverick, but a Bret or Bart kind of maverick, and be a little bit more of a riverboat gambler."