By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 26, 2010; 9:27 PM
JACKSONVILLE, FLA. - For much of the afternoon Sunday, the Redskins' defensive huddle could've benefited from a batch of nametags. Suddenly, there's a Jackson, a Scott, a Wilson. One new guy - lineman Joe Joseph - apparently has the same first and last name.
"It was basically, call the guys by numbers because you didn't know everybody's name," linebacker and defensive captain London Fletcher said with a laugh.
In the end, it was the most unlikely of players who found themselves on the field for the most crucial play in the Redskins' 20-17 overtime win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. For a team in the twilight of the season and a head coach eager to evaluate new, untested players, the scenario produced results that will pay even bigger dividends as the team's talent evaluators decide how next season's roster might look.
The defense produced one of its best performances of the season - four sacks, two interceptions and fewer yards (336) than the Redskins had allowed in a month - despite missing six regular starters.
"We didn't use it as an excuse," said linebacker Andre Carter, who started for just the fifth time on Sunday. "We didn't come to the game like, well, we're wounded here, let's just give them a show."
Duct tape and twine couldn't hold this unit together. Three defensive linemen were placed on injured reserve last week alone. Four defensive players were added to the 53-man roster in the days leading up to the game - including two less than 24 hours before kickoff.
In the end, several players made names for themselves when it mattered most. The Jaguars were on their third play of the first drive of the overtime period. Facing third and four, quarterback David Garrard was in a shotgun formation, and the Redskins' nickel unit featured just three players who'd normally be in the stating lineup (Fletcher, cornerback DeAngelo Hall and linebacker Rocky McIntosh).
When the Redskins needed a big play, their two safeties - Macho Harris and Kevin Barnes - were actually cornerbacks forced to play out of position because the team's top four safeties this season were all injured. In addition to Phillip Buchanon replacing an injured Carlos Rogers in the second half, their nickel corner (Byron Westbrook) and outside linebacker (Chris Wilson) were both primarily special-teams contributors. One linebacker (Carter) was playing due to an injury to Brian Orakpo, and another (Rob Jackson) had been added to the 53-man roster just a few days earlier.
When the ball was snapped, the group of no-names scattered.
"What we try to do is disguise a lot," Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. "Obviously, you can't bring everybody or you are going to leave a couple of people short. Some people fade back into paths and other times, we bring people."
The Redskins mixed up their blitz schemes at halftime, and before the key snap in overtime, Garrard had no way of knowing that six Redskins were about to rush. And he certainly had no shot of guessing which six.
"They were definitely disguising a lot," Garrard said.
McIntosh and Wilson blasted up the middle and both reached the quarterback quickly. Garrard flung a pass nearly sidearm and off his back foot.
On the right side, Barnes thought he recognized the tight end's route. Until last Sunday in Dallas, Barnes hadn't played safety since high school. He started last week practicing at free safety, prepared to replace Reed Doughty, who's recovering from a concussion. Then, when it became doubtful that Kareem Moore's knee would allow him to play at Jacksonville, Barnes finished the week taking reps at strong safety.
"I went in there, feeling like I was 235 pounds," Barnes said, "even though I'm a buck-95."
The afternoon hadn't been perfect for Barnes and Harris, and they received coaching on the sidelines after every series. Until Sunday, neither knew just how much action he'd see in Jacksonville, but both said they were eager to take advantage of the playing time.
"I had to do my homework all week," Harris said.
Barnes felt he knew which direction Marcedes Lewis was headed and stepped in front of the Jaguars' tight end to snare the pass. He returned the interception to the Jaguars' 16-yard line, setting up the game-winning field goal.
Despite the changes to the defensive line, the Redskins generated pressure up front that has been lacking in recent weeks, courtesy of some names that are usually buried deep on the stat sheet. In his 15th game, Adam Carriker posted his first sack as a Redskin. Playing in his first game of the year after spending almost the entire season on the practice squad, Jackson had the first sack of his career. Jeremy Jarmon's half-sack was also the first of his career.
Since the Redskins were eliminated from the playoff race, Shanahan has repeatedly said he'd use the remaining weeks to evaluate players. While much of the attention has focused on the quarterback position, several defensive players, pushed into action for a variety of reasons, gave the coaching staff some film that will be worth studying.
"The man who comes to play has to match that level of the guy that's hurt or play above that," Carter said. "That's what certain individuals did today."