Coach Joe Gibbs's offense has received attention for altering an offense that ranked 30th in the 32-team league while sputtering on big plays. Washington's defense, under Gregg Williams, ranked third despite being injury-riddled and dotted with several obscure players.
Nonetheless, the Redskins' defense -- known for its attacking style and creativity -- has also made adjustments by incorporating new schemes. Williams and his staff spent considerable time during the offseason studying the offenses of this season's opponents.
"You look at a few new wrinkles to battle the people that you're getting ready to play this year," said Williams, "and how that fits into your defense. We stay flexible."
Williams has added two packages to come up with 19 formations; which is on the high end even in an era of sophisticated, blitz-heavy defenses.
"They've got different packages. They add to 'em every year," said Gibbs, whose team holds a practice that is closed to the public tonight. "I don't think they ever rest over there. They got a couple of 'em [packages] they put on the board, and when I saw it I went, 'You've got to be kidding me. You're not going to do that.' And he goes, 'Yes, we're going to.' And, sure, enough they did."
The Redskins use a conventional 4-3 defense -- four defensive linemen and three linebackers -- as a base formation. But Williams alters groupings in passing situations, with various fronts: For example, Williams often uses three defensive linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs: a 3-3-5. (In this formation, one linebacker is used as a down lineman -- outside linebacker Marcus Washington or a healthy Lavar Arrington.) But it isn't unusual for Williams to use a 2-3-6 or a 4-2-5.
While the Redskins defense rushes from four to eight defenders in passing situations, Williams often confuses offenses with the illusion that more defenders are blitzing.
"To be quite truthful, it's hard to tell where they are," Gibbs said, chuckling. "They are all over the place if you kind of watch them out there. I think it's extremely hard to attack that kind of a defensive structure. I know it's the hardest thing for me.
"Going against them you gain great respect. It's good for our offense 'cause there's not much else you can see from somebody."
Williams added: "It's a lot of fun when all of a sudden Phillip Daniels isn't play defensive end anymore, and Renaldo Wynn isn't playing defensive end any more. And Cornelius Griffin moves from nose tackle and defensive tackle in some of our packages, and is playing defensive end.
"Those are all the things that we're trying to be as flexible as possible to get the right guys in the right spots that cause confusion for the opponents' offense; not confusion for us. And that's easier said than done lots of times."
Despite the new packages, defensive coordinator Greg Blache -- who oversees the line -- said that the learning curve isn't high for returning players because the concepts are similar. And Williams's ability to explain his schemes makes it easier for his players to pick up.
"It's not a situation where you overload the guys," Blache said. "I think the guys handle it well. It's well conceived. He's a great communicator; it's presented well and I think that's a big portion of it. The great communicator can take something very complicated and explain it in a simple manner."
Defenses are generally ahead of offenses early in training camp. However, Redskins offensive coaches say that the new defensive wrinkles have made the offense look even shakier than normal. "When you go against a defense like us, it's tough to look good," said tight end coach Rennie Simmons. "They are such a blitzing and stunting team that a lot of times it does make you raggedy in practice."
Redskins Note: The Redskins announced this morning that they have acquired Extremeskins.com, one of the most popular Redskins fan sites on the web. The club intends to turn the site into the team's official message board and chat site on Redskins.com.