The Redskins are considering making changes in a defensive unit that Coordinator Richie Petitbon says is "living dangerously" by depending on forcing turnovers to offset poor individual performances.
"We aren't playing well, no doubt about that," Petitbon said. "We're walking a tightrope, a real tightrope. If we can continue to make the plays and force mistakes, we can win. But that's a tough way to go about playing good defense. If we stop getting turnovers, it could be a really bad afternoon the way we are playing right now."
Petitbon wouldn't discuss what changes are being contemplated, other than to say "some moves are likely. But that's what we are going to discuss the next day or so, to see what we can do."
The coaches seem certain to take a hard look both at the defensive ends and the linebackers. End Karl Lorch, slowed by a pinched nerve in his neck, is struggling and linebacker Mel Kaufman, starting for the injured Brad Dusek, was replaced by Charlie Weaver in the second half of Sunday's 33-31 victory over Detroit. Linebacker Monte Coleman is not playing as well as the Redskins had hoped, but he still provides the unit with much-needed quickness and will continue to start.
One move the Redskins will have to make involves cornerback Lemar Parrish, who underwent arthroscopic surgery yesterday to have cartilage particles removed from his right knee. Coach Joe Gibbs said Parrish will not play Sunday against the New York Giants at East Rutherford, N.J., but could be back in two weeks. He will be replaced by Jeris White.
Weaver sprained his knee in the Detroit game and is considered doubtful for the Giants. Petitbon said Dusek, out two games with injured leg and shoulder, may be forced to starting even though he isn't fully healed.
"I feel a lot better," Dusek said. "It was getting so that the more I played, the more I was aggravating either my shoulder or leg. The rest has helped and I feel like I can play again."
But even changing players won't solve all the obvious defensive problems, particularly their susceptibility to end sweeps and long passes.
Part of the trouble is that, other than Coleman, safety Tony Peters, a healthy Rich Milot, cornerback Joe Lavender, Parrish and end Dexter Manley, Washington is not a quick team in a day when speed is becoming a dominant factor in the National Football League.
The club also does not have superior players when compared with many of the other teams in the league. That weakness can be remedied only through the draft and trades. And without a dominating lineman, the Redskin pass rush has been spotty at best.
Injuries to such key players such Parrish, Milot, Coleman, Dusek and tackle Perry Brooks have not helped. Parrish, in particular, has struggled to play despite his knee and didn't have an interception until Sunday. While he has limped, so has the pass defense.
On the other hand, the defense the last four weeks has not executed its assignments well. In those games, opponents have averaged seven yards a play, and the Redskins have given up 53 passes of 10 yards or more, including completions of 54, 50, 48, 46, 39, 37 and 36 yards. Four runners -- Tony Nathan, Tony Collins, Ottis Anderson and Billy Sims -- have rushed for at least 98 yards and opponents have had 21 runs of at least 10 yards, including gains of 51, 29, 28 and 23 yards.
But the Redskins have had nine interceptions and recovered six fumbles in those games while allowing an average of 450 yards, 304 passing.
"When we were 0-5, we had all these great statistics," said middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz, one of the team's few consistent defensive players and its leading tackler. "Now we are dropping fast. We just need to hit a happy medium. We need more pursuit, we need more players around the ball, otherwise you can't make tackles on the people we are playing. We aren't making something happen on the sweeps, we aren't penetrating into the backfield and stripping away the blockers so someone is free to make a tackle.
"We've been getting turnovers, but a lot of that is because the other teams are making a lot of mistakes. But, eventually, relying on turnovers will catch up to you. You've just got to play solid defense."
Defensive end Mat Mendenhall, sidelined earlier with knee problems, said everyone "has to eliminate mistakes and carry out the assignment we've been given. We are just blowing assignments. Everything has to be coordinated, like on sweeps. If it isn't, you aren't going to make the play."
Said Petitbon: "We haven't had the same three linebackers out there for more than one game. That hurts. On sweeps, we haven't had good play from our ends, our force man (strong safety Peters) hasn't been consistent and our outside linebackers haven't been that good. On the long passes, we've been playing the ball just horrible. We're going to work on that, and we're going to work on our techniques on the run. We'll get better."