Redskins First Quarter Report Card--Defense

WarpathInsider.com's Editor, Rich Tandler, and Redskins beat writer John Keim deliver their Report Card on each unit on the team. Today, they look at the defense. They also also look at whether each unit has overachieved or underachieved this year and the prospects for improvement or backsliding as the year goes on.

Defensive Line

Tandler's Take: There is no glitz, no glamour surrounding the Redskins' defensive line. The members of the unit wear the blue collars, they carry the lunch pails to their jobs, and they put in an honest day's work for their pay every game day. And the unit has been a significant factor in the success of the defense so far this year. Philip Daniels seems to get a hand on the opposing quarterback's pass whenever it goes in his general direction. Cornelius Griffin often wrecks any ideas that the opposition may have of running up the middle. Renaldo Wynn is as solid a fundamental run-stopping end as you'll find in the NFL. And Joe Salave'a does the dirty work well.

The main complaint about the front four is that they don't generate enough of a pass rush. The unit has two sacks through four games; most other D-lines in the league have stumbled into more than that.

Keim's Take: They work as hard as any unit on the team. It's why I like them a lot, at least in terms of their approach. They'll never mount much of a pass rush; it's not who they are. But they are excellent at the point of attack; so, too, are the backups. And that comes, in part, from Greg Blache's focus on fundamentals. They rarely get pushed around and the long runs last week came on the edge (though Phillip Daniels had a shot in the backfield).

Grade: B-, slightly below expectation. Season prospect: Steady

Linebackers

Tandler's Take: After four games, the conversion of Lamar Marshall to middle linebacker has been a success. Not a huge success, mind you. He's still not Antonio Pierce, but after four games in 2004, Pierce wasn't Pierce yet either, if you catch the drift here. Marcus Washington would return to the Pro Bowl if the voting were held today. The weak link is on the weak side, where Warrick Holdman just got in to double digits in tackles in the second half last Sunday. Most starting linebackers in the league can get that many by accident.

As a unit, they haven't made many glaring errors nor have they done much to distinguish themselves. That grades out to the proverbial Gentleman's C.

Keim's Take: Two of the three linebackers would be backups on most teams. Lemar Marshall is OK in the middle; nothing special. Still needs to improve his angles on outside runs. But he's growing and deserves time considering it's a new position. Warrick Holdman is also nothing special. Neither makes a lot of plays. Marcus Washington was outstanding his first two games but has been very quiet the past two. He needs more help; offenses can scheme to stop him. He's improved in pass coverage, but is only OK. But the biggest joke is the benching of LaVar Arrington. Maybe Marvin Lewis once called him the most undisciplined player he'd ever coached; but Lewis still got him on the field and squeezed as much as he could out of him. I guess a C is OK.

Grade: C, below expectation. Season prospect: Some improvement

Defensive Backs

Tandler's Take: Last year, the defensive line and linebackers were forced to make do with a lot of spare parts and, in the process, inexperienced and lesser-known players stepped up and the defense didn't miss a beat. This year, it's been the defensive backfield that seen players forced into the spotlight. Last week in Denver starting corners Shawn Springs and Walt Harris were out leaving rookie Carlos Rogers and Ade Jimoh, whose forte is special teams play, not pass coverage. They held their own and certainly weren't at fault in the loss. Pearson Prioleau, another player who was supposed to be primary a special teams contributor, Ryan Clark, one of last year's surprises, and Matt Bowen have been splitting time at strong safety. The only player to be in the lineup the majority of the time at one position is free safety Sean Taylor.

The Redskins are ranked sixth in the NFL in passing yardage allowed so it's apparent that whatever combination of players that has been in there has been performing well. They're really been burned only once, when a Dallas Flea-flicker play sucked Taylor in and allowed Terry Glenn to catch a 70-yard TD pass from Drew Bledsoe.

However, just as the defensive line needs some sacks to get a good grade, the backfield needs some interceptions. Through four games, they have none.

Keim's Take: Teams aren't going downfield as much on Washington this season, lowering Taylor's chances for big plays. At some point, that will change. But the backfield has mostly been solid. I love Rogers because he plays so fast and likes to hit, giving the Redskins real physical corners. Walt Harris played better once the season started, until he got hurt, and is a real pro. I'd rather start Rogers because he'll make more plays. But I can live with Harris. Springs' athleticism enables Washington to use him all over the place: at linebacker, in the slot and at safety. The safeties largely do the same thing well: support the run. But they're not fooling anyone on the blitzes anymore. They usually seem to be in the right spot and that's all one can ask. The less pressure applied up front, the harder their job becomes.

Grade: B-, slightly below expectation. Season prospect: Great improvement.


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