You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.netThis just in—the Redskins defense stunk in 2006. In almost any way you look at it the performance of the unit was among the worst in the NFL. They were #27 in rushing yards, #23 in passing yards and #31 in total yards. Washington had only 19 sacks; the second-worst team in this regard, the Tampa Bay Bucs, got 25 sacks, or about 30% more than the Redskins. The six interceptions they made is a historically low total.
What made the performance of the defense shocking is that the unit has been the team's consistent strength ever since Gregg Williams arrived along with Joe Gibbs in 2004. But through a combination of a scheme that the other teams have figured out, some key injuries, and some misguided personnel decisions the unit has deteriorated into the team's Achilles heel.
There are those who say that they need to blow things up on defense and start all over. Williams needs to go, they say. Along with his schemes being flawed and now predictable his rough, old school way of handling players just doesn't work in the long term. He's stubborn and he's not going to change, so he has to go away and become someone else's problem.
In addition to Williams and some of his assistants, the nuke it crowd says that the Redskins need a bunch of new starters. One safety, one corner, maybe two, two linebackers and two or three defensive linemen need to be replaced.
Others say that such drastic changes aren't needed. Williams has said that he will adjust his schemes, as it appears that the league has caught up to his aggressive blitzes. As far as his style of dealing with players goes, well, it's not for the thin of skin. He's passionate and demanding and that's what you want from a coach.
The view here is more in line with thinking that major changes are not needed. They need to draft a pass-rushing defensive end to serve as a bookend to Andre Carter, giving the team more than one lineman for opposing offenses to have to pay extra attention to in pass protection. Unless they want to gamble that Shawn Springs can stay on the field for 16 games in 2007, an iffy proposition at best, they need to get a starting-caliber cornerback. Perhaps someone who is more of a classic middle linebacker needs to be brought in to challenge Lemar Marshall, who might be better suited to a swing backup role on the outside. Give Rocky McIntosh the weak side job. Either figure out a way to take advantage of Adam Archuleta's skills and minimize his weaknesses and keep him to play safety or get rid of him and leave the job to Troy Vincent or someone like him.
If the defense can be brought up to just the level of an average defense the Redskins can win more than their share of games. Jason Campbell's seven-game audition for the 2007 starting quarterback job was a success by almost any measure and he and the running back tag team of Ladell Betts and Clinton Portis should have the offense scoring at a healthy clip. If the defense can just slow the other team down and perhaps get an average number of takeaways to give the offense a shorter field to work with from time to time this team can prosper.
When evaluating the performance of this defense in 2006 I can't help thinking back to the Dallas game in Week 2. They got off to a rocky start to say the least, allowing Dallas to move up and down the field to take a 17-3 lead. When Rock Cartwright returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to make it 17-10, however, the defense picked up the pace. The next three Cowboys drives went three and out, the next two lasted just five plays and then they forced a rare turnover, giving the offense the ball at the Dallas 39 with a chance to tie the game.
Apparently Mark Brunell and the rest of the offense didn't get the memo that Cartwright's return was supposed to provide a spark. Of the six Washington drives that followed it, four lasted four plays and two of them were three and out. When their answer to the fumble recovery was to give the ball right back on an interception, the defense sagged noticeably. Dallas drove 99 yards to a touchdown and the game effectively was over.
The purpose of recounting this is not to blame the offense for the problems of the defense, but just to illustrate that the failure of one unit can lead to problems in the other one. It wasn't the only time during year that the defense collapsed under the strain created by an ineffective offense.
An offense that can score will help the defense. In only five games this year did the Washington offense score more than two touchdowns. That's a lot of pressure on the defense. If they can rack up a few more TD's that will help the defense out a great deal.
There will be plenty of time to analyze exactly what needs to be done over the coming months. The early end to the Redskins' season means that free agency is two months away and the draft won't come for nearly four months. A lot will happen between now and then to clarify the picture. But some consistency is needed for a team that has seen change as its only constant over most of the past decade. Gibbs, Williams and company need to fix what's wrong but beware of the collateral damage that could be caused by blowing up the whole thing.
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Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has an account of every game the Redskins played from when they moved to Washington for the 1937 season through 2001. For details and ordering information go to http://www.RedskinsGames.com