Warpath: Your message board is extremely perceptive. The Redskins really don't have a #2 wideout. Patten went on IR in midseason with knee injury and Thrash first missed some time with a pulled hamstring and he's going to try to play on Saturday with a broken thumb. Taylor Jacobs, in his third year after getting drafted in the second round, has been lining up there, but you and I have caught as many passes in the past four games as has Jacobs. He has been an extreme disappointment in what was supposed to be his breakout season. I suppose that the Seahawks will have to put someone on whoever lines up against that roster spot, but if you have someone in the secondary playing on one leg or with an arm in a sling, he would be more than able to handle the job.
.NET: H-Back/TE Chris Cooley seems to be the offense’s “X-Factor”. What is his function in the offensive scheme? Is he Brunell’s primary escape hatch when he needs a hot read against a blitz? Has he been covered predominantly by linebackers, or do teams dedicate a DB to him? Is he an effective blocker as well?
Warpath: Cooley does what a Gibbs H-Back does, which is to play the Swiss Army Knife role and do a little of everything. He'll line up as the up-back in the I formation, although he'll usually shift out of it before the snap, as a wing back, in the traditional TE position and he'll split out wide. As a blocker he's more than adequate; he gets by on technique more than on bulk. In the past couple of games he's been getting a lot of man coverage, some from DB's, some from linebackers. It's rare for Cooley to be the hot read; when Brunell is in trouble he'll either throw to tight end Robert Royal or to the beer vendor in the fifth row of the stands.
.NET:The linebackers and DBs get the lion’s share of the praise on a national level when it comes to Washington’s defense – tell us about the D-line. Who is dangerous off the edge, and who is stout in the middle. DT Joe Salave'a has impressed this observer – who will Seattle’s offensive line need to watch out for?
Warpath: Salave'a has been a beast and played the middle part of the season with a foot injury that would make most of us call out from our desk jobs. The real force in the middle, though, is Cornelius Griffin. If you have to point to one player whose play has been responsible for the rise of the Redskins' defense from the dregs of the NFL two years ago to one of the elite units today, he's the one. He just blows up stuff in the middle, opens things up for the blitzers, and generally makes the whole defense better. It's not a coincidence that he was out of the lineup for almost all of the 36-0 debacle against the Giants and for most of the three-game losing streak.
On the outside, Phillip Daniels has come alive with four sacks against Dallas and some other key plays. Starting left DE Renaldo Wynn went out with a broken arm in the first quarter against the Bucs; his leadership will be missed. Demetric Evans, a fourth-year player who filled in at tackle some when Griffin was out, will improve the pass rush from the position but few play the run better than Wynn.
.NET:Since the Seahawks and Redskins last met, Washington has experienced a three-game losing streak that led to a 5-6 record at the end of November, followed immediately by the current six-game winning streak and their status as the “hottest team in the NFC”. What changed about the Redskins to make them postseason contenders after coming so close to in-season elimination?
Warpath: Two things--an improved turnover ratio and a commitment to running the ball. The Redskins were minus-12 in turnover ratio at one point in the season and they finished the season at plus-one. The readers here are football savvy enough to know the implications of such a turnaround without an explanation. It was two games into the three-game skid that Gibbs, with input from the offensive players, decided that the offense had no identity and the best bet was to run the ball.
After averaging 19 carries a game in the first 10 games of the year, Clinton Portis averaged about 27 carrier per for the rest of the year. He gained 100 or more in all of the games in the five-game streak to end the season. Bottom line, after 11 games of trying to find an identity and trying but failing to pounce on opponents’ fumbles and having interceptions slip through their fingers they became brilliant at the basics.
.NET: The Redskins recently made defensive coordinator Gregg Williams the highest-paid assistant coach in NFL history, including a reported $1 million bonus if he is not named the team’s next head coach when Joe Gibbs retires. How much does Williams drive this team? Is it his team, or Joe Gibbs’? How do these two men work together, and could you briefly summarize Williams’ defensive philosophy?
Warpath: Williams has complete autonomy on the defense, but his authority stops there. Gibbs is in charge of the offense and doesn’t mess with defensive strategy, but he’s clearly the head coach. For example, Williams and Portis have an excellent relationship, but it’s a joking one. Williams frequently refers to Portis as a “squirrel” and Portis’ Coach Janky-Spanky character was a spoof on Williams after he signed his new deal. When Gibbs deals with the defense, it’s all business.
At a time during midseason when LaVar Arrington was becoming more and more vocal about his paucity of playing time, we witnessed Gibbs and Arrington walking from the practice field to the building at Redskins Park having a serious, sometimes animated conversation along the way. Gibbs was laying down the law with Williams’ charge. Williams’ basic philosophy is attack and aggression, but he’s flexible with it. Last week against the Bucs he often had defenses with three men rushing and eight in a fairly soft coverage, content to let Chris Simms dink and dunk until the drive ran out of gas. Hasselbeck will probably see more blitzing on Saturday, but the emphasis will be on disrupting the timing of the Seahawks' passing game.
.NET Bonus Question: Who is your favorite Clinton Portis alter ego? I have to go with “Sheriff Gonna Getcha”, because I like the concept of law enforcement officers showing up for work in Led Zeppelin T-shirts. It’s very “Serpico”.
Warpath: Jerome from Southeast was the original and still the best. Actually, most of the others were spin-offs from Jerome (the Sheriff was investigating his mysterious disappearance). The fact that he did the costume thing, though, shows how loose this team is. Even when they were losing, having some fun was still important and that attitude has helped them get where they are.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rich Tandler is the Managing Editor of Warpath Insiders, Scout.com's comprehensive Redskins website. You can e-mail Rich at email@example.com.