I hope you had a chance on Friday to check out our Redskins wild card weekend preview section. My story examined how coordinator Jim Haslett helped Washington’s defense overcome injuries and breakdowns to improve enough to contribute to the seven-game winning streak that got the Redskins into the postseason.
I didn’t place the bulk of the blame on Haslett for the defense’s struggles back when the Redskins were 3-6 and during the time when the defense ranked last in the NFL in some yardage categories. Haslett’s calls weren’t always effective – and as DL Kedric Golston pointed out in Friday’s story, Haslett admitted that to players – but personnel shortcomings (partly due to injuries) and breakdowns in execution were the main culprits.
“It’s just been plays we [messed] up,” CB DeAngelo Hall said on Dec. 23, using a much stronger verb. “We’ve had perfect coverages – we had a double team on [New York Giants receiver] Victor Cruz and we [obscenity] played it like [garbage]. That’s what I’ve said from the jump. It hasn’t been Haz. It hasn’t been the play-calling. It’s been the lack of us playing those calls to perfection. I think we’ve done a better job in the second half of the season just playing them better. We’ve still got a little ways to go, but we’re playing them a lot better.”
The way I view the defense is similar to my take on last year’s offense. The Redskins’ offense needed playmakers last offseason. Management went out and got them (QB Robert Griffin III, RB Alfred Morris, WRs Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan) and they finished the 2012 regular season with the best yards-per-play average in the league. They need to add playmakers on defense during the upcoming offseason, beginning with secondary. Obviously, they don’t have a first-round draft pick to help that effort.
Haslett has done well with what he’s had to work with. Season-ending injuries to OLB Brian Orakpo, DE Adam Carriker and SS Brandon Meriweather – three defenders with first-round draft pedigrees – challenged him and his staff. It took them months to find effective rotations at right outside linebacker and at safety. Haslett was disappointed it took so long, but at least the Redskins got there. They accepted the fact they have to blitz in order to pressure the quarterback – they generally weren’t effective rushing only four – and that approach has worked as replacements such as OLB Rob Jackson gained experience.
“The true sign of a good coordinator is being able to adjust,” NT Barry Cofield said. “A lot of guys are stubborn, set in their ways, and a lot of guys don’t have that ability to adjust throughout the season and make halftime adjustments. That’s something that he has shown the propensity to be able to do. Those, to me, are the traits that make a good coordinator, and he’s got them.”
Given how Haslett helped steer the defense back to respectability, it would be a detriment to the organization if he did not return next season. Haslett was asked this week for his reaction to the possibility of leaving the Redskins to take a head coaching job with another team. He would be eligible to interview after Sunday’s wild card round game against Seattle, regardless of the outcome.
“I came here to win, and I like the pieces of the puzzle now, obviously, from the first year, and I think you have an opportunity hopefully this year, but for the future, to win a couple of Super Bowls,” Haslett said.
“So as a player, as an ex-player and a coach, I’ve kind of done everything I’ve wanted to do from an individual standpoint. I made rookie of the year. I was coach of the year – all of that stuff. So,that stuff doesn’t make a difference to me. I need to get a ring. That’s the one thing I don’t have. So obviously I like the future of this club, so that kind of answers the question.”
That bodes well for the Redskins. The priorities for the upcoming offseason, then, should include fortifying the secondary, deciding whether to bring Hall back at his non-guaranteed $7.5 million base salary and continuing to prepare for ILB London Fletcher’s retirement. Adding depth is always a goal, and the Redskins can be satisfied knowing they had enough depth to win the division despite the injuries. They’d also benefit from stability at the coordinator spot and this version of 3-4 scheme.