- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The strong performance of the Washington Redskins’ defense Sunday begs one question: Where has that been all season?

The Redskins’ defense played its best game of the season in an upset of the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome, but that surprising effort can’t mask the chronic problems that have made the defense the most disappointing unit on perhaps the league’s most disappointing team.

The Redskins finished two victories short of the Super Bowl last season but this year plummeted to last place in the NFC East. The biggest culprit in their demise? A defense that finished the past two seasons ranked in the league’s top 10 but now is 24th.

The Redskins have two games left, but they also must think ahead to next season. Does this season represent just a bad turn off what had been a steady path, or do the Redskins need to overhaul their once-formidable defense?

The Redskins will examine these five areas at the end of the season to find the answer:

1. Coaching

Assistant head coach Gregg Williams looked like a genius in his Redskins debut in 2004, when he cobbled together a mix of free agents, former reserves, a No. 1 draft pick and a few holdovers into the NFL’s No. 3 defense.

But with the defense now struggling, Williams has received criticism. His tough, often-abrasive style becomes more noticeable when his team is losing.

“That was definitely an issue in Buffalo,” said an NFC player personnel executive who has scouted the Redskins extensively this season. “But I don’t think Gregg’s going to change his coaching style.”

While veteran Redskins defenders support their leader, Williams’ tough approach can wear thin.

“Sure a coach can lose the players, but usually that happens with a head coach,” a former NFL executive said.

Coach Joe Gibbs has been more involved with the defense this year because he no longer calls offensive plays, but Williams clearly remains the man in charge. There is little to suggest that will change.

Gibbs, who hasn’t fired an assistant in 15 years as a coach, said Williams will return and that he doesn’t expect changes to the staff because he already has “the people” with whom he can win.

Those people include new cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray, who was a successful coordinator with the Buffalo Bills in 2004. He and safeties coach Steve Jackson are both longtime Williams proteges.

Old-school linebackers coach Dale Lindsey, who famously clashed with former linebacker LaVar Arrington, hasn’t gotten much from his group this year. The defensive line of the less-gruff Greg Blache has been the defense’s best unit this season.

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