The Washington Redskins entered this season believing that, if their offense failed and the special teams faltered, the defense would see them through again.
That was the case the past two seasons with the defense under assistant head coach Gregg Williams, and prospects seemed even better for the unit again this year.
Benching steady defensive end Renaldo Wynn for free agent Andre Carter would boost the laggard pass rush. Replacing overachieving strong safety Ryan Clark — the Redskins allowed him to sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the offseason — with the more athletic Adam Archuleta would help, too.
And subtracting malcontent linebacker LaVar Arrington could only improve the chemistry.
But nearly halfway into the season, the defense is a mess. The unit that ranked in the top 10 in the league the past two seasons now ranks 26th — a performance reminiscent of the defense’s days under coordinators Ron Lynn and Mike Nolan.
The secondary has been burned repeatedly with big passes. The run defense, which still seemed formidable even just three weeks ago against the Jacksonville Jaguars, was overpowered the past three games for 459 yards (5.0 a carry).
Much has gone wrong — just like the assumptions the Redskins held when the season began:
Springs wouldn’t be missed
When Shawn Springs had abdominal surgery on Aug. 15, Williams said “the timing is good” even though his top cornerback was expected to miss four to six weeks.
The results, however, were anything but good: The defense surrendered nine passes of at least 20 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games, both losses.
Springs then was pushed to get back on the field sooner. He strained his groin five minutes into his return to practice on Sept. 20 and missed three more games.
Springs returned in a part-time role on Oct. 15 against the Tennessee Titans and went back into the lineup last week against the Indianapolis Colts with No. 2 corner Carlos Rogers sidelined because of a broken thumb. The Redskins continued, however, to give up big plays, and they rank 29th in the league against the pass.
Archuleta was an upgrade
Archuleta started for the NFC champion St. Louis Rams as a rookie in 2001 and led that team with a whopping 116 tackles the next season. He had five sacks in 2003, the most by a defensive back in three seasons.
Archuleta soured on the Rams after that season when coordinator Lovie Smith departed. He hoped to reunite with Smith on the Chicago Bears this season, but the Redskins lured him to Washington with a six-year, $30 million offer, the highest ever for a free agent safety.