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Expected strength exposed as weakness
Question of the Day
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.
Archuleta constantly was beaten downfield during preseason, and those failures in coverage continued into the regular season. He leads the Redskins with 49 tackles but has made few of the jarring hits expected of him.
And without buddy Clark to guide him, mega-talented free safety Sean Taylor has seriously faltered in coverage.
Carter would spark pass rush
The only Redskins defensive linemen to record more than six sacks in the past five seasons are 39-year-old Bruce Smith in 2002 and Phillip Daniels, thanks to a four-sack flurry against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 18 last year.
The long-armed, spindly-legged Carter struggled at linebacker last season for the San Francisco 49ers and missed most of the 2003 season because of a bad back. The Redskins nevertheless deemed him worthy of a six-year, $30 million contract because he had averaged 8½ sacks during his first three years with the 49ers.
Carter played poorly in preseason, a performance the coaches explained by saying he was learning the defense. Seven weeks into the season — all at his preferred spot of right end — Carter has just two sacks and, as expected, is a liability against the run.
LaVar wouldn't be missed
The defense ranked a surprising third in 2004 even though it played the final 14 games of that season without Pro Bowl linebacker Arrington in the lineup. As a result, the new defensive coaches felt they had proved they could succeed without Arrington, then the public face of the franchise.
Arrington wasn't completely healed by the start of last season and became an afterthought to Williams and linebackers coach Dale Lindsey, starting only once in the first eight games.
Arrington started seven games down the stretch, however, and the defense produced 19 takeaways in that span. It produced nine takeaways with Warrick Holdman playing the weak side.
The Redskins dumped Arrington in February. Holdman remains ahead of second-round draft pick Rocky McIntosh on the weak side, and the takeaways, like Arrington, are gone: The defense has an NFL-low four through Week 7.
Run defense would stay stout
The Redskins had the NFL's second-best run defense in 2004. New tackle Cornelius Griffin led the league in tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and surprising middle linebacker Antonio Pierce cleaned up anything that got past Griffin and running mate Joe Salave'a.
The Redskins let Pierce sign with the Giants in March of last year. Lemar Marshall, a defensive back in college, moved from the weak side to the middle. Griffin missed the bulk of five games with injuries and Salave'a missed three. Washington slipped to 13th against the run.
Griffin missed time during training camp this season, and Salave'a missed Weeks 3 and 4 because of calf injuries. Griffin's hip flared up again in Week 5, and the run defense took a nosedive. That's no accident. Replacement Kedric Golston, a sixth-round draft choice, is a comer, but he's no Griffin.
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