- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2008

Hours of study couldn’t have prepared Matt Hasselbeck for the look the Washington Redskins defense presented last week on a third-down play midway through the first quarter.

Middle linebacker London Fletcher and defensive end-turned-linebacker Jason Taylor stood over the line of scrimmage before dropping back into coverage.

Playing nose tackle in a three-man front, Cornelius Griffin backpedaled at the snap.

Cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot blitzed from both slot positions.

Under duress, Hasselbeck threw so inaccurately that Seattle was penalized for intentional grounding. The Seahawks settled for a field goal in what ended as a 20-17 Redskins victory.

The play was emblematic of the options now at defensive coordinator Greg Blache’s disposal - four healthy cornerbacks who can do almost anything.

“We have great depth back there, and we’re really coming around,” safety LaRon Landry said. “Basically, we can do anything and give them every kind of look.”

The Redskins hope they have that opportunity Sunday against the New York Giants. And with Fletcher a question mark and strongside backer Marcus Washington out because of injuries, Washington may have no choice but to play a two-linebacker, five-defensive back alignment.

The Giants lead the NFL in rushing, but the Redskins’ best hope is to somehow keep Brandon Jacobs in check enough to force New York into obvious passing situations. That would allow Blache to play a variety of personnel packages designed to get more pressure on the quarterback.

“It gives you options as far as coverage and pressure, but it doesn’t help you much in the run game because you need those big bodies up front,” he said.

Griffin, Andre Carter and Kedric Golston all missed practice Thursday, confirming that the only area on defense where the Redskins are healthy and deep is the secondary, thanks to the return of Springs from a calf injury, the addition of cornerback DeAngelo Hall and the emergence of safety Chris Horton.

“We have guys that can cover, we have guys that can hit, we have guys that can run,” Landry said.

When the Redskins played the Giants in Week 1, the defense was without Springs (injured) and Hall (still with Oakland), and Horton was merely a seventh-round pick happy to be playing special teams.

Now, Springs may his injury issues behind him, Hall has made a seamless transition since signing with the Redskins, and Horton is one of the NFL’s top defensive rookies.

The Redskins provided a glimpse of how they plan to use the six defensive backs against Seattle, which managed only 89 net passing yards.

Everybody got a chance. Landry played all 46 snaps, followed by Smoot (37), Springs (35), Rogers (33), Horton (28) and Hall (23).

“We just rotated them,” safeties coach Steve Jackson said after practice Thursday. “They all know the system, and they’re good to go. It’s a luxury. We have a lot of tools at our disposal, and we make sure everybody plays.”

The Redskins played 30 snaps in base coverage (four defensive backs), 11 in nickel (five), four in dime (six) and one with three defensive backs.

“Very fun,” Landry said. “All the different packages we have, it makes the game a lot more interesting.”

Springs was essentially a safety on the 15 snaps Horton didn’t play and was a corner on his game-sealing interception.

“They’re all interchangeable, and especially Shawn,” Jackson said. “He’s been here so long with us, he can play any number of positions and do any number of things.”

The Redskins sacked Hasselbeck twice but blitzed five or six rushers on 15 of his 27 dropbacks, including blitzes on six of Seattle’s nine third-down passes.

If the cornerbacks can remain healthy and effective, the Redskins could use Horton or Landry as blitzers without worrying about getting beaten over the top.

“That gives me a lot of freedom,” Landry said. “We’ve been working on a few looks this past couple weeks even before D-Hall came here. I’ll play strong on one play, move to free on the next.”

Said Hall: “LaRon’s a young player but a great player. They’re finding ways to get him involved and make certain plays. When you’re playing man, it’s nice to have a speed safety who can go sideline to sideline.”

Solid coverage gives the rush extra time to pressure the passer, who in turn has to either pass short or make risky throws downfield. Only three of Hasselbeck’s passes traveled more than 20 yards.

“It forces the offense to call plays that have quicker decision-making,” coach Jim Zorn said. “But you can’t, because you have to wait for a guy to make a break. You have to throw faster developing patterns and breaking routes. That’s tough to do against our guys because they do a really nice job of staying with them.”

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