The season and plenty of jobs arguably were on the line Sunday when the Washington Redskins’ defense returned to the field with 1:52 remaining, leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by three points.
But the pressure of the situation didn’t stop defensive coordinator Greg Blache and his staff from trusting two rookies and two second-year players, which could represent a change in who plays - and how much - in the final 12 games.
The 16-13 victory showed how the Redskins’ defense is getting younger but still playing at an acceptable level - tied for the fourth-fewest points allowed a quarter into the season.
Exhibit A: During the Buccaneers’ final possession, the Redskins’ defense featured six players 25 or younger, and seven of the 11 players were Washington draft picks.
Exhibit B: On Tampa Bay’s last offensive play, rookie Jeremy Jarmon beat a double team with a spin move and stripped running back Clifton Smith of the ball. Second-year safety Chris Horton recovered the fumble to seal the win.
For all the criticism of the Redskins’ draft strategy this decade, chiefly the unwillingness to rebuild the offensive line, at least the majority of draft picks used on defensive players have panned out. The development of those selections was on display against Tampa Bay.
Justin Tryon played No. 3 cornerback instead of veteran Fred Smoot. Kareem Moore was worked into the some of the packages as the third or fourth safety. Jarmon’s progress made a healthy Renaldo Wynn inactive, and Brian Orakpo played all but three snaps.
“When things are going wrong, you try and evaluate and sometimes you have to tweak a thing or two,” Blache said Sunday. “Giving some guys some opportunities to get on the field and shoot a little new blood into the ‘D’ and shake things up - it’s always healthy.”
Until the offense shows an ability to exceed 20 points, the Redskins’ defense will have to carry the team, continuing Sunday at 0-3 Carolina. Fortunately for Blache, he has the pieces to be creative.
Starting in 2004, the Redskins began to put an emphasis on rebuilding the defense through the draft. They have used first- or second-round picks on defensive players five times, including current starters Carlos Rogers, LaRon Landry and Rocky McIntosh.
But Day 2 of the draft has helped the Redskins build a defense with versatility that gives Blache many options with his personnel groupings. Reed Doughty and Kedric Golston were added in the sixth round three years ago. Last year, Tryon (fourth), Moore (sixth) and Horton (seventh) were selected.
Several of the players were limited to special teams as rookies, giving them a year to learn how the Redskins play defense. But this year, Orakpo started from the day he arrived. Jarmon, even though he wasn’t added until July, has been played in all four games.
That faith in young players allowed Blache to mix up his personnel packages against Tampa Bay in an effort to confuse first-time starting quarterback Josh Johnson. Blache vowed to be more aggressive and, although he still isn’t the kind of play caller who will bombard an opponent with blitzes, there were changes made to the scheme and use of personnel.
• The Redskins played an unofficial 33 snaps in “sub” packages (five or six defensive backs), leading to more playing time for Moore. Horton didn’t start but still played 21 snaps.
• Tryon got a shot as the nickel corner and covered the slot receiver, leaving DeAngelo Hall to cover the outside receiver full time.