Surrendering 33 points and 407 yards to the Carolina Panthers last Sunday got Mike Shanahan's attention. The Washington Redskins' head coach was more thorough than usual with the defense during practice this week, according to Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo.
"He's really been focused making sure the gaps are right and the coverages are right," Orakpo said. "And if anything is busted, instead of moving and skipping on, we'll review it, talk over it and review it on the field. That's something that's new."
Carolina's 6.4 yard-per-play average was the second-highest the Redskins' defense has given up this season. That went against the unit's overall progression in the second year running a 3-4 scheme.
Familiarity with the system and an influx of personnel better suited to it were two of the driving forces behind the Redskins' 3-1 start. Washington entered the game allowing 5.25 yards per play, 11th in the NFL.
Shanahan, however, believed the defense was inadequately prepared to stop Carolina's diverse offense, led by quarterback Cam Newton.
"I have to do a better job of making sure that we're better prepared during the week because our defense is too physical and too good," Shanahan said Monday. "I have to make sure that I put them in situations more times than not to make sure that they feel very comfortable in every look that they see."
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett indicated he welcomed the oversight.
"He's a great offensive mind, and he knows how to defend all these types of things," Haslett said. "So it's good to have a guy you can go in and talk to and say, 'Hey, how do you think this should be played?' That's what I do with him a lot."
When Shanahan analyzed the film of last week's loss, he saw indecisive defenders. The Panthers occasionally ran the option, and Newton executed six zone-read running plays out of the shotgun. Such plays are common in college, but not in the NFL.
Shanahan believes indecisiveness is alleviated by repetitions in practice, and he was determined to solve that problem ahead of Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills, whose offense ranks 7th in the NFL in yards per play (6.10).
"That's what you do as a coach — try to put your players through things as many times as possible, so when you get into a game situation they don't have to think. They can react," he said. "We're hoping when Sunday comes, they're ready to go."
Jackson breaks through
Outside linebacker Rob Jackson faces significant obstacles to getting on the field. One's a two-time Pro Bowler and the other is an emerging first-round rookie.
But Jackson has played approximately eight snaps per game in recent weeks to spell Pro Bowler Brian Orakpo. Kerrigan, meanwhile, has played every snap this season.
"I'm capitalizing on my opportunities, so they're getting a little more confidence in me on the field because I'm doing what I'm supposed to do," Jackson said. "I'm in the right place making plays."
Coaches have credited Jackson, a four-year veteran, with three quarterback pressures. He is most effective as an edge pass rusher because of his quick hands. He also adjusted his vision this season.
"In the past, I've always watched the quarterback and was kind of feeling the guy in front of me," he said. "Now I'm actually locking in on the guy in front of me, and after I beat him, then I'm going through the next progression to the quarterback."
Orakpo doesn't like coming off the field, but he's content knowing Jackson is behind him, to help him stay fresh.
"You tend to get winded out there, especially when covering and rushing all the time," Orakpo said. "It helps when I have a guy I can trust to go in there and not miss a beat."
Beck and Fitzpatrick meet again
Quarterbacks John Beck and Ryan Fitzpatrick will renew their childhood rivalry of sorts this Sunday in Toronto. Beck and Fitzpatrick grew up seven miles apart in Arizona and played sports against each other. Beck, 30, is one year older than Fitzpatrick and a half year younger than Fitzpatrick's twin brothers, so they're well-acquainted.
"I think quarterback was always what he wanted to do," Fitzpatrick said. "I do remember he was a really good at backstroke, though. I think that's the main thing: When he was nine or 10 years, I think he was maybe the best at backstroke in the state."
Beck's and Fitzpatrick's careers are similar in that both struggled and changed teams before earning their current starting opportunities. Fitzpatrick was the St. Louis Rams' seventh-round pick in 2005. Three teams later, he signed a six-year, $60 million contract, including $24 million guaranteed, on Friday.
"It's really hard to develop as a quarterback when you're not a high draft pick," Fitzpatrick said. "You have to take advantage of the opportunities when you get them, and I think that's the biggest reason for where I am today."
Beck wouldn't mind earning the same type of long-term job security Fitzpatrick did.
"It's just a good example — if you keep working, good things can happen," Beck said.
• Linebacker London Fletcher (hamstring) is expected to play Sunday, barring a setback, Shanahan said. Fletcher would extend his consecutive game streak to an NFL-leading 215, tied with Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber.
"I take more pride in knowing my teammates can count on me, knowing that I'm going to be there for them through every battle," Fletcher said when asked about the streak. "That's what I really focus on, just really trying to be out there for my teammates." ...
• Cornerback DeAngelo Hall (hip), free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (knee) and cornerback Phillip Buchanon (knee/neck) were limited in practice and are questionable for Sunday's game. ...
• The Redskins re-signed seventh-round rookie cornerback Brandyn Thompson to the 53-man roster. He began the season on the active roster but was demoted to the practice squad after Buchanon returned from his suspension after Week 4. Washington released center Jonathan Compas, who was signed earlier this week.
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