Saturday, November 10, 2001

Champ Bailey has given up three touchdown passes this season.
The sky is falling.
Or at least that’s the way it seems. The Washington Redskins’ star cornerback, a 2000 Pro Bowl pick who is widely considered the game’s top young cover corner, has been somewhat susceptible. Although he continues to make big plays and anchor the secondary, the three scores stand out.
“Zero last year to three this year yeah, it seems like it’s a bad thing,” Bailey said with a laugh this week. “But it’s not bad. I know a lot of good ones get beat a lot, about five or six [touchdowns a year]. So I don’t feel bad at all.”
Bailey’s standout play last season created the expectations that make it seem like he’s struggling now. Playing alongside mentors Darrell Green and Deion Sanders, Bailey sparkled as a second-year player. Entering this season, several publications singled him out as the best at his position.
In Bailey’s mind, he is playing even better than last year. Work in the weight room makes him feel stronger, and his increased knowledge of the game allows him to use his strength more effectively and respond to plays more quickly.
“I’m smarter,” Bailey said. “I know how to jam a guy better. I know how to mix it up. I think that helps me play a lot better. It makes it seem like I’m getting a lot stronger, a lot faster.”
Except in certain instances, like on the three touchdowns.
The first came at Green Bay in Week 2, when Bill Schroeder ran a short slant-in, caught the ball from Brett Favre in stride and raced past Bailey for a 41-yard score. After the game, Bailey said he slipped a bit just enough to blow the bang-bang route.
The other two touchdowns came in a Week 7 win over the New York Giants. In the second quarter that day, Kerry Collins hit Amani Toomer in the right corner of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown.
“Good play, good throw,” Bailey said this week. “I was in position. I just didn’t see the ball coming. It’s going to happen.”
Then in the third period, Ike Hilliard caught a 10- or 15-yard pass over the middle and turned it into a 27-yard score when Bailey and linebacker LaVar Arrington missed tackles.
“It was a situation where the quarterback got out of the pocket,” Bailey said. “I should have made the tackle, but once I missed it, we should have had him.”
Quarterbacks scrambling and freelancing have been a problem for the Redskins, whose pass rush has been less than stellar until last Sunday’s 27-14 victory against Seattle. And even the Seahawks’ passers broke containment to convert third downs of nine, 14, 23 and 15 yards.
“Where you have the best opportunity to shut people down is when you’re able to combine the coverage and the pass rush,” coach Marty Schottenheimer said. “Coordination between rush pressure and coverage has to be consistent.”
Bailey, locked up all afternoon on Seahawks standout Darrell Jackson, wasn’t responsible for those conversions. In fact, Jackson finished the day with just one catch a 46-yard touchdown on which Bailey was, in a rare instance, playing zone.
Bailey also spent a day following Carolina Panthers receiver Muhsin Muhammad, the NFL’s top receiver in 2000 (102 receptions). Muhammad made just two of this season’s 35 catches against Bailey, and the Redskins rallied for a pivotal 17-14 overtime victory.
Bailey loves the one-on-one role, saying, “When I’m locked on one guy, good things happen. I study him, and I shut him down.” And Schottenheimer has noticed Bailey’s inspired play in those situations, noting, “Any good player, when you give him the opponent’s best receiver, they all take it as a personal challenge.”
But there is a downside to that tactic confusion. While it is easy for Bailey to locate that one player on every down, the responsibilities of other defenders vary greatly from play to play. It is simpler to put Bailey on one side of the field, the format then-coordinator Ray Rhodes used exclusively last season.
Some observers believe the Redskins’ coverage scheme, in general, is too conservative. They wonder why corners play 10 yards off the line (rather than the more standard seven) and why zones frequently are used. But Bailey has maintained that the 10-yard tactic is very natural and that the scheme is plenty aggressive.
And it is many of the same observers, it might be noted, who look at Bailey and say the sky is falling.
“I don’t agree with that at all,” Schottenheimer said. “I think he’s having a very good season and he continues to improve.”
Defensive tackle Kenard Lang (knee) and wide receiver Michael Westbrook (knee) returned to practice. Defensive end Bruce Smith (flu) remained out, as did linebacker LaVar Arrington, whose high ankle sprain will be a concern next week. Tight end Stephen Alexander (ankle) didn’t do much…. After practice the players began a three-day break. They return to work Tuesday to prepare for the Nov. 18 game at Denver.

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