- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 7, 2006

For a few weeks, the Washington Redskins defense faced problems with its poor play on third down and its penchant for penalties that were equally untimely and careless.

Those two issues have been temporarily rectified. Houston and Jacksonville went a combined 5-for-21 on third down and the Redskins had no defensive penalties against the Jaguars.

But just as two leaks were plugged, one gigantic gash continues to develop: The Redskins pass defense is a mess.

Whether it’s the long ball to opposing receivers, the underneath pass-turned-long gain to running backs and tight ends, missed tackles or an inconsistent pass rush; whether it’s based mostly on Shawn Springs’ absence or the fact the defense isn’t as talented this season, the problem must be resolved as soon as possible, starting in tomorrow’s game against the New York Giants.

“It will all jell together because we have new guys out there and it’s taking a little while for us to get on the same page,” linebacker Marcus Washington said.

Four factors besides communication arise as to why the Redskins are 18th in yards allowed, 27th against the pass and tied for 24th in points allowed:

• Playing without Springs has not only robbed the Redskins of their top cover man, but has limited the number of blitzes by safeties Sean Taylor and Adam Archuleta (which affects the pass rush) and the ability of those safeties to help the linebackers in coverage (since they’re busy helping the corners). Ten completions to receivers have covered 20-plus yards.

“I see improvement in our group of guys back there, but we have to minimize the big plays,” assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said.

• The pass rush by the defensive line averaged 1.3 sacks in the first three games before recording three sacks against Jacksonville.

“They keep on doing that, we won’t have to blitz as much,” Washington said. “The D-line definitely stepped up against the Jaguars. It all works hand in hand.”

• Their linebackers are struggling to keep up with tight ends and running backs, who have combined to make 31 catches for 370 yards.

“If you have a blitz called, there are going to be some guys in 1-on-1 coverage — be it a defensive back on a receiver or a linebacker on a running back,” Washington said. “If you’re late getting to the quarterback …”

Washington didn’t have to finish the sentence. If the rushers are late, trouble will ensue.

• The tackling has been occasionally atrocious. On Reggie Williams’ 33-yard touchdown last week, Lemar Marshall, Carlos Rogers, Mike Rumph and Archuleta all missed tackles. On Maurice Jones-Drew’s 51-yard touchdown later in the game, Taylor took a poor angle and didn’t come close to tackling him.

“We’re going to pressure regardless of those types of circumstances,” Gregg Williams said. “And we have to do a better job of tackling. When you have to wonder why the pressure isn’t very good, I look at it and say, ‘How did we miss four tackles and how were we out of position?’”

But here’s the rub: The Redskins are 2-2.

“The good thing is, we’re working and we’re winning,” cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray said. “If you’re working and losing, you’d really be depressed. As long as you keep winning and find ways to fix it, you’ll be OK.”

So how do the Redskins fix the pass defense? Is it all because of Springs’ return, possibly next week against Tennessee?

Starting from the line on back, the first key is pressuring the passer. On their four sacks against Jacksonville, the Redskins rushed four, five, five and five players. If they can continue to harass without sending multiple blitzers, that gives the Redskins more options in coverage.

“That helps a lot,” Gray said. “Indy and Tampa, those teams play four-man rushes. When you play that way, you get turnovers.”

Washington is the team’s best linebacker and he was almost exclusively used as a pass rusher against the Jaguars. That left the coverage duties to Warrick Holdman and Lemar Marshall. Holdman was beaten for completions of 7, 23, 23 and 13. Marshall allowed completions of 33 and 51 yards, although he didn’t get much help from the secondary.

Speaking of the secondary, everything generally circles back around to Springs. Those who didn’t appreciate Springs before this season should absolutely acknowledge his worth now. If effective upon his return, Springs will make life easier for everybody on the back line. Gray’s hope is that when Springs does return, the players whose roles increased in September — Mike Rumph and Kenny Wright — will provide solid depth.

“You have to find out in the classroom by being on the same page and understanding what you’re doing, what you’re talking about and learning to trust guys,” Gray said. “It’s like a new marriage — once you get the trust, everything falls into place.”

Until things fall into place, the defensive players should expect some fiery video reviews.

“The mood in this locker room is to get better but we hear about it from Gregg,” Holdman said. “He expects perfection and that’s good because even though we’ve won a couple of games, he still points out the bad things before he shows the good things.”

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