- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A search for holes will accompany the pursuit of answers this week.

One of the few upshots from the Washington Redskins playing last Thursday is extra time to prepare for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. The Redskins suit up to face Seattle on “Monday Night Football” and could end up in a game where tight ends are large influencers of the result.

In between wound licking, the 1-3 Redskins will start to watch tape of the Seahawks‘ defense this week. On it, they will see the so-called “Legion of Boom,” also known as the Seattle secondary. Though he’s a left tackle, Trent Williams is familiar with this group filled with skill and swagger. The last time he was on the field with them in 2012, Williams smacked loquacious cornerback Richard Sherman in the mouth.

A review of the first four weeks shows the Redskins have figured out one thing: how to effectively pass to their tight ends. To say Niles Paul is having a career year is understatement. His 313 receiving yards leads the team and surpasses the 228 yards he had the prior three seasons combined.

Though, after getting crushed by multiple defenders following an ill-advised throw by quarterback Kirk Cousins last Thursday, Paul’s availability against the Seahawks is in question. He left that game because of his first concussion and is now going through the league-mandated concussion protocol. When he came to on the field, he did not know which end was up.

“No, I mean — yeah, it was weird,” Paul, who staggered off the field like a punch-drunk boxer, said. “I had no idea. I was lost.”

Paul said his father, Nick DeCosta-Paul, and stepmother were calling to make sure he was all right. His dad started him in boxing when he was small, but had never seen him knocked out.

“He knew I was knocked out immediately, but he just wanted to make sure I would be all right,” Paul said. “He knew I would be fine. He just wanted to make sure I was still functional.”

Paul’s pre-brain-mashing production was born of opportunity. That opportunity comes from yet another injury to Jordan Reed. Reed played seven snaps in the opener against Houston before injuring his hamstring. He has not played since.

Reed could make an appearance against Seattle. Coach Jay Gruden labeled all injured players “day-to-day” after a light Tuesday practice. The Redskins were off Wednesday.

Reed said he feels good and is proceeding cautiously.

“I mean, it might feel good one day, and then you go out there and you overstride one time or take the wrong cut and you’re back to square one,” Reed said. “So you’ve got to be real careful with it.”

Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor is also something that should be viewed with caution. Arguably the hardest-hitting safety in the league — at 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds he is often mistaken for a linebacker — Chancellor, at times, ends up in coverage against tight ends. When he’s not specifically assigned to a tight end, he’s lurking with menace. San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis has twice been demolished by Chancellor. There is video of New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham spotting Chancellor after a catch last season, then running in the other direction.

The San Diego Chargers went after him, and the Seahawks‘ linebackers, in a 30-21 Week 2 win against the Seattle. Tight end Antonio Gates finished with seven catches for 96 yards and three touchdowns. Gates scored twice from eight yards out and once from 21 yards.

Linebackers Bobby Wagner and Malcolm Smith tried to jam Gates — a typical tactic for the Seahawks‘ defense — but he was strong enough to push through. Chancellor showed up late during two of the touchdowns.

A clever shift allowed San Diego to isolate Gates against Chancellor for the second score. The Seahawks‘ cornerbacks play sides, meaning Sherman remains on the defensive left and Byron Maxwell the right. To clear a side for Gates, San Diego bunched its receivers to the left of the snap, dragging Sherman to the other side of the field. Gates was split off the right tackle. That left Chancellor alone against him. He lost.

Chancellor told reporters this week he had problems with ankle spurs during the week of the game against San Diego. Chancellor had surgery to repair bone spurs following the 2012 season and it was a consideration after the San Diego game.

A change since from low-tops to mid-rise shoes has him feeling much better, he said. The shoe changed appears to have worked. Chancellor was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his Week 3 performance against the Denver Broncos.

One other scheme the Seahawks use to counter tight ends is dropping nose tackle Brandon Mebane in front of a tight end on a crossing route. That allows Seattle to bracket the tight end with a linebacker and Mebane.

The Redskins have relied on Paul’s straight speed to come up with big plays from their tight end. As a converted wide receiver, he’s too fast for many linebackers and safeties.

What he’s not is Gates, an eight-time Pro Bowler with 90 career touchdowns. But, Paul and the Redskins can look at what San Diego did and fold it into their attack. He just needs to be on the field.

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