- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2018

ASHBURN — As a free safety for the Redskins, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is often the last line of defense. He’s responsible for stopping big plays from turning into bigger ones.

But too often in Sunday’s blowout loss to the New York Giants, Clinton-Dix failed.

Giants running back Saquon Barkley, for instance, burst through the line of scrimmage and blew right by the safety as he exploded for a 78-yard touchdown. Later on, Barkley cut in a different direction right in front of Clinton-Dix, causing him to turn around and engage in a foot race that ended with a 52-yard gain.

When Washington shipped a fourth-rounder to the Green Bay Packers to acquire Clinton-Dix at the trade deadline in October, the Redskins thought they were adding another quality player to a promising defense.

Coach Jay Gruden downplayed the move was a sign that the team was “all-in,” but it was certainly seen as such — with the Redskins at 5-2 with a sizable lead in the NFC East. There was even talk of the Redskins having the top safety tandem in the league with Clinton-Dix paired with D.J. Swearinger.

Since then, however, the Redskins’ defense has cratered — giving up 425.7 yards per game. And as they’ve lost five of the last six, Clinton-Dix has played 100 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in four of those outings.

Through their first seven games, the Redskins were allowing just 322.4 yards per contest.

“He’s finding his way, really,” Gruden said when asked if Clinton-Dix has had the impact the Redskins expected. “It’s not easy, but he’s a veteran guy and understands different core concepts and coverages, but a lot of the things we do, we have different checks here and there … I think just from a communication issue, it’s getting better and better but it needs to get a lot better next week.”

It wouldn’t be fair to pin the blame for Washington’s defensive problems solely on Clinton-Dix. The linebackers have consistently been picked on in pass coverage over the last six weeks, and the team isn’t generating the same amount of pass rush.

But missed tackles have become a major issue — and that’s where Clinton-Dix’s flaws are evident.

After he was traded to the Redskins, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein explained why the Packers let Clinton-Dix go: “Your free safety cannot be one of the team leaders in missed tackles (at least seven) and he can’t be party to three of the first 10 passing touchdowns allowed if he wants to be paid like a Pro Bowl player. Because his speed is average, he couldn’t recover from being out of position or taking a poor angle and needed to be much better in alignment and technique.”

Much of what held the Alabama product back in Green Bay has carried over in Washington. Clinton-Dix occasionally takes the wrong angle, which results in missed tackles — or opposing players speeding past untouched.

And — whether it’s because he’s is still learning the Redskins scheme or for some other reason — Clinton-Dix sometimes doesn’t react fast enough to a play developing. Against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, he was too far out of the play to recover in time to stop an Amari Cooper touchdown. This past game, he didn’t move over quickly enough once Fabian Moreau got beat in coverage, resulting in a 32-yard completion to Corey Coleman.

Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said last week that Clinton-Dix has to be on the same page with every other player from a call perspective.

“Sometimes there are little things that we do and I think that it’s very important that he gets it and he’s been growing the last couple of weeks,” Manusky said.

The Redskins haven’t indicated they are dissatisfied with Clinton-Dix, who will be a free agent after this season. Gruden said Monday he appreciated the safety’s professionalism and liked “the way he plays consistently.”

To make room for Clinton-Dix, Washington benched second-year safety Montae Nicholson, whom Gruden once referred to as the “Jordan Reed” of the defense. Nicholson was having an uneven year when Clinton-Dix was acquired, but he had a strong rookie season due to his speed and physicality.

Asked if Clinton-Dix’s play merited going back to Nicholson, Gruden said the Redskins “have to” look at Nicholson again and there could be an opportunity for him to play more in the final three games.

Swearinger said the Redskins have too much talent to play as poorly as they have.

“This is one of the most talented defenses I’ve been on, but the results ain’t there,” Swearinger said.

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