Defensive Musings (AKA Mulling the Nickel)
One of the things I'll be watching in Week 1, particularly if the Redskins don't have end Jason Taylor, and, at least on paper, are back to their original pass rush woes, will be how much nickel defense they play. To me, you've got to play to your strengths, which should be coverage, given how many assets have been directed to the secondary. And with two starting linebackers coming off injuries, I wonder if they find a way to get the best 11 guys on the field right away.
The linebacker situation is not ideal. Marcus Washington's hip injury is by all accounts not a big deal, but he did miss a few games because of it. The bigger concern is weak-side backer Rocky McIntosh's knee. He did not look like someone who was ready for 70 reps from what I saw in his last preseason game at Carolina, and he's going to need time to come along and must be spelled coming off major surgery. Also, the reserve LB situation is in transition. H.B. Blades missed most of the preseason after knee surgery and is in just his second year. Veteran Khary Campbell is nursing a thigh problem; Albert Fincher was beaten in the final few preseason games, but was just re-signed not long ago and is here really because Matt Sinclair's back injury turned out to be more severe that hoped.
So if you go in with no Taylor (with Demetric Evans starting) and have Erasmus James (who is still working back from his own season-ending knee surgery) as a top reserve at end, what would you do?
I know last year, even in a traditional 4-3-4, the Skins would go with three corners and one safety quite a bit after losing Sean Taylor (with young safety Reed Doughty often the odd-guy out). It makes sense to do some more of that as well. If you are what you are in terms of pass rush - at least while Jason Taylor is out, and maybe even with him - and you're going to play that lock-down, press man coverage in the secondary, then get your best coverage guys out there. Especially if Greg Blache sticks to what he's said about continuing to curtail some of the exotic blitz schemes that Gregg Williams utilized to try to overcome his lack of individual pass-rushing talent on the line.
With Carlos Rogers looking to have made a stunning recovery from his reconstructive knee surgery, I'd try to get the trio of him, Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot on the field as much as possible. And with LaRon Landry having missed so much time with his hamstring injury, maybe I work him back at strong safety in Week 1, where he can assault the QB, give offenses something serious to worry about and be in essence another LB for the Redskins in an eight-man run front. (The corners have enough to worry about in the pass game, so they lock up in press-man, which against the Giants we have seen work a lot, with Springs or Carlos on Plaxico Burress and the other on Amani Toomer).
Coming off what we saw at times this preseason, tightening up that run front seems imperative.
So then what do you do at free safety?
I like what Doughty can bring on the strong side, and I like what rookie safety Kareem Moore and Chris Horton will be able to do as they develop, but I would at least think about having Springs at the free spot in some packages, and, again, trying to be get my best 11 guys out there at once, particularly with some of the health issues up front on the line.
Springs took a fair amount of work at free safety this preseason and I just get the sense that having Landry closer to the ball in a disruptive role might be imperative in a game like this. With Landry needing to be spelled at times after being off the field for 4-5 weeks, you get reps for Doughty on the strong side as well, and if issues arise in coverage you can always shift back to your standard alignment of safeties and corners. Anyway, just something I've been chewing on, for what it's worth.
Jason La Canfora
August 31, 2008; 12:13 PM ET
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