'Skins seek remedy for ailing defense

Once team mainstay, unit slipping in stats, answers

NFL Week 12

November 23, 2003|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - Lately, there's been no defense for the Washington Redskins' lack of one.

For years, while offensive philosophies in Washington changed as quickly as team owner Daniel Snyder hired new head coaches, the Redskins' defense was an anchor that provided hope to fans starving for even the slightest hint of success.

That scenario is fading - fast.

Washington, which had been ranked second in yards allowed after the first week of the season, has plummeted to 26th. The unit has collected just 14 sacks (the league's fifth-worst total) and is on pace to surrender 371 points - the franchise's most since 1999.

It's part of the reason why the Redskins (4-6) have dropped five of their past six games and are staring at a possible fourth consecutive season without a playoff berth.

"We've got the talent, no doubt about it," said cornerback Champ Bailey. "We've got to play better. I don't know what the problem is. We're just not getting it done."

While many eyes will be trained on whether Patrick Ramsey or Tim Hasselbeck starts at quarterback at Pro Player Stadium for tonight's contest against the 6-4 Miami Dolphins, a certain amount of scrutiny will shadow the defense.

Blessed with one of the best linebacker tandems in Jessie Armstead, LaVar Arrington and Jeremiah Trotter and two suffocating cornerbacks in Bailey and Fred Smoot, the Redskins' defense was supposed to continue a reign of success that includes three consecutive seasons in the league's top 10 in yards allowed.

But opposing offenses are averaging 347.8 yards against Washington this season. Only the Atlanta Falcons (406.9 yards), Houston Texans (371.1), San Diego Chargers (369.5), Minnesota Vikings (368.1), Oakland Raiders (363.0) and New York Jets (348.7) are coughing up more yardage.

Seven of the Redskins' 10 opponents amassed at least 300 yards of total offense. Three of the team's past four foes (Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers) exceeded the 400-yard mark.

Washington is allowing opponents to score touchdowns a league-worst 66.7 percent of the time inside the 20-yard line.

And Washington has surrendered 206 first downs - a total surpassed only by the Vikings (215), Falcons (210), Chargers (209) and Jets (209).

Some media outlets have wondered whether defensive coordinator George Edwards - who inherited the system installed by current Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis - has given his players too much freedom to take risks.

Against the New York Giants on Sept. 21, Arrington raced after quarterback Kerry Collins, who dumped the ball off to fullback Jim Finn - Arrington's assignment - en route to the Giants' game-winning field goal in overtime.

In last week's 20-17 setback to Carolina, Trotter left running back Stephen Davis, who turned a screen pass into a 25-yard gain on fourth-and-one on the game-winning touchdown drive.

Edwards declined several requests for an interview, but defensive end Renaldo Wynn said the players have not lost any faith in Edwards, who was backed by many players after Lewis left.

"I think George is doing an excellent job," Wynn said. "We still believe in the system that George has for us. We just have to execute as players. All Coach has to do is coach."

Strong safety Ifeanyi Ohalete also dismissed the notion that losing defensive tackles Daryl Gardener and Dan Wilkinson depleted a unit already hampered by a season-ending injury to Brandon Noble, Gardener's replacement.

"We lost some key guys from last year, but as far as that goes, I don't know," Ohalete said. "I think we've got to take it on ourselves as players that we're not performing as well as we did last year."

The defense has shown flashes of brilliance. Washington is ranked seventh in the league in takeaways with 21, and the unit did a creditable job of containing Davis, who labored for 92 yards on 28 carries.

Tonight, the Redskins meet a Miami offense that - though boasting the NFL's 10th-leading rusher in Ricky Williams (802 yards and five touchdowns) - is ranked 27th and will likely be quarterbacked by Brian Griese, who has been ineffective in filling in for a healing Jay Fiedler.

"We're disappointed we lost [against Carolina], but we can't dwell on it," Bailey said. "We've got to keep moving. We've got to work to beat Miami."

THREE KEYS FOR REDSKINS

1. Solve the secondary

Although the Dolphins' pass defense is surrendering 221.1 yards a game and is ranked 26th in the NFL, Miami boasts two Pro Bowl cornerbacks, Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain. Surtain's total of six interceptions is tied for second best in the league, and Madison has three interceptions. The Dolphins will pose an intimidating challenge to whichever Redskins quarterback - Patrick Ramsey or Tim Hasselbeck - starts.

2. Beware the rush

The Redskins, who have given up a league-worst 32 sacks, won't rest easy against a Miami pass rush that has 24 sacks - ninth best in the NFL. Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye has 10 sacks, and linemate Jason Taylor, a two-time Pro Bowl pick who led the league in sacks last season with 18 1/2 , has 4 1/2 .

3. "Second" wind

The Dolphins have been devastating in the second quarter, outscoring their opponents 75-38. Miami is 5-2 when leading at halftime. Washington, which is 1-4 when trailing at halftime, can't afford to fall behind.

Redskins tonight

Matchup: Washington Redskins (4-6) vs. Miami Dolphins (6-4)

Site: Pro Player Stadium, Miami

Time: 8:30

TV/Radio: Ch. 7, ESPN/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Line: Dolphins by 6 1/2

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