Saturday, June 16, 2007

Not your father's defense for Redskins

One of the hallmarks of Gregg Williams' defense was the supremacy of the scheme over players. "Everyone's a starter," Williams said. Players were interchangeable. There were no stars -- but the coaches.

The philosophy worked in the first two years of the Gibbs II era. The Redskins defense ranked in the NFL's top 10 in '04 and '05, and was noted for its ferocity and pressure. It also meant that talent like LaVar Arrington was stifled. Arrington had his best years when he was healthy and encouraged to roam under the previous coaching regime. Gibbs' coaching staff saw Arrington as a wild card, interchangeable with Warrick Holdman who could be relied upon to be in the spot the coaches wanted him. Arrington, however, would make plays even from the wrong position. The defense fed off his fury. In the notorious conflict with linebacker coach Dale Lindsey, the coaching staff backed Lindsey rather than Arrington, who left the team in 2006 still nursing a mysterious knee injury.

The cosmos extracted payment for the Redskins' mistreatment of Arrington. Shawn Springs was never in good health. Pierson Prioleau, who won the starting safety role from Adam Archuleta, was struck down in a freak injury on the opening kick-off of the opening game and lost for the season. The Redskins rushed to bring in cornerbacks Mike Rumph and Kenny Wright. Neither would have made the team under normal circumstances. Lindsey, who mocked Arrington's mastery of the playbook even after he left the team, could not get rookie Rocky McIntosh up to snuff. Williams was forced to run schemes that compensated for weaknesses rather than pressure quarterbacks.

The theme in Jason LaCanfora's Washington Post story For the Redskins, It's Simple is Gregg Williams' new approach to defense that simplifies schemes and exploit athleticism this year.

"Williams, who declined to comment for this story, told players this offseason that he plans to get his best players to the point of attack as much as possible and give them more freedom, they said."

The Redskins intend to use more nickel and dime formations -- that's five and six cornerback sets for you uninitiated. The team expects to start Rocky McIntosh at linebacker, who has had a "superior offseason." (I have to wonder, again, at the owner's intrigue at trading for linebacker Lance Briggs if this was the plan. More nickel and dime formations usually means less weakside linebacker, thus less Lance Briggs or Rocky McIntosh.)

Williams will call for more cover-1 formations, with Sean Taylor at free safety to hunt for the ball, while strong safety LaRon Landry will "play close to the line of scrimmage to rush quarterbacks and help on run defense." Excuse me? Wouldn't the much maligned Adam Archuleta worked in that scheme? Instead, the Redskins used him in deep coverage, as they would have used Prioleau, and as they eventually used Troy Vincent and Vernon Fox. In fairness, changing coverage sets after the season starts is hard to do. It usually doesn't work. But the results couldn't have been any worse if they tried it. At least, they would have made better use of Archuleta, who was one of the top three tacklers when he was benched.

I'll be watching Archuleta's play with the Bears this season. Success in Chicago's cover-1, will be evidence that his failure here was on the Redskins for misuse of him. The Archuleta-Arrington experience may be the reason for Gregg Williams' openess to athleticism over scheme.

Photo: John McDonnell, The Washington Post

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