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WP: Third Down, First Priority For Redskins


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http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/29/AR2007082902227.html

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Third Down, First Priority For Redskins

Defense Looks to Improve Its Production From '06

By Jason La Canfora

Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, August 30, 2007; E01

The Washington Redskins' defense slumped last season, setting a franchise low in sacks (19) and a modern mark for NFL turnover futility (12), numbers that are the byproduct of a broader problem -- a systemwide failure on third down.

As the team reconfigured the defense and procured new talent this offseason, it did so always with an eye toward third down, believing that fixing its issues in that regard would restore a once-proud defense.

Somehow last season the Redskins allowed opposing quarterbacks to compile a 109.3 passer rating on third down, by far the worst in the NFL, and a figure 30 points higher than the league average on that down, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"That's crazy," cornerback Shawn Springs said of the statistic. "I can't believe that's real."

Washington had only four sacks on third down and produced only four takeaways. Opponents converted 43.7 percent of their third-down chances -- ranking the Redskins 26th -- shredding the league's 31st-ranked defense with long drive after long drive.

Third down, particularly third-and-long, generally brings out the coaching cliches. It's when defenders can fly to the football and make an offense pay for its transgressions on the preceding two downs. It's when the inherent difficulty in playing defense is largely mitigated by the reality that on third-and-four -- or longer -- the quarterback almost always must pass. Yet even then the Redskins allowed opponents to convert 37 percent of the time, equaling the league average conversion percentage on third down as a whole , including third and inches.

"The years that we've been very, very good on defense, we've been dominant on third down," said Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense. "You'd like to be able to make difference-making plays on third down, not only get off the field -- and that percentage is very important and there have been years where we've been good at that -- but you'd like to take the ball away on third down, too. So we were deficient in both of those areas last year, and we really need to make a significant jump in those areas."

Coaches have overhauled their nickel and dime defenses -- packages consisting of additional defensive backs used primarily when the offense is pinned on third down -- aspiring for more youth, speed and raw physicality and streamlining a formerly complex and technique-heavy defense. Now in the nickel package (five defensive backs), the Redskins believe they can get the 11 defenders most likely to produce big plays on the field at once, while deploying them in a means best designed to get them to the passer or to the football.

"We have to force [the offense] to do what we want them to do, and then make a difference making the play," Williams said.

"If we're going to be a really good football team, we can't be where we were last year in that giveaway/takeaway ratio," Coach Joe Gibbs said of Washington's minus-five rating.

Through three preseason games the starting defense has recaptured the look of years past. NFL scouts and personnel executives who have watched the exhibition games contend that the unit is back to its 2004-05 strength, boasting replenished depth in a secondary that was under-manned and overwhelmed in 2006. Still, the Redskins have had just one sack and no interceptions or fumble recoveries from the first-string defense in preseason games.

When Williams and his assistants study film, they say they see signs of improvement. They have watched the nickel package closely throughout the offseason and observed new additions -- linebackers London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh, cornerback Fred Smoot and safety LaRon Landry -- embracing their new surroundings, and key holdovers such as linebacker Marcus Washington and lineman Phillip Daniels settling into their new roles.

Still, the Redskins must cut down on the time a quarterback has after the snap. A year ago, only Peyton Manning had a third-down passer rating (119.1) higher than the figure the Redskins' defense allowed. Generally, a passer's rating declines on third down -- and often precipitously -- but the Redskins actually made quarterbacks better when they should have been most vulnerable, allowing an NFL-worst 97.8 rating overall last season, still 12 points lower than what they accomplished at Washington's expense on third down.

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"Somehow last season the Redskins allowed opposing quarterbacks to compile a 109.3 passer rating on third down, by far the worst in the NFL, and a figure 30 points higher than the league average on that down, according to the Elias Sports Bureau."

Ouch. Here's hoping that the D that looks good,( or at least improved),so far manages to keep that trend going or improve so that this doesn't become a trend.

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A team sets records for 3rd down futility, lowest # of sacks and turnovers , and is the worst in the history of the NFL by most standards....and then they don't draft one defensive lineman or attempt to sign even one pass rusher in free agency. It's too unbelievable to even comment on but if it were a Hollywood movie, people would say it was not a realistic movie because that wouldn't happen in real life....but it did.

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A team sets records for 3rd down futility, lowest # of sacks and turnovers , and is the worst in the history of the NFL by most standards....and then they don't draft one defensive lineman or attempt to sign even one pass rusher in free agency. It's too unbelievable to even comment on but if it were a Hollywood movie, people would say it was not a realistic movie because that wouldn't happen in real life....but it did.

Well if the defense returns to form like in 2004, maybe we will get a movie

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We have more depth at CB this season, but we don't have two quality starters in those spots. Injury-prone Springs is still the best we have. Teams with good passing games will attack our CBs. We'll match up better against teams that run better than they pass.

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Through three preseason games the starting defense has recaptured the look of years past. NFL scouts and personnel executives who have watched the exhibition games contend that the unit is back to its 2004-05 strength, boasting replenished depth in a secondary that was under-manned and overwhelmed in 2006. Still, the Redskins have had just one sack and no interceptions or fumble recoveries from the first-string defense in preseason games.

Overall a pretty good balanced article but I've got one bone to pick. In an article about 3rd down conversions he decides to throw this nugget out there. And before the royalty of negativity jump down my throat to point out that it is true and a problem I'm going state that I realize it is true. But my problem with it is that while the above is true he fails to note that the against our first team defense this preseason our opponents have converted 6 of 19 3rd down opportunities or 31% which is pretty good. And since that is the focus of the article do you think it might have been worthwhile to mention?

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"In reviewing last season the coaches believed the left tackles did not win enough one-on-one battles in the nickel defense, players said. The tackle opposite Griffin -- the best lineman on the team -- generally faces the opponent's weakest guard and after the snap the center will usually turn immediately to help the guard who is engaged with Griffin. That other tackle needs to exploit the resulting gap and help collapse the pocket inside -- Daniels fits that mold -- because in 2006 there were too many times when end Andre Carter forced the passer to step back toward the line, but no one made him pay with a big hit and the pass was completed to a secondary receiver."

interesting...

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our defense is built more around blitzing scheme to get to the quarterback.... thats why LBs have been successful here. our defense puts them in position to get into the backfield... i think thats why its always been more important to get athletic LBs with a nose for the ball

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One thing our DL didn't do that they did a lot of in 05 was getting their hands on passes and batting the ball. I didn't see much of that either. In 05 we didn't get a really great pass rush either but better than 06 and if we didn't get there then we would bat the passes away and make the QB think a little longer which led to more sacks. If we can get a an 05 type pressure or better from the DL then we are definitely in good shape. Along with getting their hands up.

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One thing hurting this D last year was not just the injuries on the line but the poor LB play in at least two spots ....Marshell playing injured and Holdman...interestingly both gone .

I think Landry was absoultly the best pick for this team at the time of the draft none of the top DL prospects were a sure thing ...neither is Landry yet ...but the way he has been able to cut through trafic on the line to get to the ball carrier and his coverage ability wil bring more of an impact to the D than an rookie DE.

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Oh I remember last years third down. I can remember that on third and long you would figure the D would hold the opponents O and get the punt. Then they would convert on a third and 15 and it would kill me. I couldn't believe it! This year appears to be totally different. The D seems like it is one of the Elite Ds once again. I can't wait to see what happens this year. Even our offense struggles in some games, our defense is going to keep us in many and possibly win some of our games.

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All I can say is Wow. I forgot last year that I would still be scared on 3rd and 11 that they would convert when two years ago, you would be licking your chops knowing that an opportunity for a big play was there. We defnitely have more ballhawks this year, so it would seem, with Fletcher, Landry and McIntosh even though the numbers in the preseason have not shown it...yet.

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This article makes the Nickle package sound really nasty.....

I have another problem with all the "where are the sacks/turnovers?" argument.

Yes we all like to see sacks and turnovers but is that the only gauge of a defenses tenacity. In my opinion a punt is the same as a turnover. I am less concerned with how many sacks and turnovers our D produces and more focused on the real stats that matter points allowed. If we produce the same number of turnovers and sacks this year as we did last year yet allow the fewest points in the league the mediots would still give us grief.

You win games when you have more points then the other team, yes turnovers and sacks can help increase your scoring but they are not the only path to success.

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A team sets records for 3rd down futility, lowest # of sacks and turnovers , and is the worst in the history of the NFL by most standards....and then they don't draft one defensive lineman or attempt to sign even one pass rusher in free agency. It's too unbelievable to even comment on but if it were a Hollywood movie, people would say it was not a realistic movie because that wouldn't happen in real life....but it did.
:doh: :doh:
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