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Redskins Brace For Cardinals’ Aerial Assault

By ZAC BOYER | | @ZacBoyer

This story appeared on page B1 of Saturday’s Free Lance-Star

ASHBURN–DeAngelo Hall gets a little more excited when a pass-first offense rolls into town.

The Washington Redskins cornerback wasn’t tested much a week ago against the New York Giants in the season opener, and though Eli Manning threw the ball 32 times, completing only 18 passes, the defensive backfield wasn’t challenged enough for Hall’s liking.

It will be in Sunday’s meeting with Arizona.

“They didn’t bring in Kevin Kolb and pay him all that money just to sit back there and hand the ball off,” Hall said. “They’re going to try to take some shots downfield. We know that.”

That might have been a problem a year ago for the Redskins, who allowed 261.7 passing yards a game — the second-highest number in the league. Things appear to have changed, however, as Washington allowed only 268 passing yards, including 118 in the second half and a combined 138 on three plays, in the 28-14 victory over the Giants.

The Cardinals will present a different challenge. Their 28-21 win against Carolina in the opening week was punctuated by Kolb, who completed 18 of 27 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns, including a 70-yard connection with Early Doucet for six points with 10:48 to play that tied the score at 21-21.

Doucet has grown into his own as a receiving threat during his first three years in the NFL, but the Cardinals’ main weapon is an explosive one. Larry Fitzgerald, the team’s all-time leader in receptions, will test the Washington secondary in a way few others can.

Hall knows what Fitzgerald can do. The two played in the Big East in college — Hall at Virginia Tech, Fitzgerald at Pittsburgh — and the two have trained together in the offseason.

So, too, does free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, who is familiar with Fitzgerald’s accomplishments from spending the last six years with NFC West division opponent St. Louis.

“I mean, he definitely is, in my opinion, one of the best receivers in the game,” Atogwe said. “He does so many things well, from running routes and catching the ball, that separates him from the rest of the pack.”

What may be the best way for the Redskins to stop Fitzgerald is to pressure Kolb and not allow the Cardinals’ passing game to hit a rhythm. If Kolb can’t throw the ball, Fitzgerald can’t catch it, Atogwe said, “and for me, that’s a good day.”

“Their whole offense is electrifying, to be honest with you,” said Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. “I think Kolb’s done an excellent job. Fitzgerald is a good receiver, and they have [other] great receivers. They’re stressful in all of the different combinations we have, but we’re looking forward to it.”

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan also knows how beneficial it can be to have a big-play receiver on the team. Shanahan spent one year as the offensive coordinator with Houston before joining the Redskins, and had the luxury of diagramming plays for receiver Andre Johnson, also among the league’s elite.

“It makes you not always have to call the perfect play,” Shanahan said. “I think Larry’s as good as anyone at that. He’s got as good of hands as anyone I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t matter — you could have the perfect call, the perfect coverage and have three guys on him, and he’s still got a 50 percent chance of coming down with that ball.”

One point of concern for the Redskins is just how tightened-up the secondary has gotten. While Reed Doughty had a team-high 11 tackles filling in for LaRon Landry at strong safety against the Giants — and Landry is questionable for the Arizona game as well with a hamstring injury — Doughty did struggle mightily in coverage.

His most noticeable lapse was a misread on a 68-yard pass from Manning to Hakeem Nicks early in the first quarter, which Doughty later chalked up to a misunderstanding in playing Nicks’ route.

“I’ll be ready to start again and really read my keys and do my job,” Doughty said. “If I make 11 tackles, it’s because I was supposed to.”

Stopping Manning and the Giants’ two receivers — Nicks and Mario Manningham – was easier with a run-based offense. Containing the high-octane performances of Kolb, Fitzgerald, Doucet, Andre Roberts and tight end Todd Heap is another task altogether.

“This offense is definitely going to give us the chance to make some plays,” Hall said. “When the ball is in the air, it gives you the opportunity to make that play.”