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Redskins Tighten Defense Before Facing Bills In Toronto

By ZAC BOYER | | @ZacBoyer

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

ASHBURN — To say that the Washington Redskins’ defense was abysmal a year ago may be an understatement. It struggled against the run, panicked against the pass and finished second-to-last in the NFL in yards allowed per game — a situation resulting mostly from a conversion to a completely different scheme.

The amount of improvement since has been, at the very least, noteworthy. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is overseeing a unit that now has players whose abilities match their responsibilities, leading to four consecutive games to start the season in which the Redskins didn’t allow more than 375 yards to an opponent.

The last two games, though, have been different. Against Philadelphia and Carolina, the Redskins allowed 422 and 407 yards, respectively. They allowed one scoring drive of over 10 plays in their first four games, but have permitted seven in the last two — including four by the Panthers.

“That’s just not how you want to be as a defense,” said linebacker London Fletcher.

After witnessing general indecision and confusion against the Panthers a week ago, including missed assignments on several of the read-zone option plays run by Carolina, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan vowed to do what he could to assist in preparation.

“I’ve got to do a better job of making sure that we’re better prepared during the week, because our defense is too physical and too good,” Shanahan said Monday after reviewing the game. “I’ve got to make sure that I put them in situations more times than not to make sure that they feel very comfortable in every look that they see.”

It was a curious statement from Shanahan — one that may be misconstrued as an indictment of Haslett and the defensive assistants. But Haslett has welcomed the assistance, which has included a more watchful eye in practice and an insistence upon repetition if mistakes are made, and a retouched, if not refined, defense gets its first test against an explosive Buffalo offense this afternoon in Toronto.

“Obviously, he’s a great offensive mind, and he knows how to defend all those types of things,” Haslett said. “It’s good to have a guy that you can go in and talk to and say, ‘How do you think this should be played?’ That’s what I do with him a lot.”

Washington (3-3) currently ranks 12th in the NFL at 335.8 yards allowed per game. After the team’s 17–10 Week 4 victory at St. Louis — an anemic offense it held to 172 total yards — the Redskins were fifth.

Haslett has reiterated on several occasions that the only number that matters to him is the amount of points the Redskins allow. All other statistics are meaningless in the grand scheme. Still, the ever-inflating numbers signify a trend the Redskins want to end.

Doing so against Buffalo would be a huge step, as the Bills have one of the league’s better offenses and a quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick who is completing 66.3 percent of his passes — the second-best performance in the league.

“He’s very efficient right now,” said safety Oshiomogho Atogwe. “He’s getting the ball out very quickly and he’s throwing the ball with great accuracy and timing, so that’s very hard to defend against.”

The Bills (4–2) also have one of the league’s most consistent running backs in the shifty Fred Jackson, and a stout offensive line that has remarkably allowed only seven sacks — easily the best in the NFL. Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker, in contrast, have 4.5 each.

“We have to do a good job of not being frustrated, because we see on the film a lot of linemen frustrated because they can’t be there,” Orakpo said. “You’ve got to keep putting pressure and the sacks will come.”

If issues continue to arise, it will be a concern for the remainder of the season. The defense was considered the Redskins’ strength before the year began, even after the overhaul and the need to incorporate several different players.

That’s why minimizing the mistakes and ending issues before they arise has been so important.

“That’s what you do as a coach — try to put your players through things as many times as possible so when you get into a game situation, they don’t have to think, they can react,” Shanahan said. “We’re hoping when Sunday comes they’re ready to go. Once there is indecision, they usually can’t play to their capability.”