Redskins' secondary isn't all to blame for big plays

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Photo - Washington Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has a team high 31Ú2 sacks and nine tackles so far this season. (Getty Images)
Washington Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has a team high 31Ú2 sacks and nine tackles so far this season. (Getty Images)
Sports,NFL,Redskins,John Keim

ASHBURN -- The coverage isn't consistent, leading to big problems. The Redskins continue to surrender big plays, points and leads in games. The outcry is simple: Fix the secondary.

Except it's not that simple.

Not when the defensive front isn't pressuring the quarterback, forcing the secondary to cover longer. On the 54-yard deep ball to Vincent Jackson on Sunday, Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman had 3.6 seconds to unload the ball -- an eternity in the pocket. He wasn't even hit after the pass.

Notes
» Receiver Pierre Garcon said his bruised right foot feels better each day, but he's still not fully recovered from the injury suffered in the season opener. "It will take some time to feel like my old self, like I was in camp," he said. "It's a process, it's a battle, but it's coming along." Garcon was the Redskins' prized free agent signing, but he was sidelined for two games and most of the opener. He has five catches for 129 yards and an 88-yard touchdown catch. "I try not to get frustrated out there," he said. "Injuries happen, and you have to deal with them. Eventually I'll put it past me, but there's no set time or date for it."
» Receiver Aldrick Robinson (concussion) was cleared by doctors and practiced Thursday. He'll play Sunday vs. Atlanta. Coach Mike Shanahan said Robinson was probably good enough to play Sunday vs. Tampa Bay, even after getting knocked unconscious for a minute in a pregame collision.
» Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said losing Brandon Meriweather two hours before the Bucs game forced the Redskins to change strategy. "He becomes our third corner in a lot of situations, so we had to scrap that stuff," Haslett said. "You're sitting in the locker room crossing things off and adding things that you can do. It changed plans. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Meriweather's great strength is that he's an ex-cover corner and a really good cover guy. We lost that."
» Quarterback Robert Griffin III was named the NFL's offensive rookie of the month for September, the second consecutive year a Redskins' rookie has earned this distinction. Ryan Kerrigan won it last September as well. Griffin has thrown for 1,070 yards and four touchdowns and owns a 103.2 passer rating. He's also rushed for 234 yards and four touchdowns.

But a week earlier against Cincinnati, the Redskins forced quarterback Andy Dalton into a quick throw using an all-out blitz. It would have worked -- had cornerback Josh Wilson not slipped and fallen, leading to a 48-yard touchdown.

Add it up and the problem isn't quite so easy, nor is the solution. While numerous experts liked their front seven before the season -- it was a clear strength -- several scouts and evaluators also said they lacked an elite rusher. Now that one of their top rushers in Brian Orakpo is sidelined, it compounds the problem.

Which leads to the next problem: the Atlanta Falcons, who average 31?points per game and whose 11 touchdown passes are second most in the NFL. Quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown only two interceptions. He's been sacked 11 times, with seven coming vs. Carolina last week.

"Definitely the best passing attack we will have faced this season," Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said.

Ryan will pick them apart if they don't apply pressure and perhaps even if they do as the Redskins have allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a 99.7 passer rating against them this season. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said Thursday they anticipated Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson would be the starting safeties this season. Jackson is serving an indefinite suspension for drugs, and Meriweather hasn't played because of an injury. The Redskins lack speed at safety and still are searching for the right combination.

"I've been here two years and that's just the norm," Wilson said. "I've learned not to learn names, numbers. Just say, 'Hey guy ...' It's what we've been. Once we get some stability [at safety] I'll start remembering names again."

The Redskins say that teams like to make quick throws against them, and there's no doubt that has occurred. But in the past two weeks, the Redskins have hit the quarterback only 10 times in 66 ?pass attempts with three sacks. Tampa Bay slowed the rush by using at least one extra blocker on all but six of its 39 pass attempts.

At least the defense has stopped the run the past two games, one reason its ranks 10th overall in that area. The Redskins held the Bengals and Bucs to a combined 3.8 yards per carry (on 46 attempts).

"We're trying to make teams one-dimensional," Redskins end Stephen Bowen said. "But we have to get more pressure on the quarterback."

The question is: Can they do it consistently? There's not a lot of areas where they can improve, perhaps at end with second-year Jarvis Jenkins and even at outside linebacker where Ryan Kerrigan is only in his second season. But it's his all-around game that will get better as much as his pass-rush skills. And the secondary is full of veterans -- they're who they are at this stage. The Redskins want to play aggressively and will switch up coverages, but that sometimes exposes their flaws.

Not that they are confused about what to do.

"It's simple," Hall said. "But it's hard to execute."

jkeim@washingtonexaminer.com

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