Redskins' Jim Haslett a 'mad scientist' in second half of the season

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Sports,NFL,Redskins,John Keim

Coordinator sews the defense back together after bye

ASHBURN -- On their final meaningful defensive play Sunday night, the Redskins returned to what had worked all game. They fooled the Dallas offensive line into thinking pressure was coming off the edge. But when the running back went out for a route, everything changed.

The left tackle set for pressure that never came. The guard engaged end Stephen Bowen, and the center took care of nose tackle Barry Cofield. But nobody accounted for blitzing linebacker Perry Riley. And when he broke through the backfield, quarterback Tony Romo backpedaled and hurried a pass that Rob Jackson intercepted.

The previous week, the Redskins needed a last-second stop and got one courtesy of Cofield dropping into coverage. It confused Eagles quarterback Nick Foles long enough for pressure to arrive.

"The play-calls," linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said, "have been timely."

Add it to the list of reasons why the Redskins have rebounded from a 3-6 start to win seven straight and host a playoff game vs. Seattle on Sunday. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and his staff have guided a turnaround, going from an oft-criticized staff to one now receiving praise.

The numbers show the improvement. In the first nine games, Washington allowed 27.6 points per game (27th in the NFL) along with 397.9 yards (28th) and 301.7 passing yards (31st). But in the last seven games -- all wins -- those numbers have improved: 20 points per game (ninth), 351.7 yards (19th) and 256.6 passing yards (28th).

"Now, our passing stats stink," Haslett said. "I worry about getting the ball back for the offense so they can score points. Don't let anyone run the ball on us whenever you can and then get them in situations where you can do what you want on third down. We've done a good job of that all year, not just part of the year."

The players say the coaching staff deserves a pat on the back. Against Dallas, for example, the Redskins ran a variety of blitzes, including one with both inside linebackers through the middle. But they used that look with five rushers, six and also seven. It kept Dallas wondering who was coming.

"He's definitely evolved," Cofield said of Haslett, "especially since the bye week. He's been like a mad scientist. He's coming with all different kinds of blitzes. When you execute them right, it can be perfect."

The Redskins are doing this despite losing their best pass rusher (Brian Orakpo) and the guy Haslett considers their best run stopper (end Adam Carriker), both of whom were placed on injured reserve after the second game. Haslett and his staff have crafted together a secondary missing the two players they hoped would be their safeties (Tanard Jackson and Brandon Meriweather). Lately, they have rotated their safeties, depending on how they felt the offense would attack them.

"That's what you do as a coach," Haslett said. "You lose players. Everyone loses players. We were lost for a while trying to find our way. Guys stepped up and have done a nice job playing. We worked a number of different combinations to get to the point we were at. It took us more time than we would have liked, but it worked out for the best."

Not that he's ready to reflect on what transpired this season.

"You look back on it at the end of the year and analyze it," Haslett said. "Right now you're in the middle of the hunt."

And they get to keep hunting in part because of Haslett and the defense.

"He's putting guys in the right spots to make plays," Kerrigan said. "It seems over this winning streak most of the pressures are getting home or causing a bad throw. In the first part of the season our pressures weren't getting home and quarterbacks had all day."

jkeim@washingtonexaminer.com

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