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Redskins playing without a safety net

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Photo - Bill Kostroun/AP
Victor Cruz got behind the Redskins' Josh Wilson and Madieu Williams for a 77-yard, game-winning touchdown Sunday for the Giants.
Bill Kostroun/AP Victor Cruz got behind the Redskins' Josh Wilson and Madieu Williams for a 77-yard, game-winning touchdown Sunday for the Giants.
Sports,NFL,Redskins,John Keim

ASHBURN -- The problem resurfaced at an inopportune time -- if you consider less than two minutes remaining in a tight game a bad time to surrender yet another big play.

Which, of course, the Redskins' secondary did. It gave up a lead as well. And suddenly what had been a few bad plays early in the season has turned into a trend. Their starting safeties are considered solid backups by NFL personnel sources, part of the reason the Redskins have the worst pass defense in the NFL at 328.4 yards allowed a game. And that leads to some questions.

How did they get here? » Bad decisions and horrible circumstances. In some ways this all goes back to Sean Taylor's death five years ago and even the departure of Ryan Clark, now in his seventh season as Pittsburgh's starting free safety, in 2005. The Redskins have been searching for Taylor's replacement since his death. There was LaRon Landry, who shared Taylor's speed. But Landry was not a free safety, showing stronger skills closer to the line of scrimmage. Injuries, though, were his real culprit.

Notes
» Redskins linebacker London Fletcher was scheduled to see a neurologist Wednesday after complaining about balance issues. Fletcher did not practice because of the balance problem as well as his strained right hamstring. His consecutive games played streak, now at 231, is in jeopardy.
» Receiver Pierre Garcon's visit to Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte, N.C., revealed what he had been told all along: He has a slight ligament tear underneath his second toe on his right foot. There's nothing new, and rest remains the best prescription. The hope is that he will return after the bye week.
» On Tuesday, Giants quarterback Eli Manning told WFAN radio in New York that the Giants picked up on some tendencies by the defense and exploited it on the 77-yard, game-winning touchdown pass. Had safety Madieu Williams played it right, the deep ball wouldn't have worked. "For him to say that in the first half he picked up on it and to not make a play until the last play of the game? I don't know how well he picked up on it," DeAngelo Hall said. "Ultimately he did because he made the play to beat us, but I don't feel like he made that play. I feel we gave him that play. We just had one guy set his feet and one guy not do this. I could have thrown that ball and he would have scored. It wasn't something where he was a rocket scientist and he figured something out. We just played that as bad as possible."

But it's more than just Landry. The Redskins swung and missed on O.J. Atogwe -- even when they signed him, one NFL source said he had heard from a number of teams that considered him done a year earlier. They drafted DeJon Gomes in 2011, but as a fifth-round pick he's still developing.

The Redskins signed a talented player in Tanard Jackson, but he also had been suspended twice for drugs and subsequently earned a third one. They also signed Brandon Meriweather, a former Pro Bowl selection who is working on his third team in a year. He has yet to play.

That leaves two players that evaluators would consider backups -- Madieu Williams and Reed Doughty -- as the starters.

Can they alter the coverage scheme??» Of course they could, but the question is, would they? It wasn't the scheme that cost the Redskins on the 77-yard touchdown pass vs. New York as much as a safety, Williams, who admitted he played it poorly. The Redskins had showed that same look a handful of times with success throughout the game. Williams just didn't move off the snap -- he had done so every other time when aligned here -- and was caught flat-footed.

Part of the problem, one NFL source said, is that the Redskins' starting safeties lack the speed to disguise coverages as long as needed.

But they always could opt to make it simple. However, one NFL source said the Redskins are wedded to their current philosophy. Also, with their pass rush not being consistent enough, their hope is that by changing looks they can perhaps force the quarterback to hesitate more. That could mean the difference between a sack and a completion.

Had Williams played the pass vs. New York even a little better -- had he reacted and dropped a few yards at the snap -- then Manning would have been sacked since end Stephen Bowen hit him as he threw.

"What Washington does so well is the confusion factor," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.

What about a personnel move? » The Redskins likely will have to find their answer from within. Could they move DeAngelo Hall to safety? He has played there on occasion, has the speed and is tough enough to handle responsibilities in the running game.

However, there's a difference playing there several times a game and full time. It's a different look. But if Hall played there full time, he would have a lot more to learn -- about run fits, various blitzes and where he needs to be -- and it could weaken the cornerback spot as well.

jkeim@washingtonexaminer.com

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