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Recent posts by Nolan Nawrocki
Updated Sept. 13, 2010 @ 7:21 p.m. ET
Had Tashard Choice not fumbled on the final play before the half on Sunday night, setting up a DeAngelo Hall TD return, or Cowboys ORT Alex Barron had not blatantly held Brian Orakpo on the game's final snap, the Redskins just as easily could have left FedEx Field with a loss, as Sunday night's game came down to a single snap.
With a surging, confident Houston Texans squad coming to town next week — led by former understudy Gary Kubiak who's intimately familiar with Mike Shanahan's blueprint, tendencies and general approach — the Redskins' defense cannot afford to be without its most talented players on the field, as Albert Haynesworth often was against the Cowboys, and expect the same result.
League insiders sizing up the Haynesworth saga believe the problem stems not with Shanahan or Haynesworth as much as with defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
"Look at (Haslett's) tenure in New Orleans," one NFL executive said under the cloak of anonymity. "He ran off eight Pro Bowlers when he was there. Willie Roaf, Kyle Turley, Ricky Williams, Sammy Knight, LaRoi Glover, Joe Johnson, Chris Naeole and Mark Fields. In three years, eight Pro Bowlers were all gone. You cannot replace that type of production. [Editor's note: Naeole never qualified for a Pro Bowl, but was viewed as a consistently strong performer.]
"(Haslett) comes to Washington and it's the same story. (Haynesworth) won't run 300 yards in the course of a whole game. Why are they so hung up on a conditioning test? It is pathetic. When Haslett was in New Orleans, he changed the defense every year. Haynesworth is not buying into the 3-4 so they are messing with him. That is the whole nut in a shell."
"Glover had 17 sacks from the three-technique (position in 2000). He led the league in sacks. Do you know how hard that is to do? How many three-techniques have ever led the league in sacks? Warren Sapp never did it. (Glover) led the league and he was in his prime, and Haslett changed the defense and said Glover was too small. He brought in Norman Hand and Grady Jackson. He went from wanting one big (DT) and one quick (DT) to wanting two big (DTs). He was all over the place (schematically) every year."
Part of the problem, the executive said, is that Haynesworth holds too much leverage, claiming that the player's significant contract will hinder other teams from trading for him, not wanting to inherit his contract. And if he's released, he could choose which team he joins as a free agent.
"If they keep winning and he is not playing, then (the Redskins) are in a great spot, but if they lose and he is sitting on the bench or gassed or they cut him and he goes somewhere and performs, they look like fools. That is the reality of what they are dealing with."
Haynesworth saw relatively few snaps against the Cowboys and most of them came at nose tackle, where he was not allowed to work the edges or disrupt the way he was played in Tennessee. Haslett creatively schemed his linebackers to pressure the quarterback, rushing Orakpo and Andre Carter from the same side and at times not rushing any down linemen, but Haynesworth's role remained minimal, and he was not positioned to do what he does best. If Haslett can continue holding opponents to seven points, no one will complain. His familiarity with multiple fronts could be viewed as a strength as well, especially if he finds creative ways to use multiple fronts to maximize the talents of all his pass rushers.
• The Eagles do not yet know what they truly have in Kevin Kolb, but the performance of Michael Vick against the Packers should make Andy Reid more comfortable about his QB situation. It often takes three games for defensive coordinators to understand the DNA of a quarterback and figure out how to scheme to take away his strengths. Kolb stood out in two fill-in starts last season, but some pro scouts expected he would come back down to reality quickly after coaches received more tape exposure to study. With the spark Vick gave the Eagles upon his entrance for the injured Kolb, it would not be a surprise to see Vick emerge as Donovan McNabb's long-term replacement. It also wouldn't be a surprise if Kolb is conveniently held out more extensively in the coming weeks. Vick's escapability, burst and playmaking ability inspired the Eagles' offense in a way Kolb could not when he was on the field. Once the Eagles' staff is finished grading the tape, it will be more difficult to keep Vick on the sideline.
• For the first time, 49ers QB Alex Smith entered the season in the same offense that he ran the year before and there was hope in San Francisco this offseason that he would become more confident and comfortable in 2010. Against Seattle, he looked shaky, despite connecting on nine of his first 10 passes, most notably overshooting FB Moran Norris on a 4th-and-1 situation from the Seattle 6 that would have opened a 10-point lead early in the game. Very apparent was Smith's lack of rhythm with second-year WR Michael Crabtree, as the undisciplined wideout twice took his eyes off the ball to brace himself for contact that led to drops — the second of which he bobbled into the hands of Seahawks S Jordan Babineaux late in the second quarter, setting up the Seahawks' second TD. Another Crabtree miscommunication early in the third quarter, in which he appeared to break off a five-yard out route instead of sitting, led to a 32-yard Marcus Trufant interception return that opened a 21-6 lead that the Niners could never recover from. A lack of discipline showed up too consistently for a team where the head coach is most known for being a tough disciplinarian, and Crabtree, who incited the wrath of a vocal Vernon Davis in practice leading up to the regular season, was at the heart of it.
• When Arian Foster was exiting the University of Tennessee, it was clear he had talent. He beat out Browns 2010 second-round pick Montario Hardesty when he was a junior and rushed for nearly 1,200 yards in a program known for producing NFL-quality backs such as Travis Henry, Jamal Lewis and Charlie Garner among many others. However, Foster's ego got the best of him as a senior, when he told reporters he would only grant interviews if they were conducted in "Pterodactyl," became a distraction in the locker room, suffered a bad case of fumbilitis and left too many yards on the field. He had to go undrafted in 2009 before he was humbled. He battled his way back onto the Texans' roster and beat out Steve Slaton for the starting job this past training camp. With a huge assist from the proven zone-running scheme installed by Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, the second-year runner broke a team single-game record in Week One on his way to a career-best 231 yards rushing.
• The NFL competition committee needs to revisit Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1 about players going down to the ground. Whatever defining the "process" of the catch was designed to do, the rule failed miserably in Week One, robbing the Lions of a victory, Calvin Johnson of a touchdown and Shaun Hill of a thrilling come-from-behind bullpen save. The integrity of the Bears-Lions game was compromised by a poorly designed rule that clearly did not serve its purpose.
• As one top ranking executive said, there are two things every NFL player knows — one, what he does well, and two, how much every player at his position earns. Randy Moss, who seldom speaks to the media, uncharacteristically went out of his way to address some issues with the media following a win against the Bengals. He very clearly defined his role and what he was brought to New England to do — "to take the top off the defense." And he made it clear, that after fellow 33-year-old teammate Tom Brady was rewarded with a four-year extension by the franchise, that his own expiring contract is very much on his mind. Don't expect Bill Belichick or owner Robert Kraft to respond favorably to Moss' latest sideshow, which detracted from a gutty comeback performance by Wes Welker barely nine months removed from knee surgery.
• Browns RB Peyton Hillis looked a lot like a young Mike Alstott against the Buccaneers. The Browns appeared to receive the short end of the stick when they traded former first-round pick Brady Quinn for Hillis and a 2011 sixth-round pick, but after Quinn was demoted to third string following the preseason, it looks like a feather could be placed in the caps of Browns GM Tom Heckert and team president Mike Holmgren, whose evaluation of Quinn now looks spot-on.
• The Raiders brought in a new quarterback, but they still don't have the edge protection desired to make their offense truly vertical. Jason Campbell is a pocket passer who needs time to throw, and Oakland is without the bookends that can give it to him. Langston Walker is big, heavy and slow, and Mario Henderson simply struggled to get the job done against Tennessee. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has his work cut out for him.
• St. Louis worked out four receivers during the week, including Derek Hagan, Jason Hill, Demetrius Williams and Paul Williams, and could use some more help at a nondescript position to support the development of Sam Bradford, who played better than his statistics indicate and showed he could take a licking and keep on ticking. Despite some rookie mistakes, he played years beyond his age, distributed the ball well and weathered several big hits from the Cardinals' hard-hitting safety duo of Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes.
• The physicality of Cardinals CB Greg Toler and the intensity of WR Steve Breaston noticeably stood out against the Rams. Breaston's hustle chasing down and stripping Rams DT Cliff Ryan during a fumble return before the Arizona goal line preserved the Cardinals' victory and may have been the biggest play of the game.