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Truncated Vikings @ Redskins Preview: Defense

Just a few more hours until the Redskins open their season at FedEx field against the Minnesota Vikings. Here are my quick thoughts on the defensive breakdowns of these two teams:

Minnesota Vikings:

As a unit this team had a very weak 2005. They finished a mediocre 21st in total defense (19th rushing, 22nd passing) and the unit is largely unchanged from last year. They do have a young defensive line that should improve considerably over the course of this season.

We'll start with the defensive line. The Vikings drafted a defensive lineman in the first round in 2005 (Erasmus James), 2004 (Kenechi Udeze), and 2003 (Kevin Williams). Former Buffalo Bills tackle Pat Williams closes out the unit. A successful 2006 will depend largely on the development of Jones and the other young guns. There's heaps of talent, though much of it is untested. I should say virtually all of it: only Pat Williams has more than 5 years of NFL experience. The rest of the line averages about 2 years of NFL experience per player. Youth improves, so that's a plus. Other then that, however, this is an unintimidating unit and an excellent opportunity for our offensive line to establish itself and silence the preseason chicken littles.

Same story from the linebackers. Sam Cowart led the unit in tackles last year but is no longer around. Perhaps that's for the best, since he was recently cut by the Houston Texas. Newcomer Ben Leber from the Chargers, Napolean Harris, and E.J. Henderson start on what is one of the least impressive linebacking crews in the NFL. Nothing to see here folks.

The Vikings secondary is probably their surest bet on D. Former Redskin Fred Smoot is probable for tonight's game with a rib injury. He had a very unimpressive 2005, and didn't seem like the same player he was as a Gregg Williams disciple. Wonder why. He's complemented by Antoine Winfield who is actually a decent cornerback and led the team in tackles in 2005. Dwight Smith joins the Vikes as a serviceable FS, and former Packer Darren Sharper returns after an enormous 2005 where he recorded 9 interceptions. I think this is a talented but undercoached secondary that could improve under new Head Coach Brad Childress.

Your Washington Redskins:

The Redskins were a strong unit in 2005 under Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams. We finished 9th overall and were slightly better against the pass (10th) than the run game (13th) but were respectable in both. The Redskins defense has changed little from last year; Adam Archuleta replaces Ryan Clark at Strong Safety and DE Andre Carter joins the team from San Fransisco.

The Defensive line returns two starters from injury this week as well: Phillip Daniels and Cornelius Griffin. Daniels had a career high 8 sacks last year and hopefully will improve on that number in 2006. Renaldo Wynn lost his starting position to offseason acquisition Andre Carter who was brought in to improve our pass rush. He has not looked quick off the line in preseason, though we'll know more after today. In any event, Wynn is a competent starter meaning Carter is replaceable. At worst the unit remains as strong as it did in 2005 and at best it improves. Good news for the 'Skins.

We have a strong linebackers unit. Returning starters Lemar Marshall and Marcus Washington were 1st and 2nd on the team in tackles, respectively. I felt that Warrick Holdman underpreformed last year, as did Gibbs since he went out and acquired Rocky McIntosh in the 2nd round of the draft. Gregg Williams historically does not start rookies right away, but McIntosh should see some PT against the Vikings. If it is any consolation, Holdman has played with the urgency of a player whose job is on the line and has distinguished himself with solid play this preseason. McIntosh will start by season's end, however, and will improve the position.

Our secondary will be missing a key starter in Shawn Springs. A lingering abdomen/groin injury will keep him off the field, placing additional responsibility on backups Ade Jimoh, Kenny Wright, and Mike Rumph. Starter Carlos Rogers will also have to step up. Minnesota does not impress with their receiving unit so the DBs should be up to the challenge. Rogers will cover Travis Taylor most of the game and either Wright or Rumph will pickup Troy Williamson. Jimoh is mostly a special teams ace. As far as safeties go, Sean Taylor is establishing himself as one of the best hitters/free safeties in the league and Archuleta is an upgrade on Ryan Clark. Clark had half a sack over the entire season last year, which is less than Archuleta has had this preseason. Gregg Williams will use him to pressure the QB when Shawn Springs returns (I predict a good amount of zone coverage to help the inexperienced CBs in tonight's game). This is a great secondary that many teams would be envious of.

Washington was considerably better than the Vikings in 2005 and have improved since then. We replaced Wynn with Carter but managed to keep Wynn, mitigating our losses if Carter turns out to be a bust. Archuleta is a clear improvement on Ryan Clark, though we had a very solid Safety unit prior to his arrival. The Vikings could improve on a mediocre defensive effort last year, but there are questions on all three levels. DE Erasmus Jones, LB Ben Leber, and FS Dwight Smith all join the team as starters. Jones is unproven and Leber comes off a poor effort in 2005. Dwight Smith is an improvement. This entire unit needs a drastic augmentation to go from a top 25 Defense to a top 15 or top 10 unit.

Advantage: Washington.