It would be foolish to blame our defensive woes on Sean Taylor and Sean Taylor alone. There were failures and regressions at virtually every position combined with (or perhaps because of) poor personnel decisions and untimely injuries.
Among those injuries include Pierson Priolieu, who suffered a season ending non-contact injury on the first play of the regular season. He would have been an invaluable asset on passing downs, where Adam Archuleta struggled most. Instead we were forced to play Archuleta and later replaced him with Troy Vincent (turning 36 this May) and perennial backup Vernon Fox. All of this because we let Ryan Clark walk. Clark's influence on Sean Taylor in the secondary -- frequently referred to as "calming" -- cannot be overstated. Remember also (emphasis added):
Also rather than trying to minimize Clark's contribution to the team as merely a Sean Taylor nanny, he had 3 interceptions in 2005 which was as many as Sean Taylor, Shawn Springs, Troy Vincent, Vernon Fox, and Adam Archuleta combined in 2006.
With all of that as the caveat, Redskins fans collectively recognized that Sean Taylor was not the defensive presence in 2006 that he was in previous years. We gave up more 20+ yard passing plays than any team in the NFL. Opposing quarterbacks had the highest Passer Rating in the NFL. We gave up more passing touchdowns than any team in the league (with the fewest interceptions of any team in the league).
And then comes this nugget of statistical depression (again, emphasis added):
Thomas was scored on 11 times, tied for the most in the league with Redskins safety Sean Taylor, according to Stats Inc.
My knee-jerk reaction is to blame our lack of a pass rush, to blame the cornerbacks, to blame Troy Vincent/Adam Archuleta/Vernon Fox, and to question the integrity of the statistic. I mean how does Stats Inc. measure that, anyways? Is it reliable?
Well, yea. I sure hope Stats Inc. is reliable since they are the industry standard in measuring stats. The numbers I throw out in this site in virtually every post are accumulated from Stats Inc. and disseminated through ESPN.com and CNNSI.com, among others (which is where the stats in this post come from). Challenging Stats Inc. would be tantamount to admitting statistical lies to my reader(s) for the past seven months (can you believe we've been around that long?).
Even remembering that our pass rush was horrible -- awful, atrocious, depressing -- and that injuries damaged this team, and that we let Ryan Clark walk, there really isn't any point to playing sycophant to Sean Taylor. He had a bad year. Does this mean he will have a bad 2007? Not at all, as I'm confident that the coaching staff can get the most out of Sean Taylor just as they did in 2004 and 2005. He hasn't somehow "forgotten" how to play safety at an elite level. He was and remains one of the best safeties in the league. And I'll take Sean Taylor's "bad years" to most safeties good ones any season.
A key focus of 2007, knowing that the Redskins struggle or succeed coterminously with the best defensive player on the team, should be putting Sean Taylor back in a position to make huge plays. Partially due to failures at the line and at the linebacker position, and partially because of his own inability to read the play and react appropriately, Sean Taylor cheated more against the run than he should have. Consider that he had a career high 111 tackles, over 40 more than he had last year. That speaks to a defensive line and linebackers unit that either could not get to the ball in time or could not make tackles when it did. Over compensating, Taylor bit too hard on play fakes and the now documented disastrous result was an inability to stop opposing offenses from scoring at will against this porous Redskins secondary.
Readers: Was the defensive failure of 2006 Sean Taylor, the rest of the defense, or a complicated combination of both?