As we try to move forward with our season and put the awfulness of the Rams game behind us for good, there appears to be a huge storm brewing on our team that, quite frankly, has caught me a bit off guard. I mean, we lose Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo and you assume that is as bad as it will get for our defense...this week.
I was told yesterday that Raheem Morris, the newly minted defensive backs coach here in D.C., actually called the defensive plays in the fourth quarter. This strikes me as somewhat newsworthy, given he is not the defensive coordinator and has been on staff for less than a year. After an argument between Jim Haslett and Raheem on the sidelines during the game--ostensibly due to the lack of adjustment made by the defense against Sam Bradford's dissection of our zone scheme--Morris emerged with play-calling duties. This decision was made by head coach Mike Shanahan.
When I first heard this, I thought, "You know...things weren't working, so why wouldn't Shanahan try to give his team a spark by allowing a man with a fresh take to step in and try to get things jump-started?" I leave it to folks with brighter football minds than I possess to drive their trucks through the holes in that logic. Is it possible for a defense in as much disarray as Washington was in on Sunday to take their marching orders from two separate coaches during the same game and then move on under Haslett the following week like nothing happened? Further, if the move to Morris as a play-caller resulted in players feeling like they were put in a better position to succeed on the field, going back to Haslett the following week would breed a certain amount of...discord, to put it mildly. In other words, this could get worse.
It gets worse. Players are starting to take sides.
Morris wanted to play more man coverage to respond to what the Rams were doing with Danny Amendola, specifically. It seems that Haslett was bent on employing his zone schemes. We have to be fair here and speculate that he was reeling from the losses of Carriker and Orakpo, and was trying to cover up other deficiencies in our defense. That said, even the announcers calling the game commented on the lack of adjustment made by our defense against the St. Louis offense. Members of the secondary were begging to go man on the opposing receivers.
We all saw that play where Perry Riley (an inside linebacker) had coverage responsibility on Steve Smith out of the slot. We all saw how fast Sam Bradford recognized it and got the ball to Smith. We all saw how much cushion Danny Amendola was given by our corners in the first half. I'm told that our own players were upset that playcalls like these were essentially setting them up to fail (and look bad). You can't expect Perry Riley to run with a guy like Steve Smith, yet that was exactly what that play called for Riley to do.
Football is an emotional game. The athletes that play it rely on their coaches to put them in positions to succeed. When they don't, those emotions flare. Perhaps Morris was just going to bat for his guys to make sure they knew that he knew it wasn't all their fault. Perhaps allowing Morris to call the plays late in the game was a function of Shahanan thinking, "Our secondary is getting beat up today, so maybe we better let the guy who knows them best put them in the best position he can."
Speculation alert: Perhaps Haslett is closer than we thought to not being our defensive coordinator.
I have to say that, in addition to recalling the circus that was the Jim Zorn/Sherman Lewis show, listening as this was told to me reminded me of exactly how much work remains for this team as it strives to discover its identity. On defense, this appears to be turning into a contentious struggle between two coaches that feel very strongly about their abilities and philosophies. Does there have to be a winner and a loser? Is it possible for this situation to evolve in a manner that allows for increased input from a position coach without eroding the authority of the guy whose job it is to call the plays? I honestly don't know the answer to that question, but I do trust and believe that things are at least slightly toxic at this very moment, and the players are watching very closely to see what Mike Shanahan's next move is.
When the Redskins hired Raheem Morris this offseason, it was assumed by many that he would be considered for increased responsibilities--at some point. I honestly did not expect him to be calling plays in the second game of the season. Did you?