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Pearl Harbor Crew II

Oct 6, 2006, 2:58 PM EST

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Chief among the concerns of the Redskins these days is their pass defense. Even during their recent two-game winning streak the opposing passing game has put a scare into the team and its fans. While the Skins are playing with fire, it is possible to have a successful season without anything resembling a shut-down pass defense.

The 1983 Redskins went 14-2. The team scored 541 points, which at the time was the NFL record for the most points scored in a season. They had the Smurfs, a group of diminutive wide receivers. The Hogs had grown from being a group of large, sweaty linemen into a certified pop culture phenomenon. The Fun Bunch, which had some Smurfs as part of its membership, celebrated touchdowns.

There was one other group with a nickname, one that wasn’t particularly cute or complimentary. The defensive backfield came to be known as the Pearl Harbor Crew as it was getting bombed with alarming frequency.

It started in the opening game when Danny White rallied the Cowboys from a 23-3 halftime deficit with three second-half touchdown passes. Two of them were to Tony Hill covering 75 and 51 yards. In the fifth game against the Raiders, they got hit with the ultimate bomb, a 99-yard touchdown pass from Jim Plunkett to Cliff Branch. A couple of weeks later Green Bay’s Lynn Dickey got into the act, throwing for 387 yards in a Monday night thriller that the Packers won.

After that game, the Redskins were last in the NFL in pass defense. Nobody was all that worried, however, since they were 5-2. In fact, they finished the season allowing an average of 273 yards a game through the air; they ranked 28th out of 28 teams in pass defense but they were able to joke about it because they were 14-2.

There were a few reasons why the team put up such poor stats. One was that teams almost always found themselves trailing the high-scoring Redskins in the early going, forcing them to put the ball up early and often. Also, it was very difficult to run against the Washington defense; they finished the year ranked #1 against the rush. “Running at them is like throwing popcorn at a battleship,” commented former Eagles coach Dick Vermeil at the time.

Another was that the Redskins had a lot of new faces in their secondary. At cornerback Joe Lavender had retired and Jeris White sat out the year in a contract dispute. Taking their places were rookie Darrell Green, who was talented but very raw, and second-year player Vernon Dean. At safety, Tony Peters, a Pro Bowl performer the year before, was out serving a drug-related suspension, leaving Curtis Jordan, a veteran much better suited for special teams duty, to start alongside Mark Murphy, who was a savvy veteran but one who was slow afoot.

The current Redskins aren’t quite as low as their ’83 counterparts in the NFL rankings against the pass after four games this year. The 232 yards per game they have allowed so far puts them 26th in the 32-team league. Certainly, you can’t look at the team having large leads as the reason for the high opposition totals. The Redskins have trailed or have had a single-digit lead for the vast majority of the time this year. They have, however, been solid against the run, giving up an average of just 79.3 yards a game, fourth in the NFL. If I’m an opposing offensive coordinator, I’m probably going to be throwing it all day, too.

And, certainly, there has been turnover in the personnel. Adam Archuleta and Kenny Wright are new to the defense and Carlos Rogers started just five games last year and played in 12.

While the original Pearl Harbor Crew did get blasted for some big plays, they also made a lot of their own. Washington picked off 34 opposition passes that year, a theft pace that this year’s group will be hard-pressed to match. If they keep up their current rate of one every two games they’ll have eight picks by the end of the year.

Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has an account of every game the Redskins played from when they moved to Washington for the 1937 season through 2001. For details and ordering information go to http://www.RedskinsGames.com

  1. Matt K - Oct 7, 2006 at 2:46 PM

    Rich, you’re onto something at the end of your post there. A bad pass defense, such as the Redskins have put on the field this season, is a major liability (and remember, the last two QBs who threw on us successfully, Carr and Leftwich, aren’t exactly first round fantasy picks). There’s only way to make up for consistently soft coverage and propensity to give up big plays — you’ve got to make big plays of your own. The ’83 Skins are a good example; last year’s Bengals are another. Ranked 26th in passing defense, they limited the damage with 32 picks and got a home game in the playoffs.

    Of course, the line on Gregg Williams’s defenses here — for all the talk of his “aggressiveness” and constant blitzing — is that they’ve lacked the big play component. In fact, despite top-10 defenses in ’04 and ’05, we’ve been in the bottom third of the takeaway column both years. That’s why this year’s Pass Def struggles are so worrisome — we give up a ton of yards, and we’re not likely to get a lot of counter-balancing big plays.

    I wish I could be confident that Springs’s return would be a magic potion, but we don’t even know when he’s going to come back… Remember McNabb and his sports hernia? It’s a bad injury. We need Rogers to figure it out on the coverage end, or, failing that, Archuleta and Sean Taylor — if they’re going to get beaten — to at least make some huge turnover plays. If neither of those guys racks up the picks or gets in the end zone this year, there’s only so far that our rebuilt offense can take us…

  2. UtterDev - Oct 9, 2006 at 3:52 PM

    Rich, could you post an update to your post from February, supporting the decision to waive Walt Harris. I think you made some great points at the time. But in hindsight, was the 2 million that the Skins saved, worth the dire predicament that the current secondary is in, while Harris has a tremendous year for the 49ers?

  3. Anonymous - Oct 18, 2006 at 3:04 AM

    The problem is obvious. Joe Gibbs should step down. He assembled a group of coaches and players who can’t get the job done. What’s the point of having the best receiving corps in football, if no one can block for the quarterback.

    http://gibbsmustgo.com

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