'Mad scientist' turns around Redskins' defense


'Mad scientist' turns around Redskins' defense

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) At the midpoint of the season, the Washington Redskins were on pace to become the worst pass defense in NFL history, the first to give up 5,000 yards through the air.

Needless to say, Jim Haslett's stock was a bit low at the time. When head coach Mike Shanahan was asked if there would be any midseason changes to his coaching staff, the defensive coordinator was at the top of the list.

Now Haslett is on another list, a possible candidate for one or more of the vacant head coaching jobs in the league. The transformation he's led in the second half of the season has been so remarkable that he's been dubbed ``the mad scientist'' by defensive tackle Barry Cofield.

There are lots of reasons why the Redskins have won seven straight and will be hosting the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday in the NFC playoffs. Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon, Shanahan and others deserve their share of credit, but so does Haslett and his defense.

``I definitely think these game plans that Haz has come up with have been, if not the reason, a major reason why we've been so successful on defense in getting these wins and sealing these games,'' cornerback Josh Wilsons said. ``Sometimes, you don't understand what a mad scientist is doing. But in the end, you look back on it and say, `Oh, that was an amazing call. I don't know how he knew to do that.'''

Dealing with a depleted group - starters Brian Orakpo, Adam Carriker and Brandon Meriweather out for the season with injuries and Tanard Jackson suspended indefinitely - Haslett has come up with creative blitzes and coverages that opponents weren't expecting. He found ways to make the most out of the personnel he had. He challenged individual players such as cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who had an inconsistent season but was at his absolute best hounding Dez Bryant in the division-clinching win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Quarterbacks had a 95 passer rating against the Redskins in the first half of the season. It's been 78.2 in the second half. Points allowed dropped from 28.4 to 20.1. Washington is still ranked 30th in passing yards allowed, prompting Haslet on Thursday to say ``Our passing stats stink,'' but the trend is in the right direction.

``Everybody loses players,'' Haslett said. ``We just happened to lose a whole bunch at one time. And then we were kind of lost for a little while, trying to find our way. And then guys have stepped up and done a nice job playing. We worked a number of different combinations to get where we're at. It took us a little more time than we would have liked, but obviously it worked out for the best.''

The Redskins' recent play is a culmination of three years of adjustments after Shanahan hired Haslett and ordered a change in scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4. That meant taking some lumps - because the roster at the time consisted of older players and others who weren't suited to the new defense.

``It was as tough as it got,'' linebacker London Fletcher said. ``We were the 31st ranked defense that first year we transitioned to the 3-4. I don't think anybody was happy about that.''

This is a case where patience pays off. Haslett said he came to the Redskins to win a Super Bowl, and he sees the goal as finally within reach. He's already been a head coach for two other NFL teams, and the thought of leaving Washington to try it again didn't seem to thrill him when the subject was broached Thursday.

``As a player and an ex-player and a coach, I've kind of done everything I wanted to do from an individual standpoint,'' Haslett said. ``I made rookie of the year, I was coach of the year, all that stuff, so that stuff doesn't make a difference to me. I need to get a ring. That's one thing I don't have. Obviously, I like the future of this club, so that kind of answers the question.''

NOTES: LG Kory Lichtensteiger (sprained left ankle) and CB D.J. Johnson (sprained left knee) did not practice Thursday, while backup QB Kirk Cousins was back after missing one day with the flu. ... There were posters in the lockers of the Redskins special teams players Thursday that read: ``Everyone has to catch the rabbit'' and ``Everyone get a hit on 33,'' referring to Seattle Pro Bowl KR Leon Washington. ... Fletcher was selected as the NFL's defensive player of the month. He had three interceptions and two sacks in December, even though he was barely able to practice because of a sprained left ankle. ... The Redskins signed S Devin Holland to a reserve/futures contract. Holland played four games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2011.


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Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Following their seventh loss in 11 games and another lackluster performance in key areas, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks reverted back to a critique that characterized many defeats months ago. He called into question the effort of his team, more specifically their urgency. How they could overlook the stakes at this point of the season and with so much on the line had escaped him.

Brooks wasn't pleased following Washington's 108-100 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. He didn't like their three-point defense, their inability to force turnovers and their lack of zip on offense. But overall, it was the apparent lack of realization that time is running out in the regular season and off-nights cannot be afforded.

"We have to play with more spirit [and] we have to take some pride in our home court," Brooks said. "We’re building our habits going into the playoffs and these are moments where we need to take advantage because it’s playoff implications in every game."


Pride is something Brooks has referenced after the Wizards' worst defeats since he took over. This one didn't qualify, as they only lost by eight points and had opportunities late to write a different ending. But they were playing a team fighting for their own playoff position in the opposite conference and for the most part did not match their intensity.

The Nuggets, to put it plainly, are among the worst defensive teams in basketball. They were missing their leading scorer, Gary Harris. And they tightened their rotation to just eight players.

Yet the Wizards only managed 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers. Aside from their 33-point third quarter, the Wizards' offense was effectively stalled. 

"We can’t have guys that are not going to participate with hard cuts and hard setups and good screens. We need everybody. It’s not one person, it’s all," Brooks said.


The Wizards only forced 10 turnovers on the Nuggets and only three in the first half. That held back their offense in the sense they had few opportunities for fastbreak buckets.

"That’s where we get most of our offense from anyways, getting stops, getting out in transition," forward Otto Porter said.

The Wizards have lost two straight games. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers and Pacers both won on Friday night.

The Wizards are sixth place in the East and just 1 1/2 games out of fourth, but there is a huge difference in those spots. Sixth could mean meeting the Cavs in the first round and they have won three straight since Kevin Love returned from injury.


The Cavaliers could quickly become the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. Their record is deceiving due to Love's injury and they still boast LeBron James, the best player on the planet. No one can control a playoff series quite like he can.

An argument could be made the Wizards would be better off moving down than up, as the seventh spot would match them up with the injury-riddled Boston Celtics. The Wizards are just 1 1/2 games ahead of the seventh-seed Miami Heat.

The Wizards, though, would prefer to move up and they still have a chance to get into fourth, which would mean home court advantage.

John Wall will return at some point, likely soon. In the short-term, Brooks would like to some urgency and for his team to get back to the trademark ball movement that allowed them to go 10-3 in their first 13 games when Wall went down.

"We can get it back, but it’s not going to come back. We have to go get it. It’s time to do it; it’s time," Brooks said.

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Game 75 Capitals at Canadiens Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 75 Capitals at Canadiens Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens

Where: Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Canadiens will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington.

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


The Capitals (43-24-7) take on the Canadiens (27-36-12) Saturday, March 24 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Montreal.


The Capitals-Canadiens game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. for postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals at Canadiens
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime


You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

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