History vs. Haslett

This will be the third time that Peyton Manning will face off against a defense coached by Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. The results have been mixed for both sides. What does Haslett have in store for Manning and what are his tendencies? Brad Keller takes a look.

Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett held the same post for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1996 to 1999, but did not face Manning and the Colts during that time.  He faced Manning twice as head coach of the New Orleans Saints; once in 2001 and again in 2003.

In Week 10 in 2001, the running game struggled, with Dominic Rhodes being held to only 67 yards and 18 carries with a touchdown.  Manning finished 18 of 28 with 262 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.  The Saints didn't record any sacks in that game, but were able to hold Indianapolis to 20 points on offense in a 34-20 victory.

The Week 4 matchup in 2003 was a convincing Colts victory, as Indianapolis put up 55 points on the New Orleans defense in a decisive 55-21 victory.  Manning went 20 for 25 with 314 yards, six touchdowns, and zero interceptions.  He was also not sacked in the game.

Haslett, as most defensive coordinators, has only been as good as the talent he has to work with.  The Saints were coming off a division title in 2001 and the Colts were on their way to a 6-10 record for that season. By 2003, the Indianapolis offense — Manning in particular — had hit its stride and New Orleans was about to start a rebuilding process, finishing the 2003 season at 8-8.  The Redskins have a great deal of talent on defense this season, especially at linebacker and for the most part in the secondary, so he has been able to hold things together thus far in 2010, with Washington ranking ninth in scoring defense.

As a coach, Haslett has always leaned on the fundamentals and has adjusted his scheme to fit with the talent on hand, rather than trying to shoehorn the players available into a particular system.  He grew up as a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator with the Saints and Steelers, which ran the 3-4 as their base defense.

When he came to the Redskins in the offseason, he must have seen that the team had much more talent at linebacker than along the defensive line, so he installed the 3-4 and went to work.  With his early background in the 3-4, Haslett has been associated with the zone blitz and pressure defenses, but has never ran a blitz-happy defense.  Washington primarily rushes four — the three down linemen and an outside linebacker — and plays a fairly standard Cover 2 or Cover 3 defense on the backend. 

He usually makes an immediate impact when he takes over a defense, since he works with the talent at hand and stresses fundamentals on defense.  He coordinates with the position coaches to make sure that each player has a firm grasp of his role in the system.  Over time, though, either fundamentals break down and Haslett is only as good as the players he has at his disposal.

He has not been able to sustain success over the course of a tenure with any team — or, sometimes, things break down during a season — which is one of the reasons that he has moved around so much throughout his career.  But, the instant gratification and results that he produces when he first starts has kept him employed over the years.

Haslett is also a big proponent of the bend-don't-break defense, which explains why the Redskins are ninth in scoring defense but 32nd in yards allowed.  They have been very effective in the red zone thus far this season, but history has shown that it will only be a matter of time until this defense bends so much that it breaks.  This is why it is so critical that the Colts score touchdowns, not field goals when they get inside the 20 — especially early in the game. 

Washington has been very resilient on defense in 2010 and have always found a way to dig deep and make a big play when it matters most.  If Indianapolis is able to bend them until they break in Sunday night's game, they may be able to break them badly enough that recovery is not possible.  Manning has already scored 55 points on a Haslett defense in the past.  We'll see if history repeats itself in Week 6.


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