Wide-9, blitz can coexist in one defense

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"All the wide-nine is, is you move one guy three feet," Jim Washburn said a few weeks back. (David Maialetti/Staff file photo)

There has been some speculation over the last couple of weeks that if Andy Reid decides to bring in a new defensive coordinator, it could precipitate the departure of defensive line coach Jim Washburn.

The rationale behind the speculation is that a new defensive coordinator, particularly one with an affection for blitzing, wouldn't be able to co-exist with Washburn and his wide-nine.

But I'm not sure why. The blitz and the wide-nine aren't some outlandish combination that can't be used in the same defense. We're not talking checks and plaids here.

The fact that the Eagles blitzed a lot less this year and relied mainly on their front four for pressure on the quarterback had more to do with the Eagles' defensive personnel and their desire to keep seven defenders in coverage than it did with the arrival of Washburn and the wide-nine.

"All the wide-nine is, is you move one guy 3 feet," Washburn said a few weeks back. "They played it here last year [in 2010], maybe a hundred snaps. You just didn't know it.

"You're just giving [the end] a better rush angle, and you can hit the run a little bit better. Over the years that I've been using it, we've had success against the run as well as the pass."

If you need proof that the blitz and the wide-nine can work just fine together, take a look at the 2000 Tennessee Titans. Washburn was in his second season as the Titans' defensive line coach. Gregg Williams, who is as big a blitzaholic as there is in the NFL, was the Titans' defensive coordinator. That year, the Titans won 13 games, finished first in total defense, third against the run, first against the pass and second in sacks with 55.

Reid did one dumb thing and two smart things when he revamped his coaching staff last January. The dumb thing was promoting Juan Castillo from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator. The two smart things were hiring Washburn and offensive line coach Howard Mudd.

The Eagles have some question marks heading into the offseason, but their offensive and defensive lines aren't among them. The Eagles' sack total this season jumped from 39 to a league-best 50, including 46 by Washburn's unit. Quarterback hurries skyrocketed from 116 to 235.

Getting rid of Washburn would be absolute insanity. If you let him walk, what exactly would you do with Jason Babin, who owes his Pro Bowl success to Washburn and the wide-nine?

I'm not sure what Reid is going to do about a defensive lieutenant. The longer Big Red maintains radio silence, the more likely it probably is that he'll stick with Castillo and hope the lessons he learned in his first year as defensive coordinator make him a better coach in Year 2.

Regardless, I doubt Washburn and the wide-nine are going anywhere.

PATRIOTS' FIND SUCCESS IN THE MIDDLE

The Patriots, who will face the Ravens on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, are second in the league in passing and third in scoring despite the fact that Tom Brady's top three targets are a slot receiver (Wes Welker) and two tight ends (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez).

With Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez combining for 291 catches for 3,806 yards and 33 touchdowns, the Patriots are putting a giant hole in the long-held belief that you need to have a vertical threat to stretch defenses in this league.

ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, who spent 13 years as a quarterback in the league, said all of the rule changes, including those protecting defenseless receivers, have moved the focus of the passing game from the perimeter to the middle of the field and have eliminated the need for a burner.

"I challenge anybody who has the notion that you need a vertical receiver in today's football to be successful," Dilfer said. "You no longer have to have that guy to take the top off a defense. When that was actually true, that was back when safeties and linebackers in the middle of the field could annihilate receivers.

"The reason you needed a vertical threat was because you had to attack teams outside the numbers. You had to get chunk yardage on the outside. So you're talking the deep-out[route], the vertical game, all those perimeter routes. You needed a guy who could win all of those one-on-one matchups.

"Well, now they've taken away the defense's ability to dominate the middle of the football field. They just can't do it. Whether right or wrong, good, bad or whatever, no longer is the intimidation factor relevant in the middle of the field. You're seeing routes by the tight end and slot receiver that no one ever thought about running 10 years ago because you would get your guys killed. So now you can get all this chunk yardage in the middle of the football field with players that don't necessarily have top-end speed."

This year, 11 tight ends in the league caught 60 or more passes. That's the most in league history. Gronkowski and Hernandez, who both were taken by the Patriots in the 2010 draft, combined for 169 catches and 24 touchdowns.

"I think Bill [Belichick], once again, just beat everybody else to the punch and just kind of figured out that the league is changing," Dilfer said. "You don't have to win on the perimeter. The amount of yards generated in the middle of the field in the NFL now is astronomical. Seventy to seventy-five percent of the yards these good offenses are getting are in the middle of the football field.

"And the best way to do that is with your slot receiver and your tight ends. Well, what do the Patriots have? They have the best slot receiver in football and two very good tight ends. So you don't need the vertical threat any longer to eat up the perimeter of the field when you're going to dominate in the middle of the field. And they have the perfect personnel to do that. And oh, by the way, they have as precise a passer as there is in football."

THIS AND THAT

* As part of last August's collective bargaining agreement, the league and the players union agreed to HGH testing. But here we are 6 months later, and the union still is dragging its feet over the reliability of the testing procedure. "We had a meeting last week between the two parties to try and address those issues," commissioner Roger Goodell said Sunday in Baltimore. "We understand the issues they've raised. We've answered those questions. All of the scientists agree that this test is valid. So we think we have a valid test. It's been proven on a global basis." Asked if he was confident HGH testing would be in place for the 2012 season, Goodell said, "We're sure going to work as hard as we can to get it done because I think it's important, not just for the game, but also for the players. And I believe the players want it at the end of the day. This is a real issue and a safety issue, if they are putting things in their bodies that they really don't even know what it is most of the time."

* The reduction in big money for rookies didn't have any impact on the number of underclassmen declaring for the draft. Sixty-five underclassmen were green-lighted by the league this week. That's the most ever. Four quarterbacks came out early- Robert Griffin III of Baylor, Darron Thomas of Oregon, Brock Osweiler of Arizona State and Barrett Trotter of Auburn. Thirteen junior running backs also came out, including Temple's Bernard Pierce and Alabama's Trent Richardson.

QUICK HITS

* What's wrong with this picture? Jeff Fisher, who was hired this week as the Rams' new head coach, is represented by agent Marvin Demoff, who negotiated a $7 million-a-year contract for his client. The man he negotiated the overly generous deal with: Kevin Demoff, Rams' chief operating officer. Kevin is Marvin's son.

* ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper came out with his first mock draft this week. At No. 15, he has the Eagles taking the same guy a lot of other people have them taking: Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly. Kuechly is regarded by many, including Kiper, as the draft's top inside 'backer, and that just happens to be the Eagles' primary need. Which means they'll probably select another offensive or defensive lineman. Russ Lande of The Sporting News has the Eagles taking Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright.

* I happen to think Marty Mornhinweg is one of the league's better offensive coordinators. I also happen to think the Raiders and Colts would be making a mistake hiring him as their head coach. Some guys are meant to be generals, some are meant to be lieutenants. Mornhinweg is a lieutenant.

* With the Super Bowl headed to the Meadowlands in 2014, the NFL is open to the idea of playing future Super Bowls in open-air stadiums in cold-weather cities, including Philadelphia. A critical factor will be hotel rooms. Goodell says a city needs about 25,000 hotel rooms to host a Super Bowl. "The infrastructure, because of the popularity of the Super Bowl, is getting larger and larger, and we have more and more requirements for it," Goodell said. "So that's probably the biggest issue."

* How's this for a short leash? When Broncos VP John Elway was asked this week about Tim Tebow's status for next season, all he would say is that Tebow has "earned the right to be the starting quarterback going into training camp."

2-MINUTE DRILL

FROM THE LIP:

* "Joe Flacco, he wants his respect. Well, right now, Tom Brady is Michael Corleone and Joe Flacco is Fredo. That's who he is. He wants his respect. Well, if you want your respect, you're going to have to be that quarterback who leads your team to victory." - ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi on the Ravens' quarterback

* "These guys are my heroes. All of them. Alex [Smith] was heroic in this game. So was Justin [Smith]. So was Donte [Whitner]. So was Aldon [Smith] and Vernon Davis. You take your play to the heroic . . . That's what all our guys did. Just the way they all fight. It's a wicked, competitive fight that's in our guys." - 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh after the win over the Saints

* "It's kind of like barbed-wire tattoos or bell bottoms. It's a fad. It was an amazing fad this year, but it's no different than the Wildcat or the 46 defense. The read-option will not be the staple of any offense in football." - ESPN analyst Merrill Hoge on the read-option offense the Broncos ran with Tim Tebow

* "It would be fun. We could probably commute to work maybe, and, you know, come home, eat dinner together and have the kids play [together]. Twin beds . . . we could share notes on opponents and watch some film together." - A joking Eli Manning on the possibility of brother Peyton playing for the Jets next year

BY THE NUMBERS

* According to crack researcher and loyal Daily News reader Sean Kennedy, in 256 regular-season games this year, the team that won the game failed to cover the spread just 41 times; there were 13 ties.

* Teams that have won the turnover battle in the playoffs this year are 4-1. The only team to win the turnover battle and lose the game was the Broncos. Since 2009, the record for playoff teams that have won the turnover battle is 20-5.

* The Giants have won each of their last four games by at least 15 points. Incredibly, it's the first time they've strung together four straight wins by that margin since the end of the 1986 season.

* The game between the Giants and the Niners will be just the second time since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger that the starting quarterbacks in a conference championship game both were the first overall picks in the draft. Eli Manning was the first pick in the '04 draft, Alex Smith was No. 1 in '06. The only other time it's happened: the '98 AFC Championship Game between the Broncos (John Elway) and Jets (Vinny Testaverde).

* Eli Manning has a 144.6 fourth-quarter passer rating in the Giants' two playoff wins. He's completed 13 of 15 passes for 138 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the fourth quarters.

* Vernon Davis' 180 receiving yards against the Saints were the most ever by a tight end in the postseason. The previous high was 166 by the Chargers' Kellen Winslow in 1982.

* The Niners became the first team in history to score two lead-changing touchdowns in the final 3 minutes of the fourth quarter in a postseason game.

THAT'S SAYING THUMBTHING

Thumbs Up: To Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow for wisely turning down CBS' offer to be part of their coverage of the AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and Ravens. I'm not surprised CBS asked him because network executives are ratings whores who would put a dancing bear in front of the camera if they thought it would get them an extra Nielsen point. But, c'mon, the Broncos lost by 35 points last week. Tebow completed just nine of 26 passes. The only assurance he's received from the Broncos is that he'll be the team's starting quarterback when training camp opens in July. It's time for him to disappear from our consciousness and focus on becoming a better quarterback. His thanks-but-no-thanks reply to CBS is another indication that the kid's a good decision-maker.

Thumbs Down: To the Colts' new general manager, Ryan Grigson, who brought in Steve Spagnuolo early last week to presumably interview for the defensive coordinator's job on Jim Caldwell's staff just 1 day before giving Caldwell the heave-ho. I have no problem with Grigson's decision to fire Caldwell. That's his right. But surely he knew he was leaning in that direction the day before. Making Caldwell interview Spagnuolo, who appeared to be a candidate to replace him as the Colts head coach before deciding to take the Saints' DC job, was bad form.