Red­skins might now have the NFL’s best safety duo; how will the two fit to­gether?

Cecil Whig - - NATIONAL & LOCAL SPORTS - By KA­REEM COPELAND WPNS Red­skins Writer

— D.J. Swearinger said felt dis­re­spected last week when the sta­tis­tics web­site Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus ranked him as the top safety in the league but used a pic­ture of sec­ond-ranked Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix in a so­cial-me­dia graphic. Now the two will be pa­trolling the de­fen­sive back­field to­gether, af­ter the Red­skins sent a fourth-round pick to the Pack­ers for the Pro Bowler in a deal made just ahead of Tues­day’s NFL trade dead­line.

Does the move im­me­di­ately give Wash­ing­ton the top safety tan­dem in the league?

“Let’s put it this way: They should not take a back seat to any­one,” FOX an­a­lyst Charles Davis said.

Wash­ing­ton has been one of the top de­fenses in the league through eight weeks of the sea­son. It is the No. 2 run de­fense and the No. 5 scor­ing de­fense, giv­ing up just 19.1 points per game. But the Red­skins have been a bit more vul­ner­a­ble through the air, giv­ing up 242.3 yards per game to rank No. 13 in the NFL.

They’ve also had some in­juries in the de­fen­sive back­field, with start­ing cor­ner­back Quin­ton Dun­bar miss­ing the last two games with a nerve is­sue in his leg and rookie safety Troy Apke be­ing placed on in­jured re­serve due to a prob­lem­atic ham­string. Al­most ev­ery player is a bit banged up this time of year, and there has been some dis­cus­sion that Mon­tae Nicholson, who has started at safety along­side Swearinger this sea­son, is among them. Clin­ton-Dix, who is ex­pected

(WPNS)

to start in place of Nicholson, pro­vides some in­sur­ance in the form of a for­mer first-round pick who has never missed a game and earned a Pro Bowl ap­pear­ance in 2016.

Clin­ton-Dix and Swearinger have the abil­ity to play in­ter­change­able roles, Davis said, but to play to each safety’s great­est strengths, it’s likely that Clin­ton-Dix will serve as the free safety re­spon­si­ble for deep cov­er­age, with Swearinger play­ing the strong safety role down in the box.

“I just think that the strengths of the two, Ha Ha a lit­tle more cen­ter fielder, D.J. [as a] big time ham­mer,” Davis said. “So, the more ac­tive you can have him down in the box play­ing the run game, the bet­ter you are. It doesn’t mean they can’t flip po­si­tions, and they prob­a­bly will in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions de­pend­ing on late ad­just­ments and things of that na­ture. But if you want to play your best, you play to the strengths of them.”

Swearinger has played 45 per­cent of his snaps at free safety this sea­son, ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus, but he has also spent a sig­nif­i­cant amount of time as a strong safety (28 per­cent) and in the slot (25 per­cent).

Davis pointed to plays from the last two games to high­light Swearinger’s play­mak­ing abil­ity near the line of scrim­mage. He picked off Giants quar­ter­back Eli Man­ning in the red zone when he passed off a re­ceiver and jumped a route by Odell Beck­ham Jr. last week. Against Dal­las, Swearinger forced a Dak Prescott fum­ble on a short run by com­ing down and ex­plod­ing into the quar­ter­back. That’s where the sixth-year vet­eran shines.

A knock on Clin­ton-Dix has been his phys­i­cal­ity, al­though two sea­sons of 100-plus tack­les and two sea­sons of 79 tack­les show some will­ing­ness to bring down the ball car­rier. Re­gard­less, play­ing along­side Swearinger makes that less of a ne­ces­sity.

For­mer Red­skins gen­eral man­ager Charley Casserly, now an NFL Net­work an­a­lyst, shared a sim­i­lar opin­ion in a tweet.

“I like the trade of Ha Ha Clin­ton Dix @pack­ers to the @Red­skins,” he tweeted. “It gives them a true Free Safety. It al­lows DJ Swearinger to be full time at Strong Safety which is best po­si­tion.”

There is also the chance that Nicholson could see the field at the same time along with Swearinger and Clin­ton-Dix. NFL de­fenses play nickel de­fense more of­ten than they play base de­fense in to­day’s game, given the rise in pass­ing of­fenses leaguewide. The Red­skins have had five de­fen­sive backs on the field on 78 per­cent of snaps so far this sea­son, ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus, which is well above the league av­er­age. That align­ment typ­i­cally in­cludes three cor­ner­backs and two safeties, but the range of Nicholson and Clin­ton-Dix could give coaches op­tions.

The re­ac­tions from play­ers about the Red­skins’ ac­qui­si­tion were largely pos­i­tive. Swearinger ap­proved with an In­sta­gram post that read, “GET READY!! Bout To Be The Best Safeties You Ever Saw ... They Don’t Know We Got Chem­istry Al­ready!!”

Red­skins cor­ner­back Josh Nor­man used sev­eral emoji in a tweet that ba­si­cally said: It’s over with.

There is a de­cent chance that Clin­ton-Dix will be a short-term ren­tal for Wash­ing­ton. He is play­ing out the team-op­tion fifth year of his rookie con­tract and is sched­uled to be an un­re­stricted free agent af­ter the sea­son. The Red­skins would then need to de­cide if they wanted to re-sign him to a long-term con­tract or al­low him to leave in free agency.

AP PHOTO

Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix (21), along with D.J. Swearinger, gives the Red­skins one of the strong­est safety duos in the NFL.

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