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Redskins' secondary overcomes injuries

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The exodus began before the game, when the Washington Redskins deactivated corner David Amerson for violating a team rule. It got worse as the game unfolded, with one defensive back after another exiting Sunday’s 17-13 loss to San Francisco.

And yet, it didn’t cause the defense to crumble. In the end, they had lost two more corners to injuries, with a third in and out because of cramps. That prompted some creativity by the coaches and the safeties, and solid play overall.

Yes, the defense gave up a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that allowed San Francisco to win. But look what the Redskins did: held San Francisco to 312 total yards and caused three turnovers. If the offense had done more, it would have been another defensive-led road upset (matching Dallas). The defense wasn't perfect -- and almost needed to be to win. But it was good.

The Redskins had to start Tracy Porter, but he left in the first half with a shoulder injury that will require further examination Monday. Corner E.J. Biggers, elevated to No. 3 for this game with Amerson out, also was lost in the first half with a concussion. That forced Greg Ducre into the game and he battled cramps throughout, causing him to miss action.

And that left the Redskins at times with four safeties and one corner (Bashaud Breeland) on the field. Breeland even had to leave for one play, as did safety Ryan Clark. Safeties Brandon Meriweather and Phillip Thomas were forced to play corner -- heck, Thomas had barely played safety in the NFL, let alone corner.

“I thought we played well,” Clark said. “I think I can be honest: It’s the most fun I’ve had since I played here. We were trying to find the best way to get a stop. When guys play the way Brandon did and the way [linebacker] Keenan [Robinson] did and the way the line played up front, you like to get those wins so those guys can get the credit for what they did. That part is sad. We have to find ways to win. ... We were up 13-10, so at that point if you make a stop, then you don’t put your team in that bad situation.”

Clark and secondary coach Raheem Morris divvied up coaching players pre-snap. Morris told Clark to handle one side and he would take care of those closest to him. They’d not only tell them the play, but exactly what to do on the play -- how they should shade the receiver, for example. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett somehow made this all work.

“That was the part I enjoyed, communicating with Haz and Rah, the way we were going to call stuff,” Clark said. “It worked out well. We’ve got guys who understand the scheme, we’ve got guys who know what the corner is supposed to do. We all relished in that and enjoyed it.”

It helped for Meriweather that he had played corner in college.

“It was fun,” he said. “Coach Rah teaches everyone [in the secondary] the defense. We’ve got to know what the corners are doing, and the corners have to know what we are doing.”

Clark said the defensive game plan wasn’t simplified a whole lot until they started losing players.

“When you don’t have [Amerson], that’s tough, one of your best defensive backs,” Clark said. “When you start seeing guys go down, it’s sad. [Then] I started laughing because it was like, this is unbelievable. I’ve never been a part of something like that. It happens on the O-line or other positions sometimes. But I’ve never seen it at a position like corner that’s so important overall.

“If we lost another guy, Santana [Moss] was going to be the corner. Those Miami guys can do anything. I’m proud of the way we fought and the way we played. There are no moral victories, but there’s an understanding that no one quit.”

Their effort was one of the few areas head coach Jay Gruden was pleased with afterward.

“We had guys in positions I didn’t know they played,” Gruden said. “I’m really happy with the way our defense played. Moving forward, if we can play with that type of effort and intensity and continue to prepare, some of these losses will turn into wins down the road.”