Redskins' defense quiets Lions' offensive roar
In shutting down the Lions, the Redskins' defense showed it has made some major progress.
No highlight-reel pass plays for the Lions. No mind-boggling numbers to sort through after the game clock expired. No fireworks from noted genius Mike Martz, whose offense had averaged 28.5 points coming into FedEx Field.
Instead, there was only frustration on the visiting sideline as the Lions were held to 144 total yards. Now consider this: The Redskins achieved all that without a particularly complex strategy. As Pro Bowl receiver Roy Williams, who was held to three receptions, noted afterward: "They just forced us to run the football. And they did a good job of holding us down."
Indeed, the Redskins' defense had the Lions' number. And it likely won't be the last time Washington's improved defense clamps down on an opponent this season. You can see as much in the way the Redskins carry themselves. They're shadowing receivers, harassing passers and stuffing ball-carriers.
A year ago, offensive coordinators couldn't wait to face a unit that fell to 31st in the league after absorbing injuries to key players such as defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin and cornerback Shawn Springs. Now, they have to wonder how to attack a defense that is giving up just 13 points a game.
"The big thing for us is that we have everybody here and we're healthy," said cornerback Carlos Rogers, who capped off the win by scoring on a 61-yard interception return. "Nobody is trying to do too much, and we're all basically sticking to our roles. That's how you play good defense in this league."
The most impressive part of Sunday's game was the way the Redskins altered their identity.
Normally, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams loves blitzing and playing man coverage. But after studying Detroit's offense -- and discovering that Lions quarterback Jon Kitna had a passer rating better than 100.00 when facing pressure -- Williams opted for a more conservative approach. He dropped seven defenders into coverage on every pass play and let his defensive line carry the burden of applying pressure.
The result: The Redskins finished with five sacks, including one by defensive end Andre Carter that resulted in a third-quarter safety.
What's scary about that kind of production is that it means the Redskins now can be even more diverse. Williams basically dared the Lions to run, and equally aggressive Martz didn't have the patience to stick with it. So now the Redskins know their line can elevate its play when it has to and the secondary can hold its own when necessary. If Washington has to blitz, it can do that, as well.
As Williams said after the game, "When you have a defensive line playing like we did, why change things up? You usually blitz to disrupt an offense, but we were able to do that with our front four."
The Redskins actually have so much talent that Williams now has multiple options to throw at opponents. The combination of safeties Sean Taylor and rookie LaRon Landry gives the Redskins two vicious hitters who can intimidate receivers downfield. The fact that second-year outside linebacker Rocky McIntosh has a better grasp of pass defense means Williams can afford to blitz fellow outside linebacker Marcus Washington more frequently. Plus, the offseason signing of middle linebacker London Fletcher gives the defense a reliable tackler who can ensure that younger players are in the right positions.
Give a good defensive coordinator those kinds of weapons, and he'll make life extremely hard on opponents. Throw in an offense that is controlling the clock like the Redskins did Sunday -- they held the ball for a little more than 34 minutes -- and you have a serious postseason contender.
The Redskins aren't saying as much, but they have to know what the competition in the weak NFC looks like right now. Aside from Dallas and Green Bay, nobody else looks impressive. And that means there is plenty of room for a team such as Washington, which fell to 5-11 after making the postseason in 2005, to ascend.
That might explain why players such as Fletcher were running 100-yard sprints at the end of practice during last weekend's bye instead of resting up for the remainder of the season. It also might be the reason for the sustained confidence on the Redskins sideline despite a rash of health concerns on Sunday -- they opened the contest without wide receiver Santana Moss, then watched wide receiver Antwaan Randle El and defensive end Phillip Daniels leave with injuries.
Even as the Skins look ahead to more challenging games against Green Bay, Arizona and New England in the next three weeks, there's a vibe among them that suggests they can't wait to see how good they can be.
This is what usually happens when a team produces a defensive effort like the one Washington had Sunday. Yes, everybody loves a spectacular offense and gaudy numbers. But when a team has a strong defense, it has a chance to be something special.
The Redskins now realize they're back to playing the kind of defense Williams expects. And that should make the next few weeks much harder for the teams they're about to face.Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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