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Michael Wilbon

Defense Can Be Truly Offensive

By Michael Wilbon
Monday, September 13, 2004; Page D01

While the afterglow lingers into this Monday morning, there's one thing Joe Gibbs gets no credit for: the defense.

The sacks, the interceptions, the relentless blitzing, the run stuffing. Gibbs won't hear of taking a bow for any of it. "I can't take any of the credit for that," he said. "All I do is run down there and scream, 'Stop 'em.' "

Brad Johnson comes face-to-face with linebacker LaVar Arrington, who had one of the Redskins' four sacks. They had none against the Bucs last season. (John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

_ Game Day: Redskins 16, Bucs 10 _
Clinton Portis rushes for 148 yards and the Redskins use a stifling defense to edge the Bucs.
Joe Gibbs brings back his familiar winning formula.
Boswell: Welcome smash-mouth football back to Washington.
Wilbon: Gregg Williams has the Redskins defense in attack mode.
News Graphic: The Bucs shredded Washington's defense a year ago.
New Redskins play-by-play man Larry Michael needs to improve.
Mark Brunell shows veteran leadership after a critical error.
Fans of all ages enjoy a successful return for coach Joe Gibbs.
The Bucs' revamped offense fails to produce a touchdown.
Play of the Game: Portis cuts back and goes 64 yards with his first regular-season carry as a Redskin.
Notebook: Prized rookie Sean Taylor begins first game on bench.
Best & Worst

_____ On Our Site _____
The Redskins and a FedEx-record crowd of 90,098 celebrate Gibbs's return. More photos.
Grade the Redskins
Talk about the game.
Got Game? Take our postgame quiz and test your knowledge.

_____ Audio _____
Gibbs hopes attention will now shift back to his players.
Portis talks about the adjustments the Bucs made after his TD.
QB Brad Johnson outlines how the Bucs struggled on offense.

_____ By the Numbers _____
Coach Joe Gibbs's return had several ups -- but also a few downs:
0: Sacks allowed by the Redskins.
2.7: Yards per carry for the Redskins after Clinton Portis's 64-yard touchdown run.
3: Total penalties for the Redskins.
6: Number of opening day victories for Joe Gibbs in 13 seasons.
4-1: Gibbs's record the game following an opening week win.

_____ Live Online _____
Michael Wilbon was in The Chat House Monday. Read the transcript.

_____ E-mail Newsletter _____

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__ NFL Insider __
Post's Mark Maske on all things NFL -- only on washingtonpost.com.

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Now we know why Gregg Williams has such a long and rather exalted title: "Assistant Head Coach-Defense."

The defense is Williams's baby. Just like Gibbs left the defense to Richie Petitbon the first time around, he leaves it to Williams now. "To be truthful," Gibbs said, "they're pretty much autonomous."

And with that autonomy, Williams demonstrated yesterday against Tampa Bay that he plans on doing exactly what he did as a head coach in Buffalo, as a defensive coordinator for the Titans, as one of Buddy Ryan's most highly regarded lieutenants. He attacks. This is how the Redskins produced four sacks against a veteran offensive team. It's how they allowed three points, a measly 30 yards rushing and a grand total of 169 yards. It's how they held one of the league's most accurate passers, Brad Johnson, to only one completion of more than 20 yards. It's how they held Tampa Bay without a first down for the first third of the game.

It's like X-treme Defense.

"We've been bend-but-don't-break for most of my time here," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "Even under Marvin Lewis, we were bend-but-don't-break and we played a lot more zone and didn't blitz much. Now we go after the quarterback. I can jump routes. We attack instead of sitting back and taking punches. If we had 70 defensive plays today, we had some kind of blitz on 55 of 'em."

Having played in some schemes that never came close to exploiting his talents, LaVar Arrington wore a big smile -- and it needed no explanation. "Do you have any idea of how happy I am?" he asked.

What you need to know is that with 11 seconds left and Tampa Bay needing a long pass completion to have any threat of winning, the Redskins' new defensive boss wasn't going to stand there worrying about a Hail Mary pass being tipped around in the end zone, or about a pass-interference penalty setting up some dramatic play to ruin his defense's masterpiece.

Williams told his linebackers, in this case Arrington and Marcus Washington, to get the quarterback and end it. As safety Matt Bowen related afterward, the defensive backs said to Arrington and Washington, " 'You go get your money, and we'll be behind you.' "

Arrington got Johnson, the money, and a completely fitting, defensive ending to the victory.

Already, folks around here have to get used to a whole new cast of characters, and I'm talking about ones who don't carry or throw the ball. We already know Arrington, even though we're likely to see a more effective and disruptive force. There's Bowen, who never had a sack in his previous 54 games but got two yesterday. There's Washington, a linebacker who played the previous four years for the Colts. He's the guy Smoot thinks will shed his anonymity by midseason. There's Shawn Springs, the smooth cornerback who had his own homecoming yesterday and said afterward of his new defensive boss, "Aggressive? Gregg Williams is a complete animal." There are the defensive tackles, Joe Salave'a, Cornelius Griffin and Jermaine Haley, who along with ends Phillip Daniels and Renaldo Wynn, left Tampa Bay with absolutely no running game.

And perhaps most important, there's Antonio Pierce, who's been around for three years but not like this. The benefit of great coaching -- and Williams is without question a great defensive assistant -- is that players who once looked ordinary can blossom.

Williams called Bowen and Pierce, a fourth-year linebacker from the University of Arizona, "probably as well-prepared as anybody I've ever coached. Pierce did a great job of calling the game for us. Once he told me, 'Coach, you were too slow making the call, so I made my own call.' I love having that type of player. He's a very, very smart football player."

And Gibbs is a very, very smart coach. He might not deserve credit for the defense, but he stalked and hired Williams. Gibbs might have been out of football, but it didn't mean he wasn't paying attention. Williams didn't distinguish himself as a head coach in Buffalo, but his defenses went from 21st to 15th to second in his three years there. He and Jeff Fisher, the Titans' head coach, were two of Ryan's favorites. As a college assistant working for former Redskins linebacker Jack Pardee, Williams learned the George Allen approach to defense. Then he worked for Ryan in Houston.

Asked yesterday how frequently he called blitzes against Tampa Bay, Williams said: "I'd say we had 70 percent pressure. But that's abnormally high. We did it because they opened up their formations and caused us to come with more and more pressure."

Seventy percent?

Ryan would be proud of that. Actually, it was Ryan who accused Fisher and Williams of screwing up his defense by paying too much attention to coverage principles. So consider what the Redskins are doing now to be a lot of Buddy Ryan with a little reduction sauce. And if you know anything about Ryan, you know that his defensive style brutalized opponents, yet required great intellect and precision.

"I've asked them," Williams said, "to study more than they've ever studied. I don't care about off days. There's no such thing as off days. I don't have a day off, so they don't have a day off."

The players certainly don't seem to mind, particularly those who've been around long enough to want to separate themselves from the last three or four underachieving seasons. "The defense," Smoot said, "has not been really good since I got here. But we have believed in what Gregg Williams is preaching from the very first day. We've got two corners who can run with anybody. We've got LaVar, Marcus and a pretty good defensive line. And now LaVar gets to roam. He can chase plays down. We've got athletes, and there's no reason we shouldn't produce lots of sacks, lots of interceptions and lots of turnovers. Oh, we're with the right coordinator. Everybody on the defense felt that way on every snap of the ball today."

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