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Michael Wilbon

Dominating 'D' Keeps Bringing Its 'A' Game

By Michael Wilbon
Monday, October 18, 2004; Page D01

CHICAGO -- It's not what Washington has grown accustomed to, the Redskins being a defense-first team. From Otto Graham to Sonny to Joe Gibbs riding Riggo, Theismann and Art Monk, it's almost always been about offense. The Hogs, counter trey, Fun Bunch, Riggo Drill, 40-gut, 50-gut, H-backs, max protect, Doug Williams in the Super Bowl, Timmy Smith in the Super Bowl. Defense was something folks in Washington have tolerated, maybe even appreciated, but offense has been the franchise's trademark.

Offense, however, is not going to save the day this season. It doesn't look like offense is going drag the Redskins back to .500, if they are to get there at all. Offense isn't going to keep the Redskins close in every game, as they have been this season. Offense certainly wasn't responsible for Sunday's 13-10 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field. The Redskins pulled themselves to 2-4 because the defense pitched another shutout, because the defense held the Bears to one third down conversion in 13 attempts, because the defense held the Bears to 160 net yards, because the defense allowed -- and this is not a misprint -- 1.3 yards per pass attempted.


"The defense can keep playing this way," said Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot, here tackling the Bears' Bryan Johnson. Smoot played despite suffering a mildly separated right shoulder in the game. (John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

Game Day: Redskins 13, Bears 10
 Redskins, Game 6
Clinton Portis gains 171 yards and the Redskins end a four-game losing streak with an ugly 13-10 victory at Soldier Field.
Michael Wilbon: Washington's dominating 'D' brings its 'A' game.
News Graphic: Redskins offense has given up four touchdowns.
Ola Kimrin was home in Sweden on Thursday when the Redskins called.
Chicago reaches a new low at QB with 65 yards from Jonathan Quinn.
Play of the Game: Sean Taylor sacks Quinn with 1:33 left in third.
Notebook: Mark Brunell will keep his starting job vs. Green Bay.
Best & Worst

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Okay, let me start by saying that these Bears are not the Bears of Jim McMahon and Walter Payton. These Bears have no receivers to speak of, no tight end and a quarterback, Jonathan Quinn, who just might be The Worst Quarterback to Ever Start a Game in NFL History. Remember how bad Kyle Boller was for Baltimore against the Redskins on Oct. 10? Quinn on Sunday made Boller look like Joe Montana. The longest pass he completed was for 16 yards. He completed 10 passes for 65 yards, but figuring in yardage lost when he was sacked, Quinn threw for a net total of 34 yards. That's barely better than eight yards per quarter. You grow up in Chicago a Bears fan, as I did, and you know about bad quarterbacking. And Sunday was as bad as it gets.

Having said all that, the Redskins defense did what a good defense should do when confronted with such incompetence. It gave up nothing, and that was for a second game in a row. Against the Ravens the Redskins defense gave up no touchdowns. In fact, Sunday's victory over the Bears marked the third time this season, beginning with the win over Tampa Bay on Sept. 12, that the defense has not allowed a touchdown. In fact, of the 95 points the Redskins have allowed this season, special teams have allowed seven and the offense has allowed 28, including Jerry Azumah's 70-yard interception return in the second quarter that gave the Bears their only touchdown.

The defense, even if you allow for offensive turnovers that put them on a short field, has allowed 60 points in six games. That, ladies and gents, is good enough to make you 6-0. That, if your offense is ordinary, puts you at 4-2. As is, with an offense of Clinton Portis and nothing else, it's 2-4. Every coach in the history of the league, if you told him at the start of the season he could sign up for an average of 10 points allowed, would take it. Nobody expects to allow fewer than that, even if the Bucs, Browns, Ravens and Bears are offensively challenged. The point is to keep a bad offense in its misery zone, which is just what the Redskins defense has done.

The defense is the reason it's not impossible for the Redskins to climb back this season. If that happens, it won't be pretty. It won't be the old Joe Gibbs ball. It won't be bombs away or a torrent of points. Defense is pretty much what the Redskins have. And it's a real nice fundamental place to start for a team that's been dormant for years, especially when that defense is playing without its best player, LaVar Arrington, without Phillip Daniels, without Matt Bowen, without Joe Salave'a, without Andre Lott -- all of them injured. It's pretty good to give up no touchdowns when you're starting a third stringer, Ryan Clark, at strong safety and projected backups all over the place.

"We had Lemar Marshall play well in place of LaVar," Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. "We had Clark play well in place of Bowen. What we've had, which I think is important, is a bunch of guys being accountable."

Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, Blache, and the other defensive assistants have had the defensive players believing they could be this effective from the first day of camp. Asked if he was aware the defense hadn't allowed a touchdown for the third time this season, cornerback Shawn Springs said: "No, I wasn't. Three out of six games -- 50 percent -- is pretty good. But it's not something we're aware of, not something we go around talking about."

Why not? "Because we've been losing," Springs said. "There's no need to talk about anything that pertains to an individual or a unit when you're losing."

On the last series of the game, when the Bears had a chance to tie or win, the Redskins went sack, sack, interception on three of the final four plays.

Blache, who coordinated the Bears' defense before Dick Jauron and his staff were fired at the end of last season, said: "We can still raise the bar. We can create more turnovers. We can give our offense a shorter field to work on. And we can score on defense."

Nearby, Fred Smoot was preaching the same sermon. "There's no need of us pointing fingers at the offense," he said. "Show me a situation where that ever works. The defense can keep playing this way. The 2000 Ravens did it [en route to winning a Super Bowl]. Until the offense gets moving, there's no reason we can't play defense and hand the ball to Clinton [Portis]. We're fine with being on the field and we can play better. We ought to be able to score. To be a dominant defense, we have to score."

When you catch a team with a bad quarterback, as the Redskins did Sunday, then keeping that team out of the red zone, and keeping it from reaching midfield until its ninth possession of the game is a winning formula. It takes the pressure off Mark Brunell to do a whole lot, which is a good thing considering he completed fewer passes (8 for 22) than Quinn.

A team with a big offense and no defense is never going to seriously contend, and usually winds up disappointing more often that not except when it comes to entertainment value. But a team that can play this kind of defense every week for six weeks, no matter the caliber of the opposition, has every chance to hang in there, while Joe Gibbs and his lieutenants on offense figure out what to do on the side of the ball that Washington so dearly loves.


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