Defense Puts Its Pride on The Line

Safety Sean Taylor gets called for a face mask penalty on Dallas's Julius Jones, but the defense had a handle on the situation most of the night.
Safety Sean Taylor gets called for a face mask penalty on Dallas's Julius Jones, but the defense had a handle on the situation most of the night. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 19, 2005

The last play of the game, an interception of a Drew Bledsoe desperation heave by freshly signed rookie Dimitri Patterson with 14 seconds remaining, was as symbolic for the Washington Redskins as the first, a Cornelius Griffin pick of a Bledsoe pass tipped into the air by Phillip Daniels.

If the Redskins' defense has been the team's mainstay during a season heading toward a suddenly intriguing conclusion, then in between those bookends yesterday was a defensive mandate. At the end of the 35-7 demolition of the Dallas Cowboys was individual achievement in the form of Daniels's four sacks, Lemar Marshall's nine tackles, or Marcus Washington's two sacks, interception, pass deflected and forced fumble as much as the execution of the team goal. Bledsoe was sacked seven times, knocked down 11 times and intercepted three times.

On paper, it appeared the Cowboys ran the ball better than most of the Redskins' opponents, rushing for 4.5 yards per carry. But the average was inflated thanks to a 51-yard run by Julius Jones in the third quarter. Without it, the Cowboys rushed 23 times for 58 yards.

But in addition to the dominance inside the numbers, the Redskins yesterday did not bask only in the execution of their game plan against Bledsoe and the Cowboys as much as they were convinced of their own determination.

They played without Carlos Rogers, the rookie starting left cornerback, whose left biceps injury is now worse than feared. Bubba Tyer, Redskins Director of Sports Medicine, said after the game that Rogers suffered a tear of the biceps instead of a bruise.

They were playing without starting weakside linebacker LaVar Arrington, whose right quad injury kept him out of the most important Dallas-Washington game of his career and forced Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams to start the game with five defensive backs and only two linebackers.

The result was a matter of pride that needed to be addressed. The Redskins cornerbacks asked Williams to insert more man-to-man coverage into the overall scheme, because they wanted to showcase their ability to cover the Dallas receivers.

"I've been hearing it all over the place about us being the weak link," said cornerback Shawn Springs, who had three tackles despite playing with a sore lower back and groin. "There was no way we were going to be the ones to get burned. Nobody is going to take advantage of us."

Springs articulated the question of pride for the rest of his teammates. Saturday night, he had watched a sports program that suggested the Redskins would be dominated by the combination of Bledsoe's arm and the Cowboys receivers.

Instead, it was the opposite. Chris Clemons, who appeared to force the fumble that was credited to Washington, said Bledsoe was essentially intimidated by the force of the Redskins' pass rush.

"He was moving back before we even got to him," Clemons said. "He thought we were coming even when we didn't. All he wanted to do was get rid of the ball."

There were match-ups the Cowboys thought they could exploit but could not. Johnson was lined up against cornerback Walt Harris, himself playing through a benching three weeks ago and a calf injury. But Johnson caught just two passes.

Glenn, thought Clemons, was also intimidated. On one important third down in the first half, Glenn seemed to brace for an expected hit from safety Sean Taylor instead of focusing on catching the ball. It was a play that did not go unnoticed by the Redskins defenders. Glenn caught two passes for 25 yards, none in the first half when the Redskins built a 28-0 lead.

"He talked a lot of trash, but he didn't go over the middle too much, either," Clemons said of Glenn.

Entering the afternoon, the challenge for Williams' defense was to find a way to pressure Bledsoe despite the expectation that the Cowboys would leave in the maximum number of blockers to defend against the Redskins' blitz. But Williams understood two things during the game: the first was that the Redskins' front four could pressure Bledsoe without the blitz, and the second was that the Cowboys were sending out more receivers than in their Sept. 19 meeting.

"We thought we had a couple of match-ups we could exploit," Williams said. "We thought we would have an advantage if we could put pressure on their tackles, and it turned out we were able to do that with our front four."

In turn, every member of the Redskins' starting defensive line wound up in the stat column. Joe Salave'a, Renaldo Wynn, and Daniels were all credited with at least a half sack, while Griffin nabbed an interception.

"They weren't max-protecting like they did the first game," Daniels said. "Everyone was just so focused. I've never had a four-sack game in my life. Not high school, college, pickup, whatever."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company