By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 15, 2006
The Washington Redskins have played exactly one game and did not win, but, as many players were quick to remind yesterday, there are actually two games being played simultaneously that are of equal importance. There is the team game that is decided on the scoreboard and the individual, play-by-play pit fight that builds reputations and destroys others.
For the last three days, starting cornerback Carlos Rogers has been challenged to recover from what has been universally accepted by his peers as a bad game. From his position coach Jerry Gray to assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams to his teammate Shawn Springs, the sentiment was the same: Only by shutting down the best receivers will Rogers earn respect.
Yesterday, Springs, the injured 10th-year veteran who will not play Sunday against Dallas because he is recovering from abdominal surgery, reduced the confrontation of offensive and defensive player to its rawest, most macho element.
"Like I always say, you're either going to supply the foot or you're going to supply the [butt]," Springs said, specifically referring to a cornerback's task of facing superstar Dallas wide receiver Terrell Owens. "I don't know why people make it so complicated. It's either him or me. You have to believe you can destroy him."
Meanwhile, there is Redskins defensive end Andre Carter, who is in conflict with both the statistics, and to some degree the videotape, regarding his performance against Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie in Monday night's 19-16 loss to Minnesota. Unlike backup Demetric Evans, who played an inspired game, recording the game's only sack and nearly nabbing an interception while breaking up a second-quarter screen pass, Carter's name was not called on the evening. The stat sheet credited Carter with four tackles, three solo, but no sacks or impact plays, no quarterback pressures, no passes defensed, no forced fumbles or recoveries.
But if Carter appeared to be in a constant but ultimately unsuccessful nightlong battle with McKinnie, he was neither willing to claim victory, nor accept defeat.
"I'll let everyone else decide. I'm a humble person. It's tough to say," Carter said about going against McKinnie. "There were times that he got me and times I got him. He's [a] big boy. He's got long arms. With those games, you can never tell."
Carter, at 6 feet 4 and 265 pounds, did not seem to win many outright battles, either by beating the 6-8, 335-pound McKinnie cleanly to reach Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson or by forcing him into committing penalties. On Monday, the pit fight appeared to belong to McKinnie. Fifteen times Carter and McKinnie dueled in single coverage pass plays, and Carter was unable to get to Johnson, who frustrated both Carter and left defensive end Phillip Daniels by throwing the ball quickly. In the first half, Carter attempted to use his speed to rush to the outside, but McKinnie pushed him far wide of his rushing lane.
When Carter signed a six-year, $30 million free agent contract in March, the Redskins believed they had demonstrably upgraded their pass rush. The Redskins -- Williams, in particular -- have gained a reputation for confusing quarterbacks with a variety of looks and coverage packages, but the first key to virtually all successful defenses is pressure from the down linemen. Carter arrived as the big-money free agent to bolster a defensive line that before an energized December had mustered just five sacks through the first 11 games last season.
In the second half against the Vikings, Carter attempted to diversify his tactics, using spin moves and inside rushes. Neither seemed to work particularly well on passing downs, as McKinnie held his ground to the outside. And when Carter ran inside, Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson often stacked him up.
"That's the nature of the game," he said. "They made a lot of adjustments on me in the second half, a lot of slide protections and max-protections. You have to keep finding a way to continue to fight."
Seven times over the night Carter was double-teamed by McKinnie and Hutchinson, and on three other occasions he was lined up in single coverage against Hutchinson. On three more occasions, the Vikings either double-teamed Carter with a tight end or running back or used a maximum-protection package to stall the Redskins' blitz.
"Unfortunately, our third-down efficiency wasn't up to par. Brad Johnson got the ball out quick. I think everybody saw it, not to give excuses," Carter said. "But we had to find a way to get out there, find a way to get in his face. He's a pro. He made the pass rush tough for us. You look at yourself, you analyze yourself and you say, 'Where am I at? Am I turning the corner?' Yes. 'Am I getting there? How do I get there faster?' So you take everything and develop your game this week."
Carter recorded some victories. On one run play in the second quarter, he pushed McKinnie back and made the initial tackle on running back Chester Taylor. On another, with a minute remaining in the third quarter, he induced McKinnie into a false start. Those, however, were the only real bright spots for Carter, who was stacked up all night against the left side of a hulking Minnesota offense -- the 6-5, 313-pound Hutchinson also thwarted Carter with a fair number of double teams -- that earns a combined $104 million in salaries.
"Those boys are big boys. They're two of the best in the league," Redskins left tackle Chris Samuels said. "Hutchinson has been to the Pro Bowl and they're paying the other guy a lot of money, too."
Though the Vikings ran primarily behind McKinnie and Hutchinson -- often through a hole created when McKinnie pushed Carter wide -- Williams said he was satisfied with Carter's game against the run.
"He played very solid. They had a very conservative game plan and when you're having that many rushing attempts against you, as a defensive end you're not able to get your feet together, put your tail up in the air and rush the passer as when you're in a tight, close game."