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Redskins' Defense Is Failing to Hold Up

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 16, 2006

Twenty minutes after the defeat, safety Adam Archuleta had yet to remove even a piece of tape from his soiled uniform, sitting slouched in front of his locker, his head tilted slightly to the right as he stared blankly into space. Defensive lineman Phillip Daniels was at the opposite end of the locker room, his massive body spilling over his puny chair, still in full uniform as well.

Daniels's chin rested on his fist, a burgundy-and-gold version of Rodin's The Thinker, as he too contemplated a defense on the brink and a season slipping away. Washington's once-dominant defense has fallen miserably since 2004 -- the first season with Gregg Williams running the unit -- and was gouged by running back Travis Henry for 178 yards in a 25-22 loss to Tennessee at FedEx Field. The Redskins (2-4) yielded repeated big plays, as they have all season, and lost to an opponent that had been 0-5, and a rookie quarterback making his third NFL start.

For Daniels, one of the first players acquired by Williams's staff after Coach Joe Gibbs ended his retirement, this loss was made more troubling by memories of the past two seasons, when the Redskins ranked third and ninth in overall defense, respectively. For Archuleta, expected to elevate the defense along with end Andre Carter after being signed to a huge free agent contract, the loss was another profound blow for the newcomers who have yet to experience any real highs in Washington.

"I'm in shock for one, man," Daniels said, explaining his postgame trance. "We're 2-4. I never expected that coming in. With the people we added to this team and the things [owner] Dan [Snyder] did for this team, we shouldn't be at this point. Last year, winning at the end of the season [to reach the playoffs], we need to get that back.

"I think we've got a good owner, good coaches, but we're not doing the things we need to do to win games, and that's what hurts me more than anything. Me, I don't have a lot of time left -- 11 years in this game -- and I need to win now. I think everybody on the team wants to win, but are we going to do the little things to win?"

The Redskins knew they enjoyed a substantial talent, experience and payroll advantage over the Titans, and it went for naught before 88,550 fans. They fell behind first for the fifth time in six games -- opposing offenses are establishing momentum and confidence quickly at their expense -- and allowed the Titans to hold the ball for 35 minutes 40 seconds, including 19:24 of the second half.

With Vince Young, 23, still learning the NFL game, everyone in the stadium knew Titans Coach Jeff Fisher would employ a run-first approach. Yet Tennessee mustered three drives of 10 plays or more while largely one-dimensional -- including the opening series -- and Young completed four passes of 20 yards or longer. The Redskins have allowed 25 such plays this season and entered Week 6 tied for second-worst in the NFL in that category. When Young (13 of 25 for 161 yards and a touchdown) did pass, he was bolstered by the threat of the run and faced few nerve-racking third-down situations, when Williams hoped to attack him most acutely.

"You've got to do a good job of making them do what you want done," Williams said, "and we weren't able to get them in the longer third-down distances."

Tennessee aimed to soften Washington's interior defense, with starting tackles Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave'a out with injuries, with stretch running plays; the offensive line blocked to zones rather than straight ahead, and Henry would cut back into the gaps left vacant, darting right or left before turning back inside, then sprinting straight. Williams harped on it all week -- Henry was his tailback when he was head coach in Buffalo -- but the defense never countered the technique, and Henry was more effective as the afternoon dragged on (13 carries for 76 yards in the first half; 19 for 102 in the second).

"I was patient reading the line blocks," Henry said. "We just kept it physical. We wanted to make it a physical game."

A week ago, the New York Giants amassed 411 yards at Washington's expense -- the most Williams has surrendered here -- when tailback Tiki Barker thrived on outside runs and cutbacks. "This is a copy-cat league," Carter said. "They studied our weaknesses and exploited it." For all of their struggles, the Redskins were never out of this game, but the defense could not make big plays in the clutch.

In the third quarter the Redskins lost the lead for good. Fisher went for it on fourth and two from the Washington 31; Williams called a run blitz, and cornerback Kenny Wright expected to guard against the post play. But wide receiver Brandon Jones came across the middle on a post pattern from the right side, gained immediate inside position on Wright and pulled down a 23-yard reception. "They just beat us there," Williams said. "They executed on a route they're not supposed to be able to execute."

Three plays later Henry scored, the Titans led 20-14, and the Redskins would soon mull another game that got away.

"This is definitely a situation we're not used to being in," said defensive lineman Renaldo Wynn, the Redskins' longest serving defensive player. "It's a humbling experience."

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