By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 9, 2006
Ever since they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-3, four weeks ago, the buzzword around the Washington Redskins has been "principles." Coach Joe Gibbs meant the Redskins had not only lost games this season but lost their way.
The topic of principles has generally been applied to the offense, mostly because that is where the Redskins engineered an overhaul, with the offseason arrival of associate head coach Al Saunders and a change in quarterback following the Philadelphia game from Mark Brunell to Jason Campbell.
But on Thursday, assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams echoed a similar theme about that unit. As much as Campbell took the blame for last Sunday's 24-14 loss to Atlanta that dropped the Redskins to 4-8, the defense gave up 256 yards rushing, capped by a game-breaking 69-yard touchdown run by rookie Jerious Norwood when Washington only trailed 17-14.
Williams would not say that the defense has gotten away from its principles, which revolve around stopping the run and creating turnovers.
Williams said the problem, on run defense particularly, centers around lapses in technique and poor tackling. Tackling was an especially emphasized topic this week because the Philadelphia Eagles -- Washington's opponent tomorrow -- have Brian Westbrook, one of the most versatile backs in the NFC East.
"The main thing is that he is touching the football," Eagles Coach Andy Reid said. "It doesn't matter if you are throwing to him or handing it to him. As long as he is touching the football good things happen."
Williams is well aware of Westbrook. In their first meeting Nov. 12 in Philadelphia, Westbrook rushed for 113 yards on 22 carries. Even more impressive than Westbrook's rushing total was his ability to kill the final 9 minutes 3 seconds of the game on the ground.
"I was hoping we would run the ball a lot more during this season. We ran the ball a decent amount. I still think we should have run it more earlier in the season," Westbrook said. "I still prepare the same way. I watch all the run tapes, how the defense has done against the run and I just go back and review and get ready for the football game."
This year, Westbrook is an even greater threat in the ground game. The loss of quarterback Donovan McNabb to a knee injury three weeks ago has made Philadelphia more of a running team, and Westbrook has achieved through 12 games a career high 907 rushing yards.
Next week, the Redskins will face the Saints in New Orleans, a division-leading team that stars dynamic rookie Reggie Bush and veteran Deuce McAllister. The duo have combined for 1,158 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. Bush also has 73 receptions this season for 562 yards and a touchdown.
On Dec. 24, the Redskins will be in St. Louis to face the Rams. Running back Steven Jackson has crossed the 1,000-yard mark with six rushing touchdowns.
The defense finishes the season against the New York Giants and Tiki Barber, who already blitzed them during a 19-3 Giants win in New York on Oct. 8.
"Every week there is some type of a feature guy. In our division we have some unique players on each and every team. He is what makes their offense click," Williams said of Westbrook. "He is a special guy in the pass game and the run game. He is very similar to what we saw last week with Michael Vick, that when he gets in the open field he can break you down. You can have two or three guys surrounding him and he can still make a play."
In November, Westbrook rushed for 100 yards in three straight games, a feat that had not been accomplished for the franchise since Wilbert Montgomery in 1981.
"These last couple of weeks I have been that type of guy. This team at some point in the season called for that," Westbrook said. "When I am called upon to do that, I can definitely fill that role."
Before being trampled by the Falcons, Williams had been upbeat about the run defense.
The Redskins shut down Carolina in a 17-13 win Nov. 26 at FedEx Field after a streak of being victimized by opposing running games, a trend that began Oct. 15 at home against Tennessee, when Travis Henry rushed for 178 yards.
Williams was encouraged by the play of his front four, especially defensive end Andre Carter, who was strong in the pass rush and contained against the run.
Too often this season, opposing offenses have pushed Carter to the outside and created a rushing lane behind him.
Against Atlanta, the Falcons rushed mostly to the opposite side of the field.
"When you see a defensive end that has the opportunity to be in on 14 tackles and the impact he made in there, if we had come out on the winning side of that thing he would have been up there for any type of honors in the league because of how well he played," Williams said. "It is him getting comfortable with what we want done here. He is in a groove technique-wise. He has been back and forth from a linebacker and a defensive end, dropping here and rushing there. He got very comfortable and has played in a real groove. I think he has improved all year long. He has played steady all year long but he made some real impact plays last week."