Simplified Defense Is Exceeding All Expectations

Veteran Donovan McNabb is overwhelmed in the fourth quarter; he threw for 240 yards, but his passer rating was only 74.5.
Veteran Donovan McNabb is overwhelmed in the fourth quarter; he threw for 240 yards, but his passer rating was only 74.5. "It was a combination of rush and coverage," London Fletcher said. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 17 -- This whole back-to-basics thing on defense remains a work in progress for the Washington Redskins. There are depth concerns along the defensive line and in the secondary, and presumably tougher tests ahead.

What seems apparent, however, is the Redskins have reason for optimism about a unit that was often a source of frustration last season, especially after another strong effort Monday night in a 20-12 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

After the group's spirited play in the second half of a season-opening victory over Miami, the defense did its part again in front of 67,726 at Lincoln Financial Field, harassing Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb from the outset while containing the often-productive passing attack.

The impressive work on defense combined with quarterback Jason Campbell's steady work in his first significant road test this season helped produce Washington's first 2-0 start since 2005. That was also the last time the Redskins qualified for the postseason, and defense was the catalyst to success.

It could be again, the Redskins said.

"From the game plan to our execution . . . just a total team effort," said middle linebacker London Fletcher, emerging as a leader of the group early in his first season with the team. "We mixed up our defense, and we were able to have success on third down. We knew third down was going to be big."

Third-down productivity was among Washington's many deficiencies last season while finishing 31st among 32 teams in total defense. Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, resisted the impulse to overhaul a scheme that had worked well, opting instead to simplify.

On Monday, the Eagles went 4 for 16 on third down. The Redskins sacked McNabb three times and applied pressure throughout despite playing without injured starting defensive end Phillip Daniels and cornerback Fred Smoot, who started the opener.

"You know, nobody really expects a lot out of us," linebacker Marcus Washington said. "We just try to stick together and kind of believe in each other. The key is that nobody is really try to do too much.

"Defensively, it's a team effort. Everybody is taking care of their responsibilities. . . . They're doing their job. When they get a chance to make a play they make it. If somebody misses a tackle, you've got 10 more other guys coming."

Last season here, McNabb completed an 84-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Donte' Stallworth in a play that illustrated Washington's problems on defense. On Monday, McNabb's longest pass was 19 yards. He finished with 240 yards passing but only a 74.5 rating.

"He's been in this league a long time, so I don't think you're going to confuse him with the looks we were giving him," Fletcher said. "We were just . . . in a couple of cases, we had good coverage. There were coverage sacks. In other cases, guys just beat one-on-one matchups. It was a combination of rush and coverage, and it was big for us."

Shawn Springs replaced Smoot in the starting lineup opposite cornerback Carlos Rogers. Springs and Rogers appeared to benefit from the pressure the line provided. In turn, McNabb's options were limited because of downfield coverage.

"The whole game plan . . . that's what we were trying to do," safety LaRon Landry said. "That's what we did."

Of course, the Redskins weren't perfect on defense, players said. That's their next goal.

"We're 2-0, but we can play better," Fletcher said. "That's the thing we recognize as a team. We're extremely happy about the victory, but we know we've got a long way to go; there's a lot of season left to play. But we're happy. We knew it would be tough to come in here and beat a tough Philadelphia Eagle football team, and that's what we did."

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