Defense Struggles, but Succeeds

Redskins linebacker Rocky McIntosh stops Jets running back Thomas Jones here, but overall New York moved the ball and converted on 11 of 18 third downs.
Redskins linebacker Rocky McIntosh stops Jets running back Thomas Jones here, but overall New York moved the ball and converted on 11 of 18 third downs. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 5, 2007

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Nov. 4 -- New York Jets rookie quarterback Kellen Clemens was making his second start yesterday, which seemed to be just the kind of news the Washington Redskins' defensive players needed after a blowout loss to New England. Clemens's inexperience would fit in well with Washington's aggressive blitz plans, the Redskins figured, and lead to all sorts of problems for the Jets.

Clemens, however, didn't cooperate with Washington's plan. The Jets quarterback, named to replace Chad Pennington as the starter last Monday, played well while making a positive impression on the Redskins, who rallied for a 23-20 victory in overtime in front of 76,663 at Giants Stadium.

The Redskins' defense met its goals, players said, but Clemens made their work harder.

"He surprised us with his athletic ability," linebacker Randall Godfrey said. "He made some plays with his feet that kept them in the game. We had some things we wanted to do, and we did them and won the game, but we've got to keep working because there's still some room for improvement. I'll tell you, there's still a lot of room for improvement."

The Jets are only 30th in the NFL in offense, but they often appeared better than their ranking against the Redskins, gaining 338 total yards. New York rushed for 124 yards on 26 carries -- a 4.8-yard average -- and was outstanding on third down, converting 11 of 18 (61 percent) attempts.

Clemens played a key role in the Jets' success on third down, making big plays with his arm and feet despite the increased pressure. The Redskins played mostly a base nickel defense with safety Pierson Prioleau occupying a spot a linebacker usually fills.

Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, gave rookie LaRon Landry free reign to pursue Clemens, blitzing out of multiple formations and more frequently than he had previously this season. In fact, Williams appeared to blitz more in one quarter yesterday against New York than he had in the previous seven games this season.

Landry had one of Washington's three sacks and was around Clemens throughout the game, but Clemens often sidestepped the pressure and kept the Jets moving.

Clemens completed 23 of 42 passes for 226 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions, and ran seven times for 48 yards.

"We just didn't get off the field on third down the way we should have," Godfrey said. "We've got to do the things we want to do and be better there."

For the most part, the Redskins did what they set out to do in their previous game, though the results were abysmal against New England. The Redskins worked almost exclusively in their base cover-2 defense against New England, determined not to give up big plays to the league's most prolific offense.

So the Patriots took their time, executing their "short" game and scoring on many long drives in the blowout. But the Jets aren't the Patriots, and the Redskins needed to throw a few changeups after what happened in their last outing, players said.

"We just weren't going to sit back and allow what happened to us last week to happen to us again," middle linebacker London Fletcher said. "We knew [Clemens] is going to be a pretty good quarterback, but we needed to bring a little more pressure on him. He made some plays, but we got the win."

The Redskins again played without strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington, who missed his third game in four weeks after aggravating a hamstring injury last week.

Washington, who played sparingly against New England, said the Redskins' defense is on the right track again.

"We know what type of defense we're capable of being with the guys that we have, and we got after him [Clemens] today," he said. "He stood in there and made some plays, but we were able to play the game the way we wanted to play it. And last week is behind us now, so we're definitely glad about that."

Of course, the Jets offered more resistance than the Redskins expected to encounter offensively, and Washington faces NFC East rivals Philadelphia and Dallas in the next two weeks. The defense will be tested even more by divisional opponents, players said, and the Redskins must respond.

"You know it's going to just get tougher now," defensive lineman Cornelius Griffin said. "We've got to keep it going."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company