Recent Success Proves Defense Is on a Run

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 31, 2007

Some players first heard the number from their defensive coaches. Others were told by the media. And a few members of the Redskins' defense were asked to guess how many rushing yards the Dallas Cowboys had gained.

"I don't know, 10?" ventured defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery, considerably overshooting the true number.

The Cowboys entered yesterday's game with the second-most prolific offense in the NFL and an above-average ground game; they departed with a 27-6 loss and a total of one rushing yard in 16 attempts, for an average of .0625 yards per carry. At that rate, the Cowboys would have required 160 carries to gain a single first down.

It was the worst rushing performance by a Dallas offense in franchise history; the Cowboys' previous low of eight rushing yards came at New Orleans on Dec. 6, 1998. It also was the best performance by a Washington defense against the run since allowing one yard against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1989, and it left several Redskins players in near-awe as they discussed the number.

"I'm kind of shocked by that," safety Reed Doughty said.

"Outstanding," linebacker Randall Godfrey said.

"It was hard fought, extremely hard fought," joked defensive tackle Kedric Golston in homage to Coach Joe Gibbs.

"That means we played all right, I guess," linebacker Marcus Washington said with a laugh.

The defensive onslaught began immediately; the Cowboys ended the first quarter with minus-4 yards rushing, and the first half with a total of three yards on the ground. Two more runs in the third quarter pushed that total three yards backward, and the Cowboys thus entered the final quarter with 10 carries for zero yards.

"I'll tell you what, we were flying all over the field, and we had some fun out there today," Godfrey said. " Everybody's in their gap, we're getting off blocks and we don't have a lot of guys on the ground. That's basically it. You stay up and play physical, and you can do a lot of things, and that's what's been happening."

With one exception, excellence against the run has been a staple of Washington's season-closing four-game winning streak. As the streak began, Washington held the Chicago Bears' lead running back, Adrian Peterson, to 35 yards on 17 carries. Against the Minnesota Vikings and their top-ranked rushing attack, Washington yielded 87 yards, keeping running backs Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor to 15 carries for a combined 41 yards.

But those performances were mere preludes to yesterday, when Dallas's ground game either gained zero yards or went backwards on half of its 16 running plays. As the Cowboys struggled to nudge themselves into positive rushing yardage in the fourth quarter, waves of Redskins defenders continued streaming over the line of scrimmage. On one first-down play late in the game, with the outcome already decided, running back Julius Jones was swarmed by five defenders, starting with Montgomery and Washington. Jones threw down his arms in frustration as virtually the entire defense celebrated in a circle.

"Any time you get guys running sideways, that's good thing," Doughty said. "When you get somebody running 10 yards and getting zero yards or one yard or two yards, that's a good feeling."

Of course, some members of the Cowboys' offense hinted that they hadn't deployed their full arsenal of plays, but such words did not impress their counterparts.

"They can say what they want to say but they played some guys," Golston said. "To be quite honest with you, everybody's trying to put the weight on their back, just doing their jobs in order to get a team effort."

The Redskins said their recent success against the run is due to several factors, from the improved health of key starters to their desire to honor Sean Taylor to a shift in defensive philosophy. The new approach requires defensive backs -- chiefly Fred Smoot, Shawn Springs and LaRon Landry -- to hold up in one-on-one coverage, but when they do, the Redskins' surge up front has been as impenetrable as a Herm Edwards news conference.

["Yesterday] we weren't chasing the ball. Any time we're doing that and I go to the sidelines and I'm not breathing too hard, that's a good sign," Montgomery said. "For me, when I get to the sidelines, if I'm not tired and breathing hard, that means the ball's coming to the line of scrimmage and it's stopping right there."

Assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams summarized the team's approach more simply: "We're saying, 'You're not going to run the football,' " he said.

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