By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 20, 2008
After cornerback Carlos Rogers took another step toward elite status during the Washington Redskins' 14-11 win over the Cleveland Browns yesterday, teammates couldn't decide which aspect of his game to praise the most.
Some focused on his vicious leveling of the Browns' Joshua Cribbs in the third quarter, which left the Cleveland wide receiver prone on the ground and briefly knocked him out of the game. Others talked about Rogers's ability to take the opponent's top weapon out of games: A week after neutralizing St. Louis's Torry Holt and two weeks after shutting down Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson, Rogers limited Braylon Edwards to four catches for 58 yards yesterday.
Washington's defensive leader, London Fletcher, took the boldest step, saying he thought Rogers was playing like the best cornerback in the NFL this season.
"It's not all about interceptions. He's going out and being assigned to the top receivers in the league," Fletcher said. "He's been playing lights-out at the cornerback position, and today was another example."
Fletcher preceded his assessment with a smile, saying, "Obviously I'm biased." But Rogers provided four more quarters' worth of evidence that he's in the midst of the best stretch of his four-year pro career. The nagging calf injury that again sidelined Shawn Springs yesterday and has cost the veteran at least parts of four games has helped make Rogers's task clear, and Rogers has spent every week of preparation focusing in on the upcoming opponent's top receiver.
Rogers said his more intensive film study on a single player each week has allowed him to focus his mind and study the tics of top receivers, which has improved his performance. He said his aggressive press coverage of Edwards helped disorient the receiver, and that he saw Edwards show signs of frustration on the sideline.
"Once you target a guy and watch him in film study and what he do, it's kind of easier," said Rogers, whose cause also was helped when Edwards made several egregious drops. "Just watch him and what he do. That's my biggest thing, is making sure I shut down my guy. . . . It's pretty much me by myself out on an island. I don't think about it. I just sit there, be in my coverage, eliminate some of the stuff I think he's gonna do, and just take it from there and just play."
Last week, Edwards torched the previously undefeated New York Giants for 154 yards and a touchdown; in the first half yesterday, he had one catch for five yards.
Edwards also had made comments to Sports Illustrated that some saw as disparaging to the Redskins. "They lost, he can talk about that now," Rogers said.
Rogers was joined in yesterday's defensive secondary by Fred Smoot, his close friend and jawing partner. Smoot hadn't planned on playing this week because of a nagging groin injury, but when Springs aggravated the calf problem, Smoot's plans changed.
"That meant I couldn't be hurt," Smoot said. "Once he got hurt, I had to man it up and call my grandma and tell her I need some red clay dirt. That's what we use down South to heal you, heal your muscles."
Smoot said that the latest in his series of challenges with Rogers involved who could play a more physical brand of cornerback, and he acknowledged that Rogers won yesterday's contest. There were early highlights -- including a nice open-field tackle on Cleveland fullback Lawrence Vickers in the second quarter -- but the clincher came midway through the third quarter. The Redskins were playing zone for one of the rare times, and Rogers dropped back, feigning man coverage, before sprinting forward and leveling Cribbs.
"Coming from a corner? Very physical hit," safety LaRon Landry said. "I've got no complaints. He done it the way I would do."
"That was something, man," Marcus Washington said. "He really came up and brought the Riddell."
Rogers's performance has been all the more impressive after his return from reconstructive knee surgery, which ended his 2007 campaign. Washington called the comeback "pretty amazing," and other teammates marveled at Rogers's level of play considering the recent injury. Rogers, meantime, already was talking about Calvin Johnson, his likely assignment in Detroit next week.
"I take a lot of pride in coaches just putting me there in that position," Rogers said. "They've got a lot of confidence in me and I've got a lot of confidence in myself. It's gonna be like that week in week out. Those are the cards that were dealt to me, and through the good and the bad I'll keep doing it."