Redskins' Defense Takes Center Stage
To Avoid Upset, Unit Must Slow Lions' Offense

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 26, 2009

While many around Redskins Park spent the past several days trying to emphasize the positive, defensive coordinator Greg Blache has no illusions about the circumstances surrounding Sunday's game at Detroit. A Lions squad that has dropped 19 straight games is rolling out the red carpet to invite a vulnerable Redskins team to town.

"Those guys get up in the morning, and they look at us as a team they can beat," Blache said. "They're looking forward to us. We stank the joint up there last year. If our players don't recognize that, they're not as smart as I think they are.

"We're 1-1 right now. It's not exactly like we're smoking into the Super Bowl."

While Washington's offense has continued to struggle, defensive players say they're prepared to carry the team as far as they can. But they'll be looking for an improved performance Sunday, particularly out of the two big offseason signings, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and cornerback DeAngelo Hall.

The Lions' top offensive threat is third-year wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who has 141 yards and Detroit's lone receiving touchdown through two games. In last year's meeting between the teams, Johnson had a fourth-quarter touchdown that brought the Lions to within one score of topping the Redskins.

"He's a mismatch," Blache said of the 6-foot-5 Johnson. "He's a positive freak of nature to be so tall, so fast, so athletic, and have him on little defensive backs."

With shorter cornerbacks, the Redskins could rely heavily on zone coverage, but the team's defensive backs say they're looking forward to the challenge.

"He's one of the few guys on that team that could beat us," said Hall, who's seven inches shorter than Johnson. "We just always have to know where he is. Their game plan is to get him the ball. We just always have to know where he is and we have to stop him. That's the bottom line. We win the game if we stop him."

Redskins coaches were pleased with the increased impact from Haynesworth in Sunday's victory over the Rams. Though he played 70 percent of the defensive downs in Week 1, Haynesworth was quickly winded and missed key plays in the loss to the Giants. But against the Rams, Haynesworth participated in 45 of 53 downs, 85 percent.

Facing rookie Matt Stafford and a Lions offensive line that's allowed three sacks in two games, the Redskins hope to apply significantly more pressure than previous weeks. But if any head coach in the league is familiar with Haynesworth's possible weaknesses, it's Jim Schwartz. The Lions' first-year coach was Tennessee's defensive coordinator for the entirety of Haynesworth's time with the Titans.

Schwartz said this week he hasn't seen enough footage to judge just what Haynesworth's impact could be on his new team.

"Time will tell, sort of, the packages they use and things like that," Schwartz said. "They use him a little bit at defensive end, the same as we did. Line him up as right defensive tackle, the same as we did in Tennessee. He's making a lot of the same kind of plays. He's a force against the run, he's a force against the pass. He's a guy who has to be accounted for on every play. They know what they're doing."

Throughout last season, Haynesworth said he teased Schwartz that he would soon be the Lions' head coach. Sure enough, Detroit fired Rod Marinelli the day after the 2008 season ended, and Schwartz was hired two weeks later.

"He knows the game and if his head coaching job is going to be anything like when he was a defensive coordinator, then you should expect good things out of Detroit," Haynesworth said.

Haynesworth made those comments in a conference call this week with Detroit reporters. He has declined to speak with Washington media since the Redskins' season-opening loss to the Giants, after which fans and critics were vocal with their concerns about Haynesworth's participation and contribution.

"He's got a plan and he's working the plan. He'll do the things that he must," Zorn said this week. "But the things that are an option for him, every man has got to decide for himself. I think he feels very comfortable just playing the game."

While other players have confronted microphones and tape recorders this week to explain the team's win over the Rams and discuss the Lions, Haynesworth remained silent with local media and restricted Detroit reporters from asking about anything other than Schwartz.

"Different guys just have different ways of going about things. I've gone through that in the past where I didn't speak to the media at all for different reasons," Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said. "And there's other times where I just open myself up to them and answer all their questions, win, lose or draw."

According to statistics kept by the team, Haynesworth trails only Cornelius Griffin among the defensive linemen with 11 tackles, seven of which were solo. He had more success breaking through the offensive line in Week 2 and has two quarterback hurries. While he hasn't explained his boycott of Washington-area media, Haynesworth did assume a fair amount of external pressure by signing a contract that could be worth as much as $100 million, entering the season as the league's highest-paid defensive player.

"With every article that's mentioned about him, the first thing that's mentioned is his contract," Fletcher said. " 'The highest-paid defensive player' -- that's the first lead-in thing when they're talking about him. I'm sure he just gets tired about the same old stuff. With me, for instance, a lot of times when they would write about me, the first thing they would say is, 'Undersized.' After a point in time, you just want to move on from that."

A big game against the Lions would help the entire defensive unit move on, not just Haynesworth. Though the defense contained New York running back Brandon Jacobs in the season opener and held the Rams to just one score the following week, they'll be looking to turn Sunday's visit to Detroit into a statement game.

They're still trying to show that they can get to the quarterback -- two sacks in two games, thus far -- and cause turnovers.

While players would like to affirm some of the preseason chatter about their place among the league's top defenses, their highest priority is making sure the Lions' losing streak remains intact.

"I'm not overlooking the Lions," Haynesworth said. "We scored nine points against the Rams last week. You think we'll overlook the Lions? I think the Lions are a lot better than the Rams."

Staff writer Jason Reid contributed to this report.

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