By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 5, 2009
While the turning point in Sunday's 16-13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers likely was DeAngelo Hall's third-quarter interception, the turning point for an embattled defensive unit actually might have come a night earlier.
Nearly a week removed from a demoralizing loss at Detroit, Washington Redskins defensive players met in a conference room at the team hotel, as they do the night before every game, and listened to their defensive coordinator. Players say the urgency and the energy in Greg Blache's voice touched every man in the room. Blache, they say, was nearly in tears.
"The passion and the intensity of what he said," linebacker London Fletcher said, "it was amazing."
And they say it carried over into Sunday's game against the Bucs, in which the defense rebounded from a poor showing in Detroit and carried the Redskins to victory. Washington held Tampa Bay to 229 yards and forced two key turnovers. Bucs quarterback Josh Johnson, making his first NFL start, was held to 106 yards passing and was sacked three times.
Perhaps most importantly, the Redskins' defense was strong on third down. They entered the game as the league's worst third-down defense, as opponents had successfully converted 22 of 43 attempts. But on Sunday, the Bucs were successful on just 2 of 13 third-down tries, which gave the Redskins' offense a lot more time on the field.
"We needed it bad," Fletcher said of Sunday's performance. "We've been maligned this week. Our defensive coordinator was under fire. We didn't like that at all. We felt like it was definitely us and not his calls that were the reason we didn't play well against the Lions."
After the game, Coach Jim Zorn called the defense's performance "incredible."
"I can't wait to watch it because it was a great effort," he said. "That's what kept us in the ballgame."
Players cited Saturday night's emotional meeting as both a wake-up call and a catalyst. Blache described his speech simply: "It was just sincere."
"We were at a point in the season where you had to stand up, we had to change, we had to draw a line in the dirt," he said.
According to players, Blache talked about being a man, playing as a man, taking responsibility for specific assignments, execution and effort and fulfilling potential. By the time he was finished, "you were ready to run through a brick wall for him," Fletcher said.
Zorn and Blache were both pleased with the results: an aggressive defense that consistently executed plays. They slowed the Bucs' struggling offense and shifted momentum to their own quarterback.
At halftime, the Redskins trailed 10-0 and entered the locker room to a chorus of boos. But on just the third play of the third quarter, Hall intercepted Johnson and ran to the Bucs 41-yard line, giving the Redskins their best starting field position of the day. Washington went on to kick a field goal for its first points.
Prior to the interception, Hall was in the huddle, barking to his teammates that he felt an interception return for a touchdown was coming.
"He didn't get to the house, but he did get the interception," Fletcher said. "He predicted that one."
Said Hall: "It was an emotional play. We were on the sidelines, just talking. We needed to make a play, period -- to come out there and make a play as a defense, to come off the field and give the ball to the offense. We haven't been giving them too many chances, helping them out. It just felt good to help them out and give them the ball."
Entering the game, Blache declared that he would be more aggressive as a play-caller, saying he would be more of a "maverick" and a "riverboat gambler." To that end, he inserted safety Reed Doughty into the starting lineup and called for risky blitz packages. Cornerback Justin Tryon came up with a big third-down sack in the second quarter on such a blitz.
"I think our players loved it," Zorn said of the defense's aggressive play-calling. "Now that's not going to be an every-game deal, but today was the day. [Blache] calls himself a maverick or whatever, but this is our package and he just called it up."
After the game, Blache said he didn't think the Redskins actually blitzed as much as they usually do, but they did show blitz formations on many occasions in an attempt to rattle the Bucs' young quarterback.
"When you go look at it, you're not going to see a lot of blitzes. Three or four. Not as many as you usually do," Blache said.
So what of last week's threats of a riverboat gambler wearing a headset?
"Sometimes you just make them think it," Blache said with a smile. "You put the clothes on and you look the part."
To minimize the one-on-one matchups and make sure the mobile quarterback didn't take advantage of open field, the Redskins played a lot of zone defense. But players say it was their mentality more than the formations that was more aggressive on Sunday.
"We really talked about, no matter what was called, being aggressive," said Doughty, who played a role in nine tackles, tying him with Fletcher for the team lead. "So even if it was zone, we're going to aggressively play this zone; we're going to aggressively play every call."
The Redskins' defense has held 26 straight opponents to 27 or fewer points, the longest such streak in the league.
"This is how we should be," defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "This is how we should always be. As long as we continue to do this, we can win some games."