Redskins' Secondary Steps Up

Redskins secondary coach Jerry Gray joins his troops in celebrating rookie safety Chris Horton's interception in the fourth quarter against the Cowboys.
Redskins secondary coach Jerry Gray joins his troops in celebrating rookie safety Chris Horton's interception in the fourth quarter against the Cowboys. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 2, 2008; Page E01

Often during Washington Redskins position group meetings, secondary coach Jerry Gray lists the accomplishments of upcoming opponents in the passing game. He goes into detail about the performance of the team's quarterback and highlights the most impressive statistics.

Then Gray sits back and watches as Washington's cornerbacks and safeties use the information as motivation. The Redskins' secondary enjoys challenges, coaches and players said, and Gray knows what buttons to push.

"We know this is a passing league, and before [other teams] get a chance to play us, we see a lot of great highlights," Gray said. "Our guys know, 'You know what? It's going to be on us this week again.' And that's fine with us."

Amused that some league observers often discount them despite their positive results, Washington's cornerbacks and safeties have been solid in the team's three-game winning streak.

Anchored by cornerback Shawn Springs, the group -- which includes three top 10 draft picks -- impressed in slowing the productive passing attacks of the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals, and stood firm in Sunday's 26-24 win over the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium.

The Redskins' victory over their biggest NFC East rival -- a team widely considered to be the NFL's best -- occurred, in large part, because Cowboys star quarterback Tony Romo struggled for long stretches against an underrated secondary. That's nothing new, Washington's players said.

The Philadelphia Eagles (2-2) host the Redskins (3-1) on Sunday, and Gray has given another detailed presentation.

"Coach Gray brings it up in meetings, and we talk about it, what the other team is doing, but we also say, 'When everybody leaves here, the results don't be the same as they came in,' " cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "When you just continue to make the offense look bad and [not] be as explosive as they can be, it's not an accident.

"Obviously, we're doing something good. And we've just got to continue to do what we're doing. After a while, people will start recognizing. Other teams, they already know it. You can believe that."

In their 29-24 victory over the Saints in Week 2, the Redskins limited quarterback Drew Brees to 216 yards, and rookie strong safety Chris Horton had two interceptions (Horton also recovered a fumble in his first start and was selected as the NFC defensive player of the week). The previous week against Tampa Bay, Brees passed for 343 yards. He had 421- and 363-yard performances, respectively, in the Saints' past two games.

On Sept. 14, Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in a 31-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins. In that game, Warner completed 79.2 percent of his passes for 361 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Warner completed 53.3 percent of his passes for 192 yards the following week as Arizona lost to Washington, 24-17. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Warner teamed on a 62-yard touchdown pass -- the only passing play of more than 40 yards Washington has given up -- but Rogers's interception in the fourth quarter, on a ball tipped high by nickel cornerback Leigh Torrence, set up the go-ahead score.

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