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Washington Redskins' early takeaway? Turnover-focused defense is right on the ball

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 26, 2010; 1:11 AM

Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall doesn't bite his tongue often, and he knew that when frustrations boiled over last month and he proclaimed that "this my team, this my defense," expectations instantly rose.

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"It definitely puts pressure on you," Hall acknowledged Monday, one day after his four interceptions lifted the Redskins to a 17-14 win over the Chicago Bears. "Pressure is either going to bust pipes or it's going to turn something into a diamond. I don't mind having the pressure on me."

The entire Washington defense has similarly felt heightened expectations this season, and Sunday's six-turnover performance is just another small step toward reaching them. When Coach Mike Shanahan and Jim Haslett, the team's defensive coordinator, switched to a 3-4 defensive scheme in the offseason, they had one goal in mind: producing more turnovers.

Not yet at the halfway point of the season's schedule, the Redskins have 17 takeways, which matches their total for all of 2009. It's a big reason why the team already has four wins, which also matches last season's total.

"That's what you're looking for," Shanahan said of Sunday's turnovers. "It's the difference in us winning and losing."

The Redskins are on pace to notch 39 takeways. Since 2005, only seven NFL teams have managed more than 38 takeaways in a season.

In addition to Hall's four interceptions, which tied an NFL record, the Redskins also recovered two fumbles against the Bears. "We needed every one of them," said linebacker London Fletcher.

As the team's offense continues to search for its footing, the Redskins' desperate need for takeaways won't soon wane. Washington has now won two games whose difference was a defensive score. Hall returned a fumble for a touchdown in a six-point win over Dallas, and Sunday at Chicago, his 92-yard interception return was essential in a three-point victory.

The Redskins' 17 takeaways are tied for second in the league this season. Their nine fumble recoveries are tied for first and their plus-eight turnover differential is tied for second. (Through seven weeks last season, the Redskins had a minus-four differential, which was tied for 25th in the league.)

Causing havoc and forcing turnovers was the stated goal entering the season, and even though the Redskins are ranked No. 31 in total defense, with an average of 406 yards surrendered per game, they're pleased with the results so far.

"We've been working on turnovers from the first day," Shanahan said. "We talked about turnovers, we talked about the 3-4 defense, trying to keep people off balance. Offenses [have] some difficulty in their game plan, not knowing which guy's coming, so we continue to do that.

"That's part of the reason we went to the 3-4," he said. "We thought we could put some pressure on the offenses that they haven't seen or that we haven't done here before."

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