The Washington Redskins enter today's game against the Carolina Panthers with the NFL's most striking statistical disparity: They are first in the league in overall offense, and 31st--last--in overall defense.
Coach Norv Turner believes such statistics are misleading, insisting the team isn't the anomaly it seems. Indeed, the Redskins' defensive ranking has been skewed by the season-opening 41-35 loss to Dallas, in which a late-game collapse allowed the Cowboys to gain more than 300 yards during the fourth quarter and overtime.
"I'm not a statistician and I'm not a math wizard," Turner said, "but I do know a three-game statistical survey is not enough to decide where you're at."
Said cornerback Darrell Green: "The only stat I'm concerned with is the fact that we've won two games and we lost one. We've been able to make plays when we needed them. I think stats keep coaches' jobs, and all that. San Diego was number one in defense last year, but they won six games. So, you can have the stats. Just give me the wins."
Today's game against Carolina (1-2) should give a truer indication of the Redskins' overall balance.
Considered among the weaker NFC Western Division teams, the Panthers (1-2) displayed a budding offense in a 27-3 victory over Cincinnati last week, flashing big-play potential in the running and passing games.
Tim Biakabutuka, who alternates at running back with Fred Lane, had touchdown runs of 62 and 67 yards. To stop him, the Redskins' defense must do better covering the outside lanes than it did last week in a 27-20 victory over the New York Jets.
"We're not harping on the stats, but we know that stopping the outside running game probably is our weakness right now," defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield said.
Panthers quarterback Steve Beuerlein has been consistent, given adequate protection, throwing five touchdown passes and two interceptions. His favorite target is tight end Wesley Walls, who has made three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances.
On defense, the Panthers are the NFL's best when opponents get inside their 20-yard line. Of the eight drives Carolina opponents have made inside its 20, only one has succeeded.
Under George Seifert, who returned to coaching in January after a two-year hiatus, Carolina has adopted the more traditional four-lineman, three-linebacker defense. Kevin Greene, one of the NFL's best pass rushers, now plays outside linebacker. Greene made headlines last December during a game against the Redskins for attacking his position coach during a sideline dispute. Both position coach Kevin Steele--now the head coach at Baylor--and former head coach Dom Capers--an assistant for the Jacksonville Jaguars--are gone, but Greene has come back and recorded 1 1/2 sacks this season.
Seifert has the best all-time winning percentage among NFL coaches, 74.7 percent (109-37-0 overall), and seeks his 100th regular season victory today.
Said Turner, who has coached against him for 15 years: "One of the things that was amazing about what they did in San Francisco [under Seifert], they were always one of the top two or three offensive teams and got an awful lot of yards. Usually when that's the case, the defense gives up a lot of yards because it's late in games and people are throwing the ball. They were always in the top four or five defensively when [Seifert] was there. They had great players, and they were coached awfully well."
But the Redskins have an array of offensive options with which they can test the Panthers--from wide receivers Michael Westbrook and Albert Connell, each with 13 catches, to tight end Stephen Alexander, to Brian Mitchell and Larry Centers catching passes out of the backfield. Meanwhile, running back Stephen Davis has rushed for three touchdowns in each of the past two games.
Quarterback Brad Johnson credits the offensive line with the overall success.
"I'm extremely happy with the protection they're giving me," he said. "The key is to keep that running game going, keep Stephen Davis running that ball hard and hopefully we can stay away from those crucial turnovers."
The Redskins' defense has forced eight turnovers, while the offense has committed two (both on fumbles). "That's big," Turner said, "because if you create turnovers and cause turnovers, you're creating situations where your team is going to win."
As Seifert studied the Redskins, he saw Johnson as the crucial difference. Johnson has been nearly flawless to date, with five touchdown passes, no interceptions and an NFL-best 114.2 quarterback rating.
"Coaches will talk about, 'We've got to be emotional. We've got to be tough,' and all these sorts of things," Seifert said. "But really, what you've got to do is execute and make plays, and all those things kind of seem to take care of themselves. [Washington] has a quarterback there right now that has settled in, has a feel for things and is making plays. And everything then kind of feeds off that.
"Once you've got somebody making plays, your running game picks up. Everybody looks at one another and says, 'Wow! We can do this!' And you build a confidence. Basically that's what we had going in San Francisco. Everybody believed that when it got down to it, there was somebody--the quarterback or somebody--who was going to make a play. The effort and intensity of what people do then--it's psychological--it just intensifies."
Sept. 12 Dallas 41, Redskins 35 ot
Sept. 19 Redskins 50, Giants 21
Sept. 26 Redskins 27, Jets 20
Today Carolina 4:05
Oct. 17 at Arizona 8:20
Oct. 24 at Dallas 1
Oct. 31 Chicago 1
Nov. 7 Buffalo 1
Nov. 14 at Philadelphia 1
Nov. 21N.Y. Giants 4:15
Nov. 28 Philadelphia 1
Dec. 5 at Detroit 1
Dec. 12 Arizona 1
Dec. 19 at Indianapolis 1
Dec. 26 at San Francisco 8:20
Jan. 2 Miami 4:15
Sept. 12 Saints 19, Panthers 10
Sept. 19 Jaguars 22, Panthers 20
Sept. 26 Panthers 27, Bengals 3
Today at Washington 4:05
Oct. 17 at San Francisco 4:15
Oct. 24 Detroit 1
Oct. 31at Atlanta 1
Nov. 7 Philadelphia 1
Nov. 14 at St. Louis 1
Nov. 21at Cleveland 1
Nov. 28 Atlanta 8:20
Dec. 5 St. Louis 1
Dec. 12 at Green Bay 1
Dec. 18 San Francisco 4:15
Dec. 26 at Pittsburgh 1
Jan. 2 New Orleans 1
REDSKINS vs. PANTHERS
When: 4 p.m.
Site: Redskins Stadium.
TV: WTTG-5, WBFF-45.
Radio: WJFK-FM-106.7, WBQB-FM-101.5, WPLC-FM-94.3, WKIK-FM-102.9, WAGE-1200, WNAV-1430, WFMD-930.
Line: Redskins by 8A.