The last time the Detroit Lions faced the Washington Redskins "our guys just played their hearts out," according to Detroit defensive coordinator Larry Peccatiello, who also is the first to admit that the noise generated by a sold-out Silverdome crowd clearly was disruptive that day.
"We did nothing exotic," Peccatiello said today of the Lions' 33-17 victory on Dec. 5. "I thought our defensive line matched up real well with their [offensive] line, and if our defensive line can do the job, everything else falls into place for us. We had as good a day as we've had all year. The crowd noise was a factor. They had a number of penalties, false starts. But we don't have that advantage this time. This week, we've got to do it the old-fashioned way--grind it out on every snap."
Peccatiello knows a lot about the old-fashioned way. He has been an assistant coach in the NFL for 28 years, including 13 as a linebacker coach and defensive coordinator for the Redskins during the Joe Gibbs era. He also was Richie Petitbon's defensive coordinator and assistant head coach in 1993, but was fired after one season along with Petitbon and the entire staff.
"I still have fond memories of it," he said today of his four Super Bowl appearances with the Redskins. "How could you not when you were all wrapped up in the Hogs, the Bandwagon, the whole scene at RFK? It will be always be a special time in my life. At the time, I was extremely bitter because of all the success we had, and then to be let go just like that.
"You get into a comfort zone when you're anywhere for 13 years. It was suddenly upsetting your lifestyle, and it didn't go over well. But life goes on and it's been totally put behind me."
Peccatiello still has a house in The Plains in Fauquier County. His daughter and her family are living there now, but the man known simply as "Pec" someday plans to move back to Virginia, where he played and coached at William & Mary.
For now, though, he's got other things on his mind, most particularly in devising a plan to stop the Redskins' high-powered offense, ranked No. 2 in the league--ninth rushing, No. 6 passing--with the NFL's 18th-ranked defense.
In the teams' first meeting, the Lions held the Redskins to 333 yards, 39 yards less than their season average. The Redskins ran only three times on 28 fourth-quarter plays in attempting to recover from a nine-point deficit.
The Lions' defense forced two fumbles in the last period, the second when nose tackle James Jones sacked Brad Johnson and jarred the ball loose. It was picked up by defensive tackle Luther Elliss and returned for 11 yards and a game-breaking touchdown with 8 minutes 9 seconds remaining.
The Lions sacked Johnson five times and intercepted him twice, held running back Stephen Davis to 51 yards, his second lowest total of the season, and allowed the Redskins only 4.5 yards per passing play, less than half of their season average of 9.2 yards.
"We put a lot of heat on them," said Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Porcher, who leads the Lions with 15 sacks. "Johnson is just like he was when he was at Minnesota, the type of guy who's elusive, but at the same time stands in there and takes a hit. We pounded him pretty good that day, but he got up every time. We've got to do that again this week."
Standing in Porcher's way once again will be rookie offensive tackle Jon Jansen, who did not distinguish himself against the team he grew up rooting for in the Detroit suburbs and later as a standout lineman at Michigan. Jansen was called for holding and a hands-in-the-face penalty, and Porcher blew by him for a sack as well.
Although Porcher, a seven-year veteran, specializes in getting to the quarterback, the Lions know the key to their victory Saturday will be slowing down the Redskins' running game. They'll also pay more attention to Brian Mitchell, who had his best running game of the season with 60 yards on six carries.
"The goal for us every week is stop the run," Porcher said. "But this is a very high-powered team we're playing, and if we don't come ready to play we know what could happen. The last time was just one of those days for us. We've had a few of them this year, and we need a few more. You just hope you can duplicate what we did last time."
Said Peccatiello, "I believe if you stop the run, you've demonstrated a real physicalness to your game. It makes a team one-dimensional. The play action doesn't keep you off-balance. And there's a big difference between second and four and second and eight.
"We've played good and bad all year. We've had a lot of injuries, especially in the secondary, and it's been hard to overcome them. That's not an excuse. Everyone has injuries. But our guys have rallied strong. They play hard each and every week. That's all you can ask of them, and I think you'll see that again this week."