Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache gathered his eight defensive linemen yesterday at 10 a.m. for a one-hour film session to scout the Chicago Bears' rushing offense. Blache -- Washington's de facto defensive line coach -- focused on the tendencies of Chicago's offensive linemen, whom his unit will face Sunday at Soldier Field.
Blache, the Bears' defensive coordinator the previous five seasons before coming to Washington this offseason, had his linemen study film from Chicago's past four games, sprinkled with stunts that the team occasionally has employed in the past. He went over each Bears offensive lineman and made suggestions for his players. If a Bears lineman had good feet, Blache would suggest a physical approach instead of sprinting around him.
"You try and use certain tools like you're working on a project," Blache explained. "Certain things you need a flat-head screwdriver, certain ones you need a Phillips screwdriver, other ones you need a pair of pliers.
"It's the same way when you're playing defense. Certain techniques are good, certain ones are a waste of time."
Blache typically brings an encyclopedic knowledge of opponents to his weekly preparation, but for the Bears he brings even more knowledge. However, Chicago (1-3) has revamped its offense under new coach Lovie Smith, meaning Blache's emphasis on technique for this week essentially is no different from his preparation against other opponents.
"He's a great teacher, great philosopher," said defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin. "I think he's one of the best in the NFL. Just look at the results."
Washington's blitz-heavy defense is ranked third in the 32-team league under Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach-defense. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Redskins this season is miserly run defense. They yield an average of 78.8 yards, second-best in the NFL. The Redskins have conceded only two rushes of 20 yards or more and allow a league-low 2.8 yards per carry.
The numbers have been especially remarkable because Washington's line has been riddled with injuries, forcing Blache to give obscure players their first NFL starts.
Run-stopping was an area of concern entering the season because the Redskins finished among the league's worst teams last year and didn't appear to markedly upgrade the unit.
But Blache has raised expectations. There was a sense around the defense after Sunday night's 17-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens that the unit suffered a letdown in allowing Jamal Lewis to gain 116 yards on 28 carries. But lost in the hard data was the fact that Lewis was the first rusher to gain 100 yards on the Redskins this season.
Yesterday, Washington's defensive linemen said that they strayed away from technique by attempting to strip the ball from Lewis to cause a turnover and give the offense a final chance.
Chicago's offense is ranked 20th with an average of only 314.5 yards, but the Bears have one of the league's better rushing attacks with an average of 122 yards. Tailback Thomas Jones, a centerpiece of Chicago's offense, is 14th in the NFL with 361 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Jones also is a top-notch pass catcher -- he has the 10th-most yards from scrimmage (517) in the NFL.
Blache has nitpicked after every strong performance against the run, his players said, yet in a positive manner that spurs improvement. "I could have three or four tackles for losses," Griffin, "but the things you miss, he wants it done right. No matter how you play, he stays on us. But he never beats you in the ground to make you feel you can't do it."
Nose tackle Joe Salave'a said: "Defensively, he wants us to pitch the perfect game."
Blache, 54, was considered one of the top assistants in the NFL when Chicago released him after a 7-9 season. As recently as 2002, Blache interviewed for head coaching jobs -- twice for the San Francisco 49ers job that went to Dennis Erickson -- but Chicago bypassed him for Smith. Yesterday, Blache played down the split and stressed that he was looking forward to Sunday.
"It'll be exciting to see several guys that you saw when they came into the league," Blache said. "It'll be fun to see those guys. It'll be fun to compete against them."
Defensive end Phillip Daniels, a key offseason acquisition whose strength is run-stopping, has been out with a groin injury since playing the first two games. Daniels has been temporarily replaced by Ron Warner, a 1998 seventh-round pick, and Demetric Evans, an undrafted free agent after departing Georgia in 2001.
Evans made his first NFL start last week, and Warner's came against the Dallas Cowboys after Daniels was injured in Week 2. Nose tackle Brandon Noble, who garnered a reputation for his run defense, hasn't fully recovered from a severe knee injury. So the Redskins plugged in Salave'a, a seventh-round pick in 1998 who had started only one game before this season.
"We don't have a lot of big names," Noble said, "and that's what a lot of people outside of the locker room go by."
Washington's biggest acquisition on the line, Griffin, has paid dividends after signing an eight-year, $31 million deal. Griffin has 22 tackles (17 solo), after making 55 tackles last year for the New York Giants. And the incumbent starter, Renaldo Wynn, leads the group in sacks with 2.5 -- the most for any defensive lineman all last season.
Splashy free agent signee or undrafted free agent, Noble said the group is flourishing because of a collective mind-set.
"It's an attitude," Noble said, "to be willing to go out there and play tough smash-mouth football. Throwing yourself around like that is not going to get a lot of publicity. But this group takes a lot of pride in playing the run."