The play did not register in any statistical category, but it was the talk of the Redskins' defensive meetings. Last week, with Washington trailing Dallas by six points with about three minutes to go and the Cowboys facing third and eight from the 46-yard line, defensive end Phillip Daniels whipped around tackle Flozell Adams and took aim at quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
Bledsoe completed a 17-yard pass, but Adams was flagged for holding Daniels and the Cowboys failed on a third-and-18 attempt. Washington used its final timeout to stop the clock, Dallas was forced to punt and, two plays later, Mark Brunell hit Santana Moss for a game-winning 70-yard pass to give the franchise its most significant victory in years.
If not for Daniels's contribution, Washington (2-0) may well have lost at Texas Stadium, and it was the kind of disruptive foray that coordinator Greg Blache is demanding from his defensive line if it is to ascend to the surprising heights it achieved in 2004.
"If they don't hold Phillip there," said Blache, "then they're going to get a first down, they run out the clock and we never have a chance to win that ballgame. That's huge. That's the kind of things that I'm looking for that go unnoticed. Some people would say, 'Well, what's the big deal?' But that's a money player making a big play that never got any recognition, and that's what I'm looking for. I'm not looking for a thing where you say, 'Oh, he got three sacks.' I'm looking for those plays that we know make the difference."
Such plays have been rare over the first two games of the season, however. The defensive line was supposed to be one of the Redskins' vulnerabilities when Coach Joe Gibbs took over in 2004, yet it was a powerhouse last season and one of the NFL's best against the run. That ground dominance has continued this season, but the big plays have been lacking. Blache is ordering the unit -- comprising starting ends Daniels and Renaldo Wynn and starting tackles Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave'a -- to create more havoc in the backfield, pressure the passer, knock down more passes and contribute to the unit's goal of registering more sacks and forcing more turnovers.
Despite its No. 3 overall ranking in 2004 and 2005, and for all of its aggression, this defense has not altered field position as much as the coaches would like. No one expects huge sack totals from the defensive line, players who lack big-name recognition and are known more for their determination than athletic ability. All four starters have been unwanted elsewhere; only Daniels has produced more than six sacks in a season (most recently in 2001).
They were acquired not for hefty sack totals, but Blache does expect them to foster an environment of chaos.
"Their number [of sacks] doesn't matter," Blache said. "Pressure matters. Got me? A lot of times a lineman makes a great play and it never goes in the record books, but we know. My concern is just doing some little things better. I never personally got off on the numbers, because certain guys have big numbers, but they're not total football players. I'd rather my guys be good, solid football players.
"We've still got a long ways to go to improve. Our pass rush has to improve, our pressure on the passer has to improve, our disruptions have to improve, our consistency has to improve. For us to go where we want to go, we need a lot more production from that group up front on a consistent basis."
Blache's players echo his words.
"We know ourselves that we're not there," Salave'a said. "We haven't done nearly enough to even come close to where we were last year. All the more reason to go out there and work and get better."
Said Wynn: "We have to push the pocket back more. We always talk about knock 'em backs. We always want that line of scrimmage going back. If there's a line between you and I, and their guy crossed the line, then something's wrong. We always have to make sure we cross that line. That's what we mean by being physical."
A group unified by its underdog status last season, the defensive line remains committed to proving detractors wrong. And playing for a defensive staff that seems to turn vagabonds into NFL starters each Sunday has a way of keeping them focused as well.
"When you have coaches like Greg Blache at the helm," Salave'a said, "you have no choice but to improve, because if we're not, shoot, we'll be out on the street and they can always find someone else to get the job done. I'm fortunate to be playing for him, but I also know what comes with it. It's understood. Otherwise, there's always another Joe Salave'a they can bring in here."
Redskins Notes: The New York Jets inquired about Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey before signing free agent passer Vinny Testaverde yesterday, but were quickly rebuffed, Redskins officials said.
Vinny Cerrato, Washington's vice president of football operations, said he had a "10-second conversation" with Jets assistant general manager Mike Tannenbaum on the matter. "We told them we're very happy with our quarterback situation," Cerrato said, "and we're not interested in making a trade."
NFL executives contacted yesterday said they do not believe Washington would trade its backup passer before next month's trade deadline, although they anticipate a parting of ways in the offseason. "Is there a market for Ramsey? Yeah," one general manager said. "But we really believe they're going to need two quarterbacks, and they have to know that, too. What happens if [Mark] Brunell goes down?" Another general manager said: "Gibbs is not going to trade [Ramsey]. He's always wanted depth at quarterback. I could see why Ramsey would want out, but it's not going to happen anytime soon with Gibbs calling the shots there."