The Washington Times - October 23, 2008, 07:09PM

It featured a brutal first half and nearly a fourth quarter meltdown but the Redskins survived Cleveland’s comeback to win 14-11.

The Washington Times’ Ryan O’Halloran and News 4’s Lindsay Czarniak recap that game and chat about the Redskins’ defense, Clinton Portis, the team’s rookies and make a pick for Sunday’s game in Motown.

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ryan and lindsay debate

1. It wasn’t pretty but the Redskins improved to 5-2 with a 14-11 win over Cleveland. On the 1-10 snoozer scale, where did this one rank and did just edging a 2-4 team change your opinion at all about the Redskins?

Ryan: It was about a 42 on the snoozer scale. The first half was about as bad as it gets and reminded me of the entire 2004 Redskins season. It was so bad that at halftime, Lindsay simply said, “What are we going to talk about this week?” But enough topics developed in the second half. I don’t know if it’s a knock on the Redskins that they squeaked past Cleveland but it would have given fans a better feeling had they flexed their muscles, created a couple of turnovers against the Browns and rolled to a big win.

Lindsay: I’ll say the first half had me yawning pretty badly. I think Ryan said 42 because his favorite NASCAR driver is Juan Pablo Montoya but I digress. The first half was a 10. I thought we were going to end up discussing how many times a team could punt in the first half. I was very impressed with the Redskins defense, but offensively, it was a bit maddening. Overall, I was a lot more impressed with how they adjusted to break away in the second half, getting the running game going even more. I’m not worried because a big reason the score remained so close was because of the Clinton Portis fumble and that was a fluke. It hadn’t happened since last season against Dallas.

2. The defense has climbed into the top 10 of the NFL rankings. What’s the key for this to continue?

Ryan: The health of Shawn Springs and Cornelius Griffin. Springs isn’t expected to play and it will be the fourth game he’s missed in eight weeks because of calf troubles. When he’s on the field, Springs allows Greg Blache to do many more things with blitzes and coverage. Griffin’s shoulder continues to be a problem but he’ll likely play through it. Just as much as his play, Griffin’s leadership is vital and would be missed along the line. One last thing is getting something -– anything -– out of Jason Taylor in the second half of the season.

Lindsay: Health is my answer as well, but beyond Springs and Griffin. I’m concerned with Fred Smoot because with Springs out, he has to be ready to roll. He joked last week about getting some “red clay” from his grandma to help heal him when he realized he was going to have to play for Springs but the guy’s banged up with a groin injury. I’m also worried about the lingering effects of Jason Taylor’s injury. I don’t think he’s out of the woods yet either.

3. We’re close to the halfway point of the season and the three second-round picks have combined for six catches. Why haven’t Devin Thomas, Fred Davis and Malcolm Kelly contributed more?

Ryan: Because the Redskins have better players than that trio at receiver and tight end. Period. That said, I still feel that the Redskins took all three players with an eye on 2011, not 2008 and knew it would be a process to get all three productive at the same time. Thomas and Kelly fought preseason injuries and that derailed their seasons and Davis is a project that the Redskins can afford to bring along slowly because they already have Chris Cooley.

Lindsay:  I’m not concerned with Devin Thomas. I think he’s getting better and little by little, getting more time to prove himself but what’s up with Kelly? Maybe Ryan’s right with the eye on 2011 but I wish Kelly was up to speed to get out there and give the Skins another deep receiving threat. Fred Davis is going to have to wait awhile with Cooley in the house.

4. Clinton Portis leads the NFL in rushes (163), rushing yards (818) and touchdown runs (seven). Could he be in the running for NFL MVP?

Ryan: Absolutely. Portis has been sensational this season and he manhandled Cleveland last week even though his fumble was costly and led to the Browns’ only touchdown. The thing helping Portis besides his numbers and the Redskins’ 5-2 record is that the NFL’s other elite teams aren’t getting eye-popping seasons from any one offensive player. Tennessee and the Giants are getting good years from several players but nothing compared to Portis.

Lindsay: That and a definite trip back to Hawaii. Besides the yardage he cranks out, I thoroughly enjoy watching the hits he puts on opposing defenses blocking for his teammates. His name has to be front and center now in conversations of the league’s top backs and what I really like is his attitude reflects the kind of selflessness right now that will keep him “even keel” or “medium” as Zorn likes to call it.

5. Next up is 0-6 Detroit and the Lions really look like they have no hope right now. What are the chances the Redskins overlook this game and ahead to the Monday night showdown vs. Pittsburgh? And both of you will be in Detroit on Sunday; what’s your pick?

Ryan: Zero chance. Had the Redskins rolled over St. Louis and cruised in Detroit with a 6-1 record, then I would say the possibility of the Redskins looking past Detroit would be greater. But the Rams loss should serve as a great lesson — show up ready to play or anything can happen. The Rams had no business winning that game (they had only 200 yards for crying out loud) and yet they made just enough plays to steal a win. I think the Redskins really come out to play and win 34-17.

Lindsay: That won’t happen because if the Redskins struggle offensively against the Lions, there is no way the Redskins defense won’t be able to stop Detroit’s offense. Yes, they have a deep threat in Calvin Johnson but beyond that, the Lions would have to find some miracle juice to pull it off against the Redskins. I don’t think there’s anyway the Redskins go into Detroit looking ahead because as Ryan alluded to, they only have to look back to St. Louis to get a fresh dose of reality that anything can happen in the NFL. The Redskins win 27-10.

BONUS 6. The Redskins’ ugly win still put them in sole possession of second place in the NFC East thanks to Dallas’ implosion at St. Louis. How much worse will things get for the Cowboys?

Ryan: A lot worse potentially. If the Cowboys lose at home to Tampa Bay this week, there’s a good chance they go into the bye with a 4-5 record because their next game is at the Giants. The Tony Romo injury is a gigantic loss because he makes things up with the pass protection breaks down (Brad Johnson can’t do that anymore). If the losses continue, Wade Phillips shouldn’t expect to last the season and Mount Terrell (Owens) is bound to erupt. It will be fun to watch that soap opera.

Lindsay: Get your popcorn ready because I think the Cowboys are about to mount a resurgence. There is no way after a performance like that (and a stern talking to from coach … I mean owner … Jerry Jones) that the fires aren’t going to be reignited. Romo isn’t too far off from being ready again. I think the Redskins are a better team, hands down, but I also think that by the time they come to FedEx for another rendezvous, we won’t be talking about the same team whose wheels are falling off this week. If Terrell Owens were my teammate, I’d be pulling my hair out because I think he’s a huge distraction that the team has to address.