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Healthy line lifts Redskins’ defense
Personal introductions and "Hello My Name Is ..." stickers on their jerseys weren't required, but it was a semi-weird sight when Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave'a played side by side at defensive tackle for the Washington Redskins last week against Dallas.
For the first time since Week 6 against Kansas City, Griffin and Salave'a started and finished the same game. During that span, Griffin missed four games because of a hip injury and Salave'a two games because of a foot ailment. Back in the trenches, the duo helped the Redskins to a 35-7 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
"It had been a long time," defensive coordinator/line coach Greg Blache said. "When all the parts are there, it's a lot easier for the machine to function."
Both players are expected to start Saturday against the New York Giants. Their impact was noticeable immediately against the Cowboys when Griffin intercepted a tipped ball on Dallas' first offensive snap. The Redskins forced four turnovers and posted a season-high seven sacks as Griffin and Salave'a clogged the middle, allowing defensive ends Phillip Daniels (four sacks) and Renaldo Wynn (a half-sack) to harass Drew Bledsoe.
"Joe knows what I'm going to do, and we play off each other, and it makes the game a lot easier when you have a guy next to you who knows what you're going to do," Griffin said. "It's difficult playing with a new guy, and you can't be as free as you want to be."
Griffin (30 tackles) and Salave'a (25 tackles) have played the entire game together only seven times this season. In those games, the Redskins are 5-2, have posted 15 sacks and allowed 15.7 points a game.
"I can sense his presence without seeing him, and when you have that kind of cohesiveness between two players, it makes for your playing ability to take off," Salave'a said.
In the seven games in which one of them hasn't played, the Redskins are 3-4, have 13 sacks and allowed 20.3 points a game, including games of 36, 36 and 23 points.
The injury bug bit the duo against Kansas City in Week5. Salave'a sustained a foot injury, which lingered for weeks. He eventually tore his plantar fascia against San Diego in Week 12 and missed two games.
Griffin hurt his hip against San Francisco in Week 7. He started the next week against the Giants but lasted only two plays until leaving the game and missing the next three weeks. The Giants took advantage, rushing for 262 yards in a 36-0 victory.
Since the start of last season, the Salave'a-Griffin-Daniels-Wynn quartet has started only 12 of 30 games together, and Wynn is the only player not to miss a game.
"And even those 12 times, I don't think we were healthy because of the lingering injuries," said Daniels, who missed 11 games last season.
When Griffin (6-foot-3, 310 pounds) and Salave'a (6-foot-3, 317 pounds) are both in the game, their strength and quickness almost always require both guards and the center to block them. That leaves Wynn and Daniels in 1-on-1 matchups against the tackles.
"It doesn't allow the quarterback to step up and be comfortable because those guys are a force getting penetration up the middle," Wynn said. "That gives us the chance to pressure off the edges."
Said Daniels: "They have to double those boys in the middle. Joe is a big dude and requires attention, and Grif has power and is so quick he has to be dealt with."
The duo's ability also negates teams from running up the middle, which sends plays toward outside linebacker Marcus Washington, who is second on the Redskins with 87 tackles.
"It's definitely hard to run up the middle with those two big studs in there," Washington said. "It makes things a lot easier for us. A lot of the time, offensive linemen pay more attention to them and stay on them longer, and that gives us a chance to run around the edge."
The Giants had success running right, left and up the middle in the teams' first meeting. Tiki Barber gained 206 yards on 24 carries, including runs of 57 and 59 yards. The Redskins are counting on a better defensive performance with Griffin and Salave'a healthy.
"It's painful to look at the films from the game up there because Grif wasn't in there and I had my [injury]," Salave'a said. "I don't think I helped the team at all. It's a second coming now."
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