Overshadowed by the sluggish offensive start and the late comeback that gave the Washington Redskins a 14-6 win over the Tennessee Titans on Saturday was a respectable start for the retooled first-team defense.
The Redskins' starters played into the second quarter and allowed only a field goal that was set up by a 37-yard punt return.
While the offense continues to find its way without left tackle Chris Samuels and running back Clinton Portis, the defense — 31st in yards allowed last year — was physical against the run and was able to pressure Titans quarterback Kerry Collins.
"I thought we ran to the ball really well and played with a passion," Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. "There are some correctable errors we need to take a look at. For the most part, it was solid."
The Redskins clearly benefited from the absence of Titans quarterback Vince Young, a late scratch after breaking a team rule the night before. In 26 snaps before some starters were retired for the game, the Redskins allowed 3.5 yards a play.
"It was the first time we had quite a few guys in there, and they're still trying to get used to each other," coach Joe Gibbs said. "It's a different group with Shawn Springs healthy and new faces like LaRon [Landry] and London [Fletcher]. It was important for them to play a little bit and be able to talk about what happened on the field."
Fletcher, expected to solidify the linebacker position, had six tackles, and new outside linebacker Rocky McIntosh had five stops. Rookie safety Landry increased the chances he will be a starter in Week 1 with a punishing hit of Collins.
The Redskins' top priority was stopping the run. Even without defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin (rest), the first-teamers contained Tennessee to a 2.5-yard average on 15 rushing attempts, including seven carries that gained 2 or fewer yards.
"In the preseason, you know teams are going to come out trying to run it on you, and I felt we were able to close the door on that," defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "For the most part, I think we accomplished some things and were pretty good."
And all without an elaborate game plan. Standing by his comments early in camp that Washington would simplify its scheme, Williams used a steady diet of four-man pass rushes, although he blitzed seven players on at least two occasions. On passing downs, linebacker Marcus Washington was shifted to rush end, and Daniels moved inside to tackle.
"Our four-man rush had some positive pressure where the quarterback had to step up and move around — that's why our improved coverage has to come through," Williams said. "When they max protect, you won't get there with a blitz, so you have to make sure you're covering downfield."
The only negatives were three third-down conversions by Collins.
The Redskins didn't change their defensive plan when they learned of Young's status during warmups.
"We were geared and ready to go to face him, but our plan didn't change because he wasn't in there," Williams said.
And how plain was that plan?
"Very plain, but that's how we're going to be," Williams said. "We're going to let the players play. They lined up and took advantage of their opportunities."
Williams was particularly pleased with Fletcher's debut. The transition for the defense's new on-field voice has been seamless so far.
"It was nice to see London in there controlling things, and there was some positive feedback from the other guys on how well he did out there and how he got them all lined up," Williams said.
Said Fletcher: "We felt good defensively coming in, and I thought we flew around and hit some guys. We really had guys getting to the football, which was a good feeling. I wanted to keep playing."