- Associated Press - Monday, October 11, 2010

ASHBURN, Va. | Last season, the Washington Redskins were a top 10 defense, at least according to the measuring stick normally used to keep track of such things.

They also had the fewest takeaways in the NFL. Only 17 the whole season. And they went 4-12.

This season, the defense is ranked last. Opposing teams are marching up and down the field at a whopping rate of 410 yards per game.

But they’ve already had eight takeaways. And they’ve held Dallas, Philadelphia and Green Bay to one touchdown apiece.

Oh, yes, and they’re 3-2, tied for first place in the NFC East.

Getting an idea which stats are more important?

“We don’t care about you running up and down the field,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said Monday. “We don’t care about that. We care about you scoring points and getting into our end zone. And that’s what we’re trying to defend. Last year, look at New Orleans. They were the same thing.”

Indeed, the Super Bowl champion Saints of last season are another reason why yards allowed per game isn’t always the best indicator of a top defense. New Orleans was ranked 25th of 32 teams by that conventional method, but the Saints’ 39 takeaways were second in the league behind Green Bay’s 40.

“That’s been the ongoing saga for years with offenses and defenses,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “Is it total offense, or is it points scored? Total defense, or points given up? Then you get to turnover ratio. Honestly, if you look over the years, that’s probably the biggest factor.”

For years, the Redskins have been bragging about their high defensive ranking, but they could never seem to pry the ball away from the other team. They were last in takeaways in 2006, 25th in ‘07 and tied for 28th in ‘08 before returning to the bottom again last season.

Every year, the defensive coordinator — whomever it happened to be — would claim to emphasize takeaways, all to no avail. Players resorted to saying that the ball simply wasn’t bouncing their way.

Players say it’s different this year, that new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is really, really, really emphasizing takeaways. Maybe so, but more noticeable is the production from the safety position: Free safety Kareem Moore has an interception and two fumble recoveries in three games since returning from a knee injury, and LaRon Landry is fast becoming the most exciting player on the field now that he’s been moved back to his natural strong safety position.

Landry was responsible for both turnovers in Sunday’s 16-13 overtime win over Green Bay. He forced a fumble on the Packers’ first series, then made the interception on Green Bay’s final series in overtime to set up the winning field goal.

“This defense fits me well,” Landry said. “It enables me to be close to the line of scrimmage and play physical. I don’t have too many reads, just fly around and make tackles, break on the ball and be instinctive.”

The eight takeaways don’t rank close to the league leaders — Detroit and Chicago have 14 — but the Redskins have a satisfying plus-4 turnover ratio because the offense has committed only four turnovers.

Donovan McNabb is one of the best at not throwing interceptions, and the only turnover the offense committed Sunday came when his desperation heave was picked off on the last play of the first half.

Even so, it’s hard not to feel that the Redskins are living a charmed life. Orakpo can claim he doesn’t care about yards, but it’s only a matter of time before things head south if other teams keep up that 400-per-game pace. On offense, there is serious concern about a line that is constantly shuffling players around: McNabb was sacked five times Sunday, and the offense didn’t get going until Green Bay’s Clay Matthews left the game in the third quarter with a hamstring injury.

The Redskins would have lost to Philadelphia if Jason Avant had held on to a pass that hit him in both hands in the end zone as time expired, and they stayed alive against Green Bay only by a matter of inches: Mason Crosby’s 53-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright with 1 second left in regulation.

“The perfect scenario, we’d all like to put teams away early,” Shanahan said. “We’d like to dominate teams, that’s your goal. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s your plan. I think ultimately you have to find a way to win.

“We need to improve in a lot of different areas, but it’s nice to need to improve and still win.”

Notes: MRIs were negative on LT Trent Williams (left knee) and RT Jammal Brown (left knee) and neither will require surgery, but Shanahan wouldn’t comment on whether either player will practice or play this week. … WR Devin Thomas, waived by the Redskins on Saturday, was signed by Carolina on Monday. Shanahan contends that Thomas’ professionalism was lacking. “Everybody’s got a different mindset on what work means, what dedication means, what commitment means,” the coach said. “All I told Devin was if you want to be the best player you want to be, your commitment is going to have to be stronger.” … LG Derrick Dockery, who lost his starting job to Kory Lichtensteiger, was inactive for the first time in his career. Shanahan said he needs to have backups who can play more than one position.

 

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