- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 1999

The running game carried the Washington Redskins for the first 10 games. Stephen Davis led the NFL with 1,034 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns and averaged a robust 5 yards a carry.
The last two weeks have been a different story. Davis rushed for just 112 yards, scored once and averaged just 3.1 yards a carry. In Sunday’s 33-17 loss at Detroit, Davis carried just 12 times, a number that baffled run-loving guard Tre Johnson.
“We were all waiting to run the ball,” Johnson said. “We were told that we were going to run the ball and let us get the tempo. It didn’t go that way. I don’t know why. We let the tempo be dictated to us instead of running the ball and dictating to them.”
Admittedly, the Lions came in ranked fifth against the run but just 28th against the pass, and they started their fourth and fifth cornerbacks because of injuries to the top three. But it’s not like the running game was stopped as it was the previous Sunday, when Philadelphia focused on Davis and held him to 61 yards on 24 carries.
“We could have run through those guys,” Davis said of the Lions. “They wanted us to pass the ball because they’re good pass-rushers. If we would have run right at them, there’s no telling what we could have done. The Eagles did a lot of different things against us. [The Lions] didn’t. We were running the ball pretty well. Why we didn’t run the ball more is hard to say. I was disappointed. It surprised me because our goal was to run and we got away from it.”
To an amazing extent. When the Redskins were within either three or six points in the third and fourth quarters, coach Norv Turner called passes on eight consecutive first downs.
“I thought that would be a good time to run the ball,” left guard Keith Sims said. “[The Lions] were just pass-rushing. They weren’t playing the run at all. Stephen was averaging 4 and 1/2 yards a carry. Brian [Mitchell] had popped a couple, too. We tried a play and got a fumble [by Michael Westbrook]. That turned things around.”
That and another fumble by Brad Johnson when he attempted to pass on Washington’s next play. The Lions turned Westbrook’s error into Jason Hanson’s 52-yard field goal. Luther Elliss returned Johnson’s for a touchdown. In just 14 seconds, Detroit’s lead had mushroomed to 33-17. Ballgame.
Immediately afterward, Turner admitted having second thoughts about giving Davis the ball so little. Yesterday, Turner backtracked somewhat, noting how Davis had a 6-yard run negated by a holding penalty that also turned the play into a passing situation.
“We took some shots on early downs because they were [giving the receivers room],” Turner said. “We missed a couple of those throws. One of the things I was trying to do was get [better] field position. We started from deep in our territory most of the game.”
Indeed, Washington’s average starting field position was its own 25, 10 yards further back than Detroit’s. But that doesn’t come close to explaining why Davis carried just three times in the second half and not at all in the final 12 minutes. And Washington threw the ball 43 times, its most in 17 games dating back to last November.
“We were put in situations that would be hard for anybody,” Tre Johnson said. “The more opportunities you give them [to rush the passer], the more likely it is they’ll get there. We didn’t keep them honest. They knew we were throwing the ball, and they came after us. The noise was a big factor [in Washington’s first indoor game since Oct. 18, 1998]. It got so loud that we had to watch the ball at times. We were a little late off the ball at times. We tried to simulate all week, but you can’t simulate it.”
Sims, who sprained his right knee again in the second quarter and is questionable for this week’s showdown for the NFC East lead with Arizona, said the offensive line just played poorly. Washington, which had allowed just 14 sacks in 11 games, surrendered five and committed six of the Redskins’ 14 penalties.
“That was definitely our worst game, straight across the board,” Sims said. “It wasn’t that one guy was getting killed on every play. It was that [a different] guy was getting beaten just about every play. That contributed to the play-calling, and so did the penalties. It was terrible.”

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