- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2000

An interesting thing happened in the Redskins' game against Tampa Bay on Sunday. The Washington offense kept running the ball right into the jaws of the mighty Bucs defense and actually lived to tell about it. Thirty-two times the Redskins ran it, piling up 145 yards and a touchdown. That's how you beat Warren Sapp and Co., but how many teams can pull it off?

The Redskins were able to pull it off at least in part because their defense allowed them to. When your 'D' isn't giving up much and Ray Rhodes' troops gave up just seven points in the first 58 minutes "it gives you the opportunity to be a little more patient," Norv Turner said yesterday. You can keep pounding the ball at the defense, wearing them down, and eventually cracks begin to appear.

"It's the old adage," Jay Leeuwenburg said. "A 2-yard run in the first quarter becomes a 5-or 6-yard run later on. And then maybe in the fourth quarter you can break it [for a long gain]."

In this game, the Redskins broke their long run in the second quarter a 50-yarder by Stephen Davis that tied the score, 7-7. But they continued to hammer away for the rest of the afternoon, calling Davis' number 20 times in the second half and overtime. And in the last few minutes of regulation, when they should have put the Bucs away, there was Stephen ripping off gains of 13 and 5 yards against a stacked defense to move the Redskins into easy field goal range. (Alas, Mike Husted missed the kick.)

Turner has never had this luxury before not since he came to Washington, at least. He has never had a defense that was this solid, that could hold the opposition under 20 points week in and week out. Oh, his defense has played well for stretches in the past allowing just 56 points in the first five games in '96 and 59 during a five-week stretch in '97 but it always went ker-blooey in the end. This year's defense doesn't look like it's going to go ker-blooey in the end.

If anything, it looks like it might get stronger as the season progresses especially if LaVar Arrington keeps improving. (I've never seen a strong side linebacker get into the backfield faster.) What does this mean? It means we're going to be getting a lot more of the same more tight, defensive ballgames, more conservative playcalling, more Stephen Davis.

Which is fine by the offensive line. "We feel like we can run the ball against anybody on any given Sunday," Leeuwenburg said. But to do that, they have to be given the chance. This defense will give them the chance.

The O-line's job got a little tougher yesterday when it found out Tre Johnson's knee injury might sideline him for the rest of the year. Johnson is a big part a 326-pound part of the running game. Leeuwenburg has performed admirably in Tre's absence this season, but he's no Pro Bowler. At the other guard spot, meanwhile, Keith Sims has been battling Achilles' tendinitis for several weeks and is probably going to need a rest soon, Turner said. This only complicates matters further.

But Norv doesn't have many other options. The offense has already lost Michael Westbrook for the year, so it's not like Brad Johnson can just step back and fire away. No, the unit is going to have to stay very basic run the ball, throw off play-action and try to take advantage of downfield opportunities when they present themselves (as they did against the Giants).

Such an approach has its advantages. It tends to cut down on turnovers lost fumbles generally being less frequent than interceptions and usually leaves you in pretty good time-of-possession shape. In all five of their games this season, the Redskins have had the edge in TOP. But as Turner says, being patient is "sometimes a good thing and sometimes a bad thing. When we're at our best, we're running the ball and making plays in the passing game. If you're going to score points in this league, you have to be able to do both."

The biggest danger is that the offense might lose its aggressiveness, start to think it doesn't have to score that much because the defense has things under control. You want to put games out of reach whenever you can in this league; if you let opponents hang around and hang around, they might jump up and bite you at the end (as could have happened against the Panthers and Bucs).

However you look at it, though, these next 11 games figure to be a grind for the Redskins. The past three weeks, Davis has rushed for 91 yards in 25 carries against Dallas, 89 yards in 30 carries against the Giants and not counting the 50-yard touchdown 91 yards in 27 carries against Tampa Bay. That's not an aberration, it's a pattern. Expect more of the same.

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