- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

Washington Redskins running back Stephen Davis is the rock. The Chicago Bears' defense is the hard place.
One will crack Sunday when Davis, the NFC's top rusher, faces the Bears' defense, the NFC's top-ranked unit against the run. It's a key matchup in a key game, and the winner will help determine whether Washington (6-7) reaches the playoffs or Chicago (10-3) gets home-field advantage throughout them.
"It's going to be physical," Davis said yesterday. "We've got to go do what we do best: control the clock [and] keep their offense off the field."
The Redskins have been doing what they do best especially well the past two weeks. Davis, whose 1,116 yards rank third in the NFL, rushed for 110 yards at Arizona on Dec. 9 and 111 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles last weekend.
Washington ranks a solid 10th in the NFL in rushing offense (115.8 yards), and that figure would be even higher if the club hadn't struggled so badly during an 0-5 start. The Redskins have averaged 135.9 rushing yards over the past nine games; for the season, only one team averages more (Pittsburgh, 174.2).
It is said that good running backs get better as games and seasons wear on. Redskins guard Dave Szott "absolutely" believes that's the case with Davis this year.
"I've said it before but I'll say it again: He's the best back I've ever blocked for," said Szott, a 12-year veteran. "The more times you give him the ball, the more times he amazes you. You sit and watch film of what he did [against the Eagles] I mean, last week he took [a sweep] play to the right and came all the way back to the left, which is unbelievable."
Davis gained 26 yards on that play, a third-quarter burst that moved the Redskins near midfield. The drive could have gotten them back into what ended up a 20-6 loss, but instead it ended in an interception.
The series epitomized the day for Washington, which outplayed Philadelphia but struggled to score. On Sunday, the Redskins hope a different trend is at work. Davis' performance last weekend came against the NFL's then-No. 4 defense; earlier this year he hung 107 yards on the New York Giants (who were then fourth against the run) and 142 yards on Seattle (which was then fifth against the run).
The Bears, though, might be the Redskins' toughest challenge. Using a Baltimore-like combination of two massive tackles and a swift, talented linebacking corps, Chicago makes it as difficult to run particularly up the middle as anyone. Among all NFL clubs, the Bears rank third in rushing defense (82.2 yards).
"They have a pretty good formula on defense," Redskins guard Ben Coleman said. "They don't do anything special. Usually, the good defensive teams are pretty basic. Mano a mano: 'We think our guys are better than what you've got. And if you think otherwise, you've got to show us.' That's what I think we're going to face on Sunday."
Chicago's massive tackles are Ted Washington and Keith Traylor (330 and 304 pounds, respectively). Its swift, talented linebackers are Brian Urlacher, Rosevelt Colvin and Warrick Holdman who, like the Ravens' trio, stay on the field for first, second and third downs. Although the Bears occasionally bring an eighth man down to help against the run, the front seven usually is enough.
The impressive result is this: Eight times this season Bears opponents have gained less than 100 yards on the ground, including Tampa Bay last weekend (61 yards on 18 carries). And just twice has Chicago yielded a running play of 20 or more yards (to compare, Davis has six such runs, and the Redskins' fairly solid defense has allowed 12).
"My thing is, we've got to go in there and see what's going to work," Davis said. "We'll run some plays, see what works against them and just play hard."
In that manner, the Redskins aren't sure how quickly or whether they'll be able to attack between the tackles. They'll have to work over the tackles and tight ends, a strength of Davis. And they'll try some pitches to the exterior. But sooner or later they'll have to unhinge Washington and Traylor.
"I think early, especially with guys this big and powerful, it's just hang on and go for a ride," Szott said with a laugh. "We're going to see what happens, what works effectively against them. Hopefully, we'll find something that will."
Several teams already have. Despite the Bears' high ranking, two of the past four opponents have topped the 100-yard mark, including Green Bay two weeks ago. That day the Packers rushed for 167 yards in a 17-7 victory.
The Redskins believe they could have similar success. They don't want to belittle the Bears' ranking or reputation, but they're ready to test the rock.
"Our identity is to run the ball," tight end Walter Rasby said. "We're a running offense. We take pride in what we do best. It's not anything about the Bears are coming to town, saying this or saying this. We do what we do. They do what they do. It's going to be a good, physical football game up front."

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