- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 20, 2001

The Washington Redskins' defense is peaking, and defensive tackle Kenard Lang said there's one clear reason.

"Stopping the run," Lang said yesterday, a day after the Redskins' 17-10 win at Denver. "That was the main objective, and that's what we did."

In nasty winter conditions, the Redskins held the Broncos to just 88 yards rushing, of which 24 came on a second-quarter scramble by quarterback Brian Griese. Over the past three games Washington has yielded an average of 63.3 rushing yards, nearly 100 yards less than it surrendered in the season's first five games.

Not coincidentally, the Redskins (4-5) have won four straight to create legitimate playoff hopes and set up a big game Sunday at Philadelphia (6-3), which leads the NFC East.

"[Run defense has] been our Achilles' heel since the beginning of the season," Lang said. "When teams were beating us, they were just gutting us. So every team we beat [recently], we either slowed down the run or stopped the run."

The key on Sunday, several Redskins said, was Washington's defensive line manhandling the Broncos' smallish but effective blocking unit. Denver had produced three different 1,000-yard rushers from 1998 to 2000, and two of those (Mike Anderson and Olandis Gary) combined for just 2.6 yards per rush Sunday.

"When we dominate on defense, it's pretty much because of the D-line," said linebacker Kevin Mitchell, who led Washington with nine tackles. "I know that's where games are won, right down there in the trenches."

Also factoring into the Redskins' defensive performance was their ability to hold the ball on offense and their frequent advantage in field position. With regard to the latter, Denver started 11 of 15 drives at or inside its own 25, which limited the types of plays it could call.

"That cuts your playbook in half," Lang said. "All you really could do was play-action pass or run the ball."

A big concern for the Redskins in preparation for the game was Denver's history of cut-blocks (legal) and chop-blocks (illegal). Washington expected the Broncos to use some questionable techniques, and the players were prepared to retaliate if they thought a teammate was put in harm's way.

"In fact, I was hoping somebody was going to do something to somebody, because it was going to be a …," Mitchell said, cutting that sentence short before continuing. "We told each other to watch each other's back, and if something went down we were all going to go down."

That type of camaraderie combined with key players returning from injuries, like linebacker LaVar Arrington and ends Bruce Smith and Marco Coleman is helping Washington's defense to play better each week. Sunday's 186 yards allowed were a season-best and nearly 150 yards less than the Broncos' average entering the game, which ranked ninth in the NFL.

Some might say the rain and snow played a large part in Denver's struggles, but Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer gave credit to his defense.

"From a performance standpoint, it was the best that we've performed collectively," Schottenheimer said. "That's one of the better offenses in the league. Now, obviously, they were missing [top running back] Terrell Davis, but they can still run the football."

Now Washington faces another dangerous offense. The Eagles rank eighth in rushing, featuring quarterback Donovan McNabb, the league's top threat to run and pass, and running back Duce Staley, who missed both games against the Redskins last season with a foot injury.

"This is the first game where we're playing a true balanced offense that can run and pass," Coleman said. "This will be the toughest test for us defensively."

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