- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 23, 2002

Washington Redskins opponents have connected on 23 of 24 field goal attempts this season, and it's no secret why a lot of them are chip shots.
Opponents are 9-for-9 from inside 30 yards, while the Redskins are 3-for-3. And there's a reason for the glut of short field goals. Washington's red zone defense, which ranks an impressive third in the NFL, allows touchdowns only 36.8 percent of the time.
Simply put, the Redskins stop 'em when it counts. Although a turnover-prone offense, a defense susceptible to the big play and spotty special teams frequently pin Washington's defenders deep in their own territory, opponents often fall short of the goal line.
And lately that accomplishment has been key in keeping games close for the Redskins, who rank 26th in total offense and scoring.
"It's the will and determination of the players on this team," defensive end Bruce Smith said this week. "We get in the huddle and we say we can't let them score. Because if we don't [keep them out of the end zone], it might be a blowout. The only fighting chance we have is to hold them to three points, or not let them get down there at all."
Washington's two best red zone performances have come in the past three weeks, when the Seattle Seahawks and New York Giants didn't score a touchdown on a combined eight trips inside the 20.
In the fourth quarter of last week's loss to the Giants, middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter stuffed Tiki Barber a yard short on third-and-goal from the 7. New York kicked its fourth field goal of the game for the 19-17 final margin. Washington then had a field goal attempt to re-take the lead but missed with 3:11 left.
"What was tough about that situation is we were in a 'cover-2,'" Trotter explained. "So I dropped into the deep middle, and they ran a draw play. But guys were able to rally and keep him out. [Linebacker] Jessie [Armstead] did a great job of coming inside and spilling it outside for me. He took out two linemen and allowed me to run free and put a hit on Tiki."
The defense will get one of its toughest red zone tests tomorrow against the St. Louis Rams, who convert touchdowns 60 percent of the time they get inside the 20, the second-best figure in the NFC. Washington's defenders hope they can continue to hold up under the strain.
"We're certainly going to try," Smith said. "I'll tell you what: If it doesn't happen, it certainly won't be from a lack of effort. We're going to do everything in our will and our might to stop them from scoring touchdowns. And it's going to be a difficult job this week, because those guys can put some points on the board."
Barker, Rasby to play
Punter Bryan Barker and starting tight end Walter Rasby were upbeat after practicing yesterday and expect to play tomorrow.
Barker, who sprained his plant ankle at New York, now has a comfortable brace and a metal plate for support inside his shoe. After kicking about 40 balls at practice Wednesday and then being extremely sore Thursday morning, he "had no residual effects" yesterday from Thursday's lighter workout (about 18 punts), special teams coach Mike Stock said.
Rasby strained his abdomen last weekend and was in severe pain at the start of the week, but he was able to go through enough practice yesterday and believes he'll be fine after resting again today.
"I didn't over-exert it," Rasby said. "I just wanted to make sure I could go. We're still in the process of letting it rest and heal."
Sulfsted to start
Alex Sulfsted was named the starting left guard ahead of David Loverne, finalizing a move that was planned early in the week.
Coaches were waiting to see how Sulfsted, who had worked at tackle since the late preseason, would hold up at guard during the past three days of practice. Now they want to compare how he and Loverne, who has nine starts but several critical errors, fare against similar rushers.
"There's no real difference [between them talent-wise]," line coach Kim Helton said. "We'll give [Sulfsted] an opportunity to play and see who plays the best. Both are going to play; David may play more than Alex, it just depends. And in all fairness to Alex, he's certainly going to be a better [guard] three weeks from now than he is Sunday."


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