- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Things are looking up for the Washington Redskins.

Their schedule is lightening. Their offensive philosophy and personnel are getting settled. Their defense is continuing to mature. And yesterday they got an upbeat injury report on star running back Stephen Davis.

The Redskins are likely to enter a three-game stretch of winnable road games with Davis available. An MRI yesterday revealed that he has an inflammation but no serious damage to the knee he sprained in Sunday night's win over Indianapolis.

The injury was painful enough to worry Davis, who favored his left leg at Redskin Park before departing for the MRI. But sources familiar with the test said the injury a strain or sprain to the area where the hamstring attaches to the outside of the knee shouldn't keep the Pro Bowl rusher out of Sunday's game at Seattle.

The Seahawks game opens a stretch in which Washington (3-4) can move toward the playoffs under first-year coach Steve Spurrier. After opening with a tough string of opponents including Philadelphia, San Francisco, New Orleans and Green Bay, the Redskins now play at Seattle (2-5), Jacksonville (3-4) and the New York Giants (3-3 heading into last night's game at Philadelphia).

"We can win every game that we play on this three-game streak," defensive end Renaldo Wynn said yesterday. "[But] you can't sleep any of them."

Washington's chances against a Seahawks team missing quarterback Trent Dilfer (torn Achilles' tendon) and possibly top receiver Darrell Jackson (concussion) obviously improve with Davis. His 16 carries for 80 yards in the first half Sunday played an important role in the Redskins' victory.

Besides propelling Washington as it scored on its first four possessions and five of its first six en route to a 23-7 halftime lead, Davis' rushing kept the Colts' defense honest. Quarterback Shane Matthews was sacked only once by a talented Indianapolis pass rush; rookie Patrick Ramsey had been sacked 13 times in the previous two games.

"[Our] protection was pretty good most of the night, and I think it was good because we were able to run the ball," Spurrier said. "It's hard just to go back and throw every down the way the defensive teams can rush. We ended up having a good balance of passes and runs."

Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun offense seems to have undergone a slight shift in focus over the past few weeks, starting to emphasize the run and short passes over the preferred deep ball. Davis got 24 carries in the Oct.20 loss at Green Bay and he and backup Kenny Watson combined for 31 rushes and 147 yards against Indianapolis.

"I just think that's what kind of team we probably are, and that's what probably works for us best running and mixing in the throws and so forth," Spurrier said. "But who knows if we can hit some deep balls. We haven't hit many all year. We haven't thrown a lot, either, but hopefully we can hit a few as we go."

A shift back to the deep pass probably won't happen this week as Washington prepares to play the NFL's worst-ranked run defense. Seattle yielded 109 rushing yards Sunday to Dallas' Emmitt Smith, who broke Walter Payton's all-time career rushing mark. Overall, the Seahawks are yielding 177.4 rushing yards per game considerably worse than No.30 Indianapolis at 147.4 yards.

"Are they worse [than the Colts]?" Spurrier said. "Well, you never know how it will play out. At times they looked pretty good against Dallas, and at times they've given up some rush yards. So our game plan will be the same as always: try to balance the runs and the passes, go from there."

If Davis can't play, Watson will fill in. The second-year back carried 15 times for 67 yards Sunday, including 10 times for 42 yards on the drive that consumed 6:26 of the final 6:44. Second-round draft pick Ladell Betts also will be available, having earned an active spot on game days with a strong showing on kickoff returns.

Regardless of who runs, the Redskins seemingly are about to enjoy some consistency of personnel on offense. After weeks of shuffling by Spurrier, Matthews seems set at quarterback, with Rod Gardner, Derrius Thompson and Darnerien McCants his top targets. And although the offensive line remains a bit in flux, it should firm up when left tackle Chris Samuels (ankle) and guard Brenden Stai (knee) finish healing and newly signed guard Tre Johnson gets into game shape.

And on defense, the Redskins are starting to count on a rapidly improving unit. Washington's defense now ranks eighth in the NFL, giving up just 275.3 yards per game since the Week4 open date after an average of 358 in the season's first three contests.

"We're finally fighting," linebacker LaVar Arrington said. "And I think it happened in the [Week 5] Tennessee game, to be honest. I think the defense and the coaches really got on the same page. [The Indy game] might have been the first time that all three phases were on the same page. It's encouraging. But we've got to continue to do it."

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