- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

Yes, they're learning a new system. Sure, right tackle Daryl Gardener missed Monday night's debacle with a bad back. And four of the front seven are new to the team.

All of that said, Washington's highly touted, Pro Bowl-laden defense so far has been like a toothless bulldog: all bark and no bite. The Redskins have surrendered more points than all but six NFL teams, have fewer sacks than all but seven and have forced fewer turnovers than any teams except the winless trio of Baltimore, Cincinnati and Detroit.

This from a defense run by new million-dollar coordinator Marvin Lewis and which boasts five starters with a combined 21 Pro Bowl appearances.

"I don't want to say that we were slow, but it was like we were a step behind," strong safety Sam Shade said of the 37-7 blowout loss to visiting Philadelphia. "Their tempo was real fast and we didn't play up to their tempo. We were reactive."

Right end Bruce Smith, an 18-year veteran who's playing for his fourth coordinator in four years, said the Redskins are still adjusting to Lewis' particularly complicated scheme. Not surprisingly, Lewis doesn't buy that explanation.

"I don't see any hesitation," said Lewis, whose defense powered the offense-challenged Ravens to a Super Bowl title in 2000. "I just see us not getting where we belong. Hesitation is an easy word to use. It's a cop-out. It's always going to be somebody's fault. Let's look inside and get it fixed. We have to realize that we don't have to go out and be he-men, just do our jobs and let things happen."

Left end Renaldo Wynn, one of the four new defensive regulars, said Monday's myriad mistakes were more of commission not omission, a function of players trying to do too much to keep matters from getting worse but instead compounding the problems. However, cornerback Fred Smoot echoed coach Steve Spurrier's comment on Tuesday about the lack of effort.

"If you don't come to play, you will get beat to death," Smoot said.

That's what happened under former defensive coordinator Kurt Schottenheimer early last season, when Washington surrendered an average of 27 points and 321 yards while getting spanked in its first two games.

"I'm still shocked," Shade said about the performance against the Eagles. "We played like the team that started the season 0-5 last year."

Actually, this year's defense has been even worse, giving up an average of 30 points and 354 yards. But it doesn't have to be ugly early under a new coordinator. When Mike Nolan replaced Ron Lynn in 1997, Washington split its first two games while allowing just 12 points and 274 yards per game. And when Ray Rhodes took over for Nolan in 2000, the Redskins went 1-1 again with averages of 16 points and 240 yards against.

"It's just not going to happen overnight," Shade said. "It takes time. There's no magic formula. We have the players. I'll put [Pro Bowl cornerback] Champ Bailey up against any receiver in this league. I'll put [tackle] Dan Wilkinson up against any offensive lineman and I'll put [Pro Bowl outside linebacker] LaVar Arrington up against any tight end or running back. But if we're not playing together, if one or two guys are doing something else, you're not going to be successful. We've got to work harder at understanding what the offense is trying to do, being able to make adjustments."

San Francisco Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia said he expects the Redskins to be much closer to their predicted top-notch level for Sunday's game. And Wynn sees positives in the major negatives that the Eagles laid on the Redskins: 451 total yards, six yards a carry, a quarterback rating of 108.7 and four scoring drives of at least 65 yards.

"It's kind of like medicine," Wynn said. "It tastes bad, but it's good for us. Sometimes you've got to get a little humbled before you reach your peak. Obviously we didn't expect this, but I'm glad it's happening now instead of late in the season because we can learn from it and move forward. We're just making too many mistakes. It's correctable."

A short week with a cross-country trip to face the formidable offense of the 49ers whose West Coast scheme has the same roots as the Eagles' is not an easy way to try to correct the problems, but that's fine with Lewis.

"It's a chance for us to go play again against a quick-rhythm passing setup," Lewis said. "We're not going to turn tail and put our heads between our legs. I said from the beginning that we were going to go through some adversity, [but] I had hoped that we had gotten through a lot of it in the preseason. I've been through a couple of these [bad games] every year. Every team has. We beat the Titans like that [41-14 in 1999 when Lewis was with the Ravens] and they won the next seven and went to the Super Bowl."

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