- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2003

It’s quibbling, certainly. It’s the football equivalent of eating at a four-star restaurant and griping about the waiter’s attire.

Still, the Washington Redskins know that one facet of last week’s otherwise dominant defensive effort was lacking. Despite limiting the New York Jets to 158 yards — Washington’s best statistical performance in more than a decade — the Redskins were one of four NFL teams to cause no turnovers in Week1.

The other three, not surprisingly, all lost.

“You usually don’t win when you lose the turnover battle like we did last week,” safety Matt Bowen said yesterday. “We need to get turnovers.”

The Redskins enter tomorrow’s game at Atlanta ranked No.2 in total defense. But they’re wary of how this season could go if they don’t start creating more turnovers.

After spending much of the offseason harping on last year’s poor ranking in the takeaway/giveaway department (29th at -14), coach Steve Spurrier yesterday needed no prompting to point out last week’s turnover oh-fer.

“We need to get some turnovers — we know that,” Spurrier said.

Bowen’s backfield mate, safety Ifeanyi Ohalete, had one of the Redskins’ few near-misses when he got his hands on a deep second-quarter pass to Jets wide receiver Santana Moss. Ohalete ended up with an important break-up, but he knows it could have been more.

“It was close,” Ohalete said. “I thought I could have gotten a pick. But the ball tailed on me a little bit. I had to knock it away at the end.”

Part of the problem was the Jets’ offense, which was so conservative it was difficult for the Redskins to be opportunistic. New York limited quarterback Vinny Testaverde mostly to short throws and three-step drops, which inhibited potential interceptions and fumble-causing sacks.

“A lot of times, they’re not even giving the receiver a chance to run out the route and get the first down,” defensive end Renaldo Wynn said with a shrug. “OK, throw the ball, whatever. If it’s third-and-10 and you throw an 8-yard out, we’re off the field.”

Washington’s offense, meanwhile, gave up an interception and a fumble. The former came on a nice anticipation play by Jets cornerback Donnie Abraham, the latter on a sack by defensive end John Abraham. Each set up a field goal, though the Redskins’ defense did a nice job ensuring that neither led to a touchdown.

“We call it ‘sudden change’ when the offense has a turnover and we don’t let them score, we hold them to a field goal,” Bowen said. “That can be almost as big as a turnover.”

But it’s tough for Washington’s offense to start with a long field consistently. Because the Redskins forced no turnovers and were mediocre in the return game, the offense started, on average, at its own 28 and never better than its own 45. The Jets, by contrast, averaged at their own 39 and started in Redskins territory three times.

Washington wants to pick off about one in every 20 passes, according to Ohalete. But the Redskins didn’t do anything different in practice this week. They kept the same variety of turnover drills that most teams run.

“About twice a week, we work on stripping the ball,” defensive backs coach George Catavolos said. “We work on intercepting the ball. We work on tipped interceptions. We work on knocking the ball out of the quarterback’s hands. We work on getting the fumbles. We work on it every week. Sometimes it comes our way, sometimes it doesn’t.”

But players will be more aware of causing turnovers tomorrow. On passing plays, that means using this week’s film study to better anticipate the Falcons’ routes. On rushes, that means gang-tackling so one person can get the man down while another tries to bat the ball loose. One player attempting both, of course, can be dangerous.

“That’s one thing where you can get carried away,” Bowen said. “If you start talking about turnovers too much, you’ll start missing tackles. So being a sound tackling team, gang-tackling, running to the ball — that’s how turnovers start. You get people around the ballcarrier, things happen.”

The Redskins expect things to happen tomorrow. The 10-day layoff between games gave them plenty of time to mull possible turnover deficiencies.

“We can’t want it. We’ve got to do it,” linebacker LaVar Arrington said. “It’s too vital. We’ve got to win the turnover battle.”

Note — Rookie tight end Kevin Ware was signed from the practice squad, as expected. To make room on the 53-man roster, the Redskins cut backup offensive lineman Wilbert Brown, who was a spot starter in nine games last season but fell behind Lennie Friedman this preseason to be the top reserve center.

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