- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

Cornerback Fred Smoot has been excited since January, when Gregg Williams took over the Washington Redskins defense.

Smoot didn’t feel this good about his unit even when the Redskins finished fifth in the league in 2001 under esteemed coordinator Marvin Lewis.

Smoot can feel even better now.

The Redskins held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a field goal and 169 yards of offense yesterday in the regular-season debut of Williams’ aggressive scheme, a 16-10 Washington victory.

“We’ve finally got a defense that fits us,” Smoot said. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve been a bend-but-don’t-break defense. Even with Marvin, we played a lot more zone and didn’t blitz as much. Right now, we’re real aggressive. We’re dictating.”

Almost all of the hype before yesterday’s game centered on the return to Washington of Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs and his offensive wizardry. But afterward, Gibbs made plain that he knew why his Redskins won.

“I can’t talk enough about the defense,” Gibbs said. “They played extremely well in preseason, and I was just praying that we were going to have that kind of defense when we got to the regular season. Today, they played great. They kept us in the game. They made big plays, got turnovers, got sacks.”

The Redskins ranked just 25th overall and 24th against the run last season.

Yesterday, however, they dominated up front, limiting the Bucs to 30 yards on 15 carries, sacking quarterback Brad Johnson four times and forcing two turnovers. Even the much-maligned front four played well.

“There has been a lot said about our D-line, that we’re not that good, that we’re the weak link,” end Phillip Daniels said. “But we don’t feel that way. We don’t care what people say. We looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s get it done.’”

Williams’ masterful game plan also forced the Bucs to change their tactics.

“The blitzes were coming from everywhere,” end Renaldo Wynn said. “You could see [Johnson] started getting rid of the ball pretty fast. Sooner or later, they were going to slip up and we were going to take advantage of it.”

Safety Matt Bowen was the first to do so. Late in the first quarter, Bowen came in on Johnson untouched and stripped the ball. Tackle Cornelius Griffin recovered at the Tampa Bay 34. Ten plays later, kicker John Hall made it 10-0.

Bowen picked up his second sack of the game — and just the second of his six-year career — on another blitz with 5:37 left, one play after Wynn and backup end Ron Warner dropped Johnson for a 5-yard loss. Ten plays later, Hall kicked his third field goal of the game.

Linebacker LaVar Arrington provided the coup de grace, dropping Johnson on the final play of the game.

“It’s like getting the sign to steal in baseball,” Bowen said of Williams’ frequent blitz calls. “You know a lot of times, you’re going to come free and get to the quarterback. That makes your heartbeat go up a little more.”

And the hearts of Gibbs and Redskins fans beat a little easier.

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