- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 17, 2005

For 10 games, the cornerbacks couldn’t make an interception to save their signing bonuses, the linebackers and defensive linemen couldn’t buy a fumble recovery and the Washington Redskins’ defense was on pace to set a new record for takeaway futility.

But then something happened or nothing happened, according to middle linebacker Lemar Marshall. Instead of harping on the lack of takeaways, the defensive coaches took a they-will-come-when-they-come attitude.

“They stopped emphasizing it as much, and then things started changing,” Marshall said.

Have they ever. In the first 10 games, the Redskins had only eight takeaways. Heading into tomorrow’s NFC East clash against Dallas, the Redskins have nine in their last three games.

“[Linebacker] Marcus [Washington] always said once we stopped worrying about it, we’d start getting some,” Marshall said.

Turnovers are up, and so are sacks — 15 in the first 10 games, eight in the last three. The Redskins are 2-1 in the stretch, keeping their postseason hopes alive.

Although the offense has scored only 10 points off the nine opportunities, the defense is taking solace that it’s providing the chances. That wasn’t the case during a 5-5 start. The cornerbacks had no interceptions through 10 games, and the team had recovered only three of 18 forced fumbles. They have recovered four of six fumbles in the last three games.

“They’ve been sitting right there for us,” Marshall said of the fumbles. “Now we’re getting the ball out and recovering it. It makes a big difference because we’re giving the offense a chance to work with a shortened field.”

Said Washington: “Sometimes it just works out like that. When they come, they come. I was watching Cincinnati, and it seemed that sometimes guys were throwing the ball right to them. So crazy stuff happens.”

Crazy is Cincinnati’s league-leading total of 38 takeaways, including 27 interceptions (the Redskins’ 17 takeaways are the fourth fewest in the NFL). Crazy was the first half of last week’s game at Arizona. The defense had an interception and three fumble recoveries … and trailed 10-3. But assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams was glad to see the Redskins not squander chances to recover fumbles and make interceptions, something that happened too often early in the season.

“The big key is we haven’t missed those opportunities,” Williams said. “They’ve been present in every game, but we didn’t execute or make the play to finish the deal. The past three weeks, we’ve actually caught balls we had been dropping, and the fumbles we’ve caused have bounced back to us.”

Safety Ryan Clark points to the improved health of Sean Taylor’s ankle and the addition of rookie Carlos Rogers to the starting lineup as two of the factors for more forced turnovers. Rogers has two interceptions and Taylor one during the three-game stretch.

“Sean was hurt more than he let on, and he’s getting back to full steam and being the force he can be, and Carlos’ aggressiveness and knack for being around the ball has really helped us,” said Clark, who is tied for the team lead in interceptions with Taylor, Rogers and Marshall with two.

Helping increase the takeaways has been a more productive pass rush. Through 10 games, the Redskins had 14 sacks, five of which came against woeful San Francisco. In the last three games, the Redskins have eight sacks, including three apiece against St. Louis and Arizona.

That comes from Washington’s pass rushers getting one-on-one matchups.

“No max protection is the main thing,” defensive end Phillip Daniels said. “Teams are being honest, sending three and sometimes four receivers, and we’re getting more one-on-ones. Earlier, we weren’t getting that, and this gives us a chance to get to the quarterback.”

Daniels doesn’t expect that to continue against the Cowboys, who have allowed 33 sacks. Since the loss of Larry Allen to injury, tight end Jason Witten has been kept in to pass protect.

Whether via a sack that turns into a fumble or an interception in the secondary, Williams likes what he has seen against San Diego, St. Louis and Arizona.

“It’s been nice to see it, and we’ll need that down the stretch,” he said. “In sub-par weather conditions, good defenses shorten the field for their offense and provide scoring opportunities and even provide points by scoring themselves. We hope it continues because it’s a good trend right now.”

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