Just as the Washington Redskins’ offense started clicking, scoring 35 points in consecutive wins, the defense is playing arguably its best football of the season.
The defense has allowed only four touchdowns during the four-game winning streak. The unit has posted 11 takeaways, compared with 11 in the first 11 games, and 13 sacks, compared with 18 through the first 11 games.
“It’s nice to see the way we’re playing, but we have a lot of room for improvement where we think we’ve left plays on the field in every single ballgame,” assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said after practice yesterday.
Some of those plays are potential takeaways. Williams said the Redskins should have had three additional interceptions last week against the Giants.
“We’ve been coming up with some opportunistic takeaways, which has been really good down the stretch,” he said. “But one of the things that was disappointing is that we had our hands on three balls that were legitimately easy to intercept and we didn’t come up with them.”
The Redskins (9-6) close the regular season Sunday at Philadelphia, and quarterback Mike McMahon should provide quite a few interception chances. He has thrown seven interceptions in 176 attempts this season and has been sacked 16 times.
But Williams said McMahon can make something out of nothing because of his scrambling ability.
“He’ll improvise when things break down, and he’s dangerous because of that,” he said. “Lots of times, there are big plays that happen when people relax or take their eyes or focus off their responsibility because he’s taken a bad play and turned it into a good play.”
Brian Westbrook has given the Redskins fits, but he’s out with a foot injury. In his place, rookie Ryan Moats rushed for 114 yards on only 11 carries in the Eagles’ overtime loss to the Giants on Dec. 11. He’s averaging 5.3 yards a carry this season.
“He’s very explosive,” Williams said. “He’s done some things in the run game to give them big plays.”
The Redskins will be without linebacker/defensive end Chris Clemons, whose sprained medial collateral ligament put him on the season-ending injured reserve list. Williams wouldn’t say who will take over Clemons’ snaps, most of which came on pass-rushing situations.
“We’ll rotate a bunch of guys in there,” Williams said. “[Clemons] did a good job, but we’ve always had somebody else step in there, and I trust [defensive coordinator] Greg Blache to do that again.”
Quarterback Mark Brunell (right knee) took some work during yesterday’s practice and remains probable to start Sunday.
During the special teams portion of practice, Brunell did some dropbacks and made throws to Patrick Ramsey.
Cornerbacks Carlos Rogers (biceps) and Shawn Springs (groin) and defensive end Renaldo Wynn (foot) did not practice. Left tackle Chris Samuels (ankle) returned after taking Wednesday off.
Portis will enjoy record
Calling himself “the angel of Southeast Jerome,” running back Clinton Portis went all out for his weekly visit with the media. After yesterday’s practice, Portis was joined by teammates Ryan Clark, Rock Cartwright, Robert Royal, Chris Cooley, Ladell Betts and Nehemiah Broughton in wearing a variety of wigs, noses and fake teeth.
More important than Portis’ costumes are a Redskins playoff berth and his pursuit of the team’s single-season rushing record. He is 28 yards shy of tying the mark of 1,432 set in 2001 by Steven Davis.
“It’s exciting — I’ve come a long way to do that,” he said. “This franchise has been around for a long time, so to be  yards away, it’s going to be fun. Hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity. I’m going to enjoy holding the record.”