- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 1, 2005

They held the Jones brothers — Thomas from Chicago and Julius from Dallas — in check this season. Last season, they allowed an NFL-low 3.1 yards per rushing attempt. And their current streak of holding seven consecutive teams to less than 100 yards rushing is the league’s longest.

Now the Washington Redskins’ run defense, which has met nearly every challenge since the start of 2004, faces perhaps its biggest test tomorrow against Seattle Seahawks star Shaun Alexander.

In an intriguing strength vs. strength matchup, it’s Alexander, the NFL’s second-leading rusher with 357 yards, against the Redskins, the league’s second-ranked run defense with an average of only 65.5 yards.

Gentlemen, buckle your chin straps.

“When I was a kid, I always loved taking tests because I wanted to see how smart I was and if I had the goods,” Alexander said. “That’s how we are as a team — we love playing against good teams to see how good we are. And the Redskins are really good.”

So is Alexander.

“Definitely one of the top five backs in the league,” said Redskins safety Matt Bowen.

Seattle (2-1) has the NFL’s fourth-ranked running game, and Alexander’s five touchdowns and 5.6-yard average lead the league. Thirteen of his 64 carries have produced at least 10 yards, including runs of 25, 45 and 36.

During their 2-0 start, the Redskins’ run defense allowed a league-low five rushing first downs, and their opponents’ longest gain was 9 yards.

Here’s more: Since assistant head coach Gregg Williams arrived to run the defense, only five times in 18 games have opponents broken 100 yards rushing, and only three individuals — Jamal Lewis (116), Rudi Johnson (102) and Jerome Bettis (100) — have reached the century mark.

Other than perhaps Lewis, Alexander is the best running back the Redskins have faced since the start of last season.

“Shaun’s on fire right now,” Williams said. “He has very good instincts and when you see the really good running backs asked about how they do it, they usually say, ‘I don’t know — I just do it.’ He has those kind of instincts. It’s not thought out, it’s just how he ends up playing.”

The Redskins point to four things that make Alexander a four-time 1,000-yard rusher and a player who has scored 67 touchdowns in his last 67 games: The speed to run away from defensive backs, the cutback ability to make something happen when the hole doesn’t develop, the power to run inside and the vision to see his blocks develop.

“He’s a slasher hard to get a really big hit on, he has great vision and he’s a lot faster than you think and a lot bigger than you think,” said Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs, a former teammate of Alexander.

An analysis of Seattle’s rushing attempts shows how coach Mike Holmgren balances where Alexander runs: 19 carries to the left side, 24 up the middle and 21 to the right. Alexander is averaging 5.8 yards on attempts up the middle, but all five of his touchdowns have come by running behind left tackle Walter Jones and left guard Steve Hutchinson.

“That’s probably the best left side in football,” Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. “The rest of the line gets lost because [Jones and Hutchinson] are so good and dominant.”

The Seahawks’ game plan could change against the Redskins, because Chicago and Dallas quickly gave up trying to run up the middle against tackles Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave’a. The Bears and Cowboys ran a combined eight times for 8 yards up the middle.

Chicago and Dallas ran 21 of 47 plays to the left side and end Phillip Daniels. A plus for the Redskins is that such a tactic plays into the hands of linebacker Marcus Washington, the team’s leading tackler, and Springs, a sure tackler.

“His patience reminds me of Edgerrin [James],” Washington said. “He’ll wait for the hole to open and then hit it and break a big run.”

If the hole doesn’t open up, Alexander remains dangerous. Just ask Atlanta. In Week 2, he had gains of 17, 16, 11 and 11 yards when he shifted outside.

“If there’s not a hole, a lot of backs will keep going and still try to get through it,” Redskins defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. “Not this guy. If something isn’t here, he can cut back and take it the distance.”

Said Daniels: “We have to keep inside and let our linebackers fill the gaps. That’s the best way to contain him.”

The Redskins, though, are realistic. Chances are, Alexander is going to break some gains of 10-plus-yards. It’s up to the defense to make sure those big runs don’t end up on the wrong side of the goal line.

“You miss tackling him, it’ll be six points,” Griffin said. “You take a play off against him, it’ll be six points.”

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