- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2006

The numbers provide definitive reasons for the Washington Redskins’ drop from first in yards allowed a carry in 2004 to 21st last year.

Opponents’ top runs two years ago: 26, 26, 26, 23, 21, 21, 20.

Opponents’ top runs last season: 72, 59, 57, 55, 51, 41, 34.

Gets your attention, doesn’t it?

Football’s first commandment for defense is stopping the run. The Redskins ranked second in 2004 and 13th last season in rushing yards allowed a game under assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams. And they have allowed only six 100-yard individual rushing games in two years.

But while the gaffes in 2004 were covered up by pursuit and tackling, the big plays in 2005 were often game-changers (Tatum Bell’s 55-yard touchdown run for Denver and Tiki Barber’s 57-yard run in the first Giants game).

“We got [lackadaisical] a couple times last year and let a couple big runs pop, and that will skew those types of things,” Williams said earlier in training camp. “We have to do a better job of not letting them pop out.

“For the most part, our guys understand how to fit and play pretty tough against the run.”

In the preseason opener at Cincinnati, the Redskins’ first-team defense handed Rudi Johnson losses of 10 yards and 1 yard and limited him to a 3-yard gain.

The game against the Jets, though, a 27-14 loss Saturday night, pointed out that the Redskins have some work to do — and that defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin is a invaluable cog in playing the run.

Without veteran Curtis Martin, the Jets averaged 8.1 yards a carry in the first half. Take away a 61-yard touchdown run by Brad Smith and New York still averaged a respectable 4.9 yards a carry.

The Redskins’ top four tacklers were linebackers and defensive backs — a sign the Jets were getting to the second level.

“Anybody that outrushes us, we don’t like it,” Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday. “The defensive guys would tell you they’re unhappy with it.”

Since Williams and his staff arrived in 2004, their goal has been to find players who will play fearless run defense no matter their size and no matter the physical consequences. And the team bought in.

In 2004, the Redskins ranked second in rushing yards allowed a game (81.5), first in yards allowed a carry (3.1) and tied for third in fewest touchdowns allowed (seven). They allowed only seven runs of at least 21 yards and two touchdowns in the last seven games.

As a result, linebacker Antonio Pierce and cornerback Fred Smoot got mega-contracts with the Giants and Minnesota, respectively.

Lemar Marshall and Carlos Rogers replaced Pierce and Smoot, and the big runs moved the Redskins to 13th in yards a game (105.4), 21st in yards a carry (4.1) and tied for 19th in touchdowns (15).

“The amount of big runs were disappointing,” strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington said. “One of our goals is not giving up big plays because that’s not us. We want to come out this year and limit those.”

To address the issue in the offseason, the Redskins added defensive end Andre Carter, whose athleticism is expected to aid the pass rush and the run defense, and safety Adam Archuleta, a former college linebacker who will play close to the line of scrimmage.

“As a defensive end, everybody wants a solid pass rusher, but each team also knows they need run stoppers and two-dimensional ends,” Carter said. “Stopping the run isn’t easy. It takes discipline and technique.”

Said Archuleta: “It’s just what I do well. I have a feel for it, and it’s always been my strength. I want to excel at it.”

A huge key, though, is the health of the Redskins’ defensive tackles, Griffin and Joe Salave’a. When in the game together, teams rarely try to run up the middle; when only one is in the game, they get double-teamed.

“When they’re both in there, teams can’t try to play smash-mouth against us,” Washington said.

With Griffin and Salave’a clogging up the middle last year, it allowed Marshall (98 tackles), Washington (93) and safeties Sean Taylor (70) and Ryan Clark (57) to flow through the gaps of the offensive line. Griffin sustained a sprained right knee against the Jets on Saturday night and is day to day.

“We’re a different defense when we’re both in there,” Salave’a said. “But we can’t sit back and count our chickens. We have to keep doing it. Last year, that wasn’t really us for most of the season. I’m looking forward to having the kind of year we had two years ago.”

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