The mission is simple.
Accomplishing it is anything but.
The Washington Redskins must neutralize NFL MVP Shaun Alexander to have any chance of upsetting the Seattle Seahawks in Saturday’s NFC Divisional playoff contest. The explosive, bruising running back finished with an NFL-record 28 touchdowns and 1,880 yards while leading the Seahawks to the top seed in the conference.
“He is one of those rare backs that has the patience, the speed, the power, the whole package,” Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. “Plus, I think they have done a very good job of assembling a very good group of offensive linemen out there and a Pro Bowl fullback.”
The 5-foot-11, 225-pounder has found running room behind Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones and Pro Bowl left guard Steve Hutchinson. He has thrived with Pro Bowl fullback Mack Strong leading the way, all while forcing the defense to concentrate on him and keeping pressure off Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
The Redskins know it will take two things to limit Alexander: keep him off the field with sustained drives of their own and bottle him up at the line with physical punishment. That would cut down his ability to shred the secondary with his blend of quick moves and breakaway speed.
“We just have to go out there and play our game and not worry about who we are facing,” said defensive end Phillip Daniels, who will be matched up with the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Jones. “We just have to be solid up front, stay in our gaps and do all the little things, tackling. All those things are pretty big. We played him pretty well last time.”
The Redskins limited Alexander to 12 yards on six carries in the first half of their 20-17 overtime win over the Seahawks on Oct.2. The sixth-year back from Alabama finished with 98 yards on 20 carries, including a 34-yard run and a 3-yard touchdown run.
Washington also has the unfortunate task of shuffling its line because defensive end Renaldo Wynn suffered a broken arm in last week’s playoff win over Tampa Bay. Demetric Evans, the fourth-year veteran who had a sack against the Buccaneers, likely will get the start.
“That’s the game,” Evans said. “I did it last year filling in for [Cornelius Griffin]. I am working on my conditioning and working extremely hard in the weight room this week because I know there will be a lot of plays. I am doing more cardio and definitely getting in better shape with Renaldo out.”
The Redskins will have their two inside stalwarts in Joe Salave’a and Griffin, who missed games with injuries while Washington slumped in midseason. The duo combined with linebackers Marcus Washington, the NFL’s defensive player of the month in December, and Lemar Marshall to anchor the defense, which has been the team’s constant during its six-game winning streak.
Washington’s defense ranked 13th in the NFL against the run, allowing 105.4 rush yards a game, and it has yielded only 81.7 during the winning streak. Only Dallas got more than 100 yards. Last week, the Redskins held Tampa Bay to 75 yards on 25 attempts.
The Redskins will have few changes in their approach or schemes against the league’s MVP.
“Make no bones about it — he is a guy that has very few negative yardage plays,” Williams said. “We are going to have to do a good job of tackling and swarming the ball carrier because he is not a guy that is easy to bring down on one-on-one situations.”
The defense is well aware of their formidable task but is undaunted nonetheless.
“We have to try to minimize Shaun’s opportunities by getting as many bodies as we can around him,” Salave’a said. “Other than not having a cape on, he has been a super-stud all season. We are trying to make sure everybody is playing out their role to the fullest in terms of technique and being where they need to be. And we’ll take our chances.”