- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Washington Redskins are desperate for a victory, sitting in last place in the NFC East after a one-sided loss at the New York Giants and a stunning home defeat to previously winless Tennessee.

Their struggling defense has lost No. 2 cornerback Carlos Rogers to a broken thumb while No. 1 corner Shawn Springs is still not 100 percent after missing almost two months with pelvic injuries. Defensive tackles Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave’a and linebackers Marcus Washington and Lemar Marshall are hurting, too.

Those are hardly preferable conditions for today’s game in Indianapolis against record-setting quarterback Peyton Manning, sure Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison and the rest of the 5-0 Colts’ high-octane offense.

“They scare you to death,” Redskins linebackers coach Dale Lindsey said of the Colts, who despite not operating at peak efficiency this season rank fourth in the NFL in yardage and fifth in scoring after their open week. “They get ahead, they throw. They get behind, they throw. They can put up points. They’ve had time to study us and they’re rested.”

Opposing defenses don’t get much rest against the Colts, who often use a no-huddle scheme, something the Redskins (2-4) haven’t seen this season. Two-time MVP Manning, in his ninth year running coordinator Tom Moore’s offense, can change plays almost at will before the snap once he sees how the defense is aligned.

“It’s a tough scheme to get ready for in what amounts to three days because most of it’s at the line of scrimmage,” Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said. “If you played them twice a year, you’d probably have a better chance of preparing for it.”

And since the Redskins don’t run no-huddle themselves, the scout team offense couldn’t give the defense that good a feel for what’s coming.

“It’ll be a real challenge for our guys to see how we handle it mentally,” Gibbs said.

And physically. It’s difficult to rotate personnel and use assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams’ plethora of packages when the offense is in hurry-up mode.

“It is tougher,” Williams said. “What you need to do is make sure you match up correctly at the start of the series.”

Regardless of the matchup in their first six games, the Redskins were beaten on at least two passes of 20 yards, 25 in all, after allowing just 42 all last season. And today they face Manning, who has 18 such completions in five games.

“They’re going to get a big play on you every now and then,” Lindsey said. “You can’t panic. You just try to keep them out of the end zone.”

While the Colts make plenty of big plays, the Redskins’ defense has made few game-changers of its own. Only Houston, which has played just five games, has fewer takeaways than Washington’s five. Even including their 11 sacks, only the winless Oakland Raiders and the lowly Texans average fewer big defensive plays a game than the Redskins’ 2.7. They have forced 10 fumbles but recovered just three. And Rogers and Washington, among others, have dropped interceptions.

“Against an offense like this, making those plays would really help get them off the field,” linebacker Warrick Holdman said.

And Washington’s offense has to do its part by staying on the field. The Redskins had the ball the past two weeks for an average of just 24:47 even though the Giants and Titans came in lagging at stopping the pass and the run, respectively.

“We have to keep Peyton … Marvin and [standout receiver] Reggie Wayne off the field,” running back Clinton Portis said. “The only way we can do that is if we find a way to stay on the field. … Don’t abandon the run.”

Since the start of the 5-game winning streak that propelled them to the playoffs from a 5-6 start last season, the Redskins are 7-0 when Portis produces at least 77 total yards of offense, 0-4 when he doesn’t. If Portis gets bottled up by the Colts’ last-ranked run defense, Washington almost certainly will be a nearly hopeless 2-5 heading into its open week.

Despite the apparent mismatch, quarterback Mark Brunell — who might be playing to keep his starting job — hasn’t lost faith, especially having been part of last season’s stunning turnaround.

“You can’t let yourself think this thing is a lost cause because the second you do that, you’re in trouble,” Brunell said. “We find ourselves in a tough situation, but I think we can dig ourselves out of this one.”

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