- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 30, 2006

NFL players and coaches always talk about the difficult challenge they’ll face from each week’s opponent. Washington coach Joe Gibbs kept a straight face last week when discussing the “hustle” of the horrible Houston defense which the previously somnolent Redskins offense ended up gashing for 31 points and 495 yards.

But there was no need for any false praise of the defense of this Sunday’s opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Pro Bowl defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson are the linchpins of a stout defense, which two weeks ago held defending champion Pittsburgh to 26 rushing yards, its fewest in coach Bill Cowher’s 15 seasons. Last week, Jacksonville’s defense held Indianapolis’ perennial All-Pro passer Peyton Manning under a 50 percent completion rate for just the fourth time in his eight-plus seasons.

“The tackles are kind of the beef of that defense and it’s a darn good defense,” Redskins center Casey Rabach said of a unit that ranks third overall and against the run. “Minnesota had some great tackles [in Kevin Williams and Pat Williams] and we did pretty decent against them even though we didn’t run the ball that well, but these guys are special. Minnesota was definitely a tuneup for these guys.”

Tight end Todd Yoder, who was with the Jaguars in 2004-05, has analyzed Stroud and Henderson for Rabach and guards Derrick Dockery and Randy Thomas.

“Marcus might be a little bit more agile,” Yoder said. “Big John might be a little bit stronger. They control the whole middle. They keep guys from getting to the linebackers, so the linebackers can run side to side and make tackles. It’s the same kind of thing they did when [Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio] was in Baltimore and they had Ray Lewis playing behind Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams.”

However, those Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000 and reached the divisional round in 2001. The Jaguars finally made the playoffs in 2005 — but lost their opening game — for the first time in the four full seasons that the 6-foot-6, 306-pound Stroud and the 6-7, 325-pound Henderson have lined up next to each other.

In fact, Jacksonville is just 34-34 since the pair of first-round draft choices were teamed in 2002, but that mediocrity can be blamed on almost every aspect of the Jaguars except the tackles.

“Those guys can eat up two blockers,” Redskins offensive line coach Joe Bugel said. “They do a great job of protecting those linebackers. They can push the pocket back. They can knock down a lot of passes. If your quarterback can’t maneuver in that pocket, he’ll get a few balls slapped right in his face.”

Having played three years in Jacksonville with Stroud and two with Henderson, Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell is well aware of the towering tandem.

“They’re real big, physical guys who have done really well,” Brunell said.

While the pressure will be on the entire interior of Washington’s offensive line, Dockery figures to have the toughest task when he’s one-on-one with Stroud. Bugel, with typical hyperbole when talking about one of his “Dirtbags,” said Dockery is “100-percent improved from last year. He’s running well. He’s got much better balance. He’s not on the ground like he was last year.”

In any case, while Thomas was playing at a Pro Bowl level before breaking a leg in December and Rabach is valuable more for his smarts than his power, the Redskins are still waiting for Dockery, a third-rounder in 2003, to fully prove himself.

“It’s going to be a tough matchup,” said the 6-6 Dockery, who dropped 10 pounds to 325 in hopes of being quicker this season. “We have to bring our ‘A’ game. It’s hard to find a weakness in either one of them. Having lost the weight, I feel a lot better. Every game, I’m progressing, but I’m still not where I want to be. I still have a lot of improving to do. I’m still looking to fully establish myself.”

Playing as well tomorrow as he did against the lowly Texans will go a long way toward Dockery accomplishing that goal. And a victory over the solid Jaguars would wipe out a lot of the frustration of the Redskins’ underachieving first two weeks.



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