- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2007

Cornerbacks will say that the chief mental attribute necessary for the position is a short memory. Washington Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams always talks about his corners playing on the autobahn.

That ability to forget bad things and the speed needed to compete on that fast track both loom large this afternoon against the visiting Detroit Lions.

The 3-1 Lions, who already have matched their 2006 victory total, don’t believe in NFC East-like smashmouth football. They’re all about attacking through the air. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz, formerly the orchestrator of St. Louis’ “Greatest Show On Turf” that won a Super Bowl and two NFC titles from 1999 to 2001, has called 104 more passes than rushes (allowing a league-high 21 sacks, 12 more than the NFL average). Only Green Bay is in the same vicinity in pass/run ratio. In contrast, Washington has 12 more carries than dropbacks.

“There was a reason why they called them the Greatest Show On Turf,” said Redskins safeties coach Steve Jackson, whose last game as a player was a Super Bowl XXXIV loss to Martz and the Rams. “The jerseys have changed, but the concept and the tempo is the same.”

Lions receivers Roy Williams, Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey all have at least 20 catches. Top draft pick Calvin Johnson has 10 despite missing the last game with a back injury that might also keep him out today. The quartet also has 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns.

“We attack every area of the field,” said Lions quarterback Jon Kitna, who leads the NFL with 1,227 passing yards.”We [make] defenses have to defend every inch of that 53 yards wide and 100 yards long.”

So Redskins corners Shawn Springs, Carlos Rogers, Fred Smoot, David Macklin and Leigh Torrence might want to haul out their high school track shoes as Washington (2-1) returns from its bye week.

“We’ll pass the baton as many times as we can … keeping people fresh, rotating guys in and out of the ballgame,” said Gregg Williams, whose pass defense ranks 13th in the NFL. “It’s going to come down to some critical matchups. Is our athlete as good as their athlete?”

Although the Redskins, of course, won’t reveal their strategy, Rogers, a top 10 selection like Springs, Roy Williams and Johnson, has no qualms about covering any of the Detroit wideouts man to man.

“I’d rather be in man-to-man [than zone], match up and let’s go get them and see what they do,” said Rogers, whom New York receiver Plaxico Burress beat for the winning touchdown in Washington’s 24-17 upset loss to the visiting Giants two weeks ago.

Smoot, who missed the past two games with a tender hamstring, is back and as mouthy as ever.

“[The Lions] might throw it 12 times in a row,” said Smoot, who faced Martz, Kitna et al twice last year while playing for Minnesota. “I like the challenge because you can’t make plays if ain’t nobody throwing the ball.”

That’s the kind of attitude that Gregg Williams’ lieutenants, Jackson and Jerry Gray, want from their players.

“If you’re afraid, you’re in the wrong league,” said Gray, a four time Pro Bowl selection in his nine years at corner. “I love offenses like this. It gives you a chance to say my best guys against your best guys. Good DBs want that. They don’t want to always have to come up and [play the run]. You’ve got be physical against their big, fast receivers [Roy Williams and Johnson]. We can’t give up big chunks.”

The Redskins surrendered 18 completions of at least 34 yards during their crash from the playoffs in 2005 to the NFC East cellar in 2006. They haven’t allowed one such play this year while the Lions have made five, three by Roy Williams and one each by Furrey and Johnson.

“If you don’t give up explosive plays, you’re in every game,” Gray said. “If you give up explosive plays, it just kills and demoralizes the defense.”

It also will be demoralizing if Washington’s offense, which this season averages just 18 points and might be without star receiver Santana Moss because of a groin injury, can’t produce in a big way against a Detroit defense which ranks last in the NFC and which Philadelphia strafed for 56 points and 536 yards on Sept. 23.

“Anytime you go against a real good offensive team the pressure goes up on both sides of the ball,” Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said. “You have to play great on defense, but you would also prefer to keep the ball yourself [and keep it away from the Lions].”

As pass-happy as Detroit is, today’s game is just a prelude of what’s to come. Washington’s next three foes, Green Bay, Arizona and New England are also among the NFL’s top dozen passing offenses.

“It will be a good test to see where you are and what you need to work on,” Springs said. “As a corner you should invite that challenge. Hopefully you’ll have more better days than worse days.”

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