- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 19, 2009

Quarterback Marc Bulger shredded them with his arm. Receiver Donnie Avery made a big catch to beat them.

But the members of the Washington Redskins’ defense agreed that the goal for Sunday’s home opener against the St. Louis Rams is controlling running back Steven Jackson.

“He’ll definitely be a focal point for us,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “He’s a big back with speed who can catch. There aren’t many backs like that.”

The players who were part of the Redskins’ defense in 2006 haven’t forgotten how the 6-foot-2, 236-pound Jackson battered them for 150 yards on the ground, dashed through them for 102 yards through the air and scored twice in a 37-31 overtime victory.

Right end Andre Carter, who has faced Jackson more than anyone on the Redskins dating to his days with San Francisco, said gang-tackling is the key to bringing down the big but elusive runner.

“Jackson’s one of the top two or three backs in the league, no doubt,” said left tackle Cornelius Griffin, one of five Redskins defenders who started that afternoon in 2006 and will do so again Sunday. “He’s big. He’s strong. And he’s fast. He’s got it all.”

Avery, kicker Josh Brown and safety Oshiomogho Atogwe were the heroes of the shocking 19-17 upset of the rolling Redskins by the winless Rams last October, but Jackson played up to his usual terrific standard, gaining 111 yards on 25 touches.

Jackson, not Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, led the NFL with an average of 118.4 yards from scrimmage last season. With 829 more rushing yards, Jackson will rank third in Rams history behind only Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk, who’s a lock for Canton.

“The guy at Minnesota is off the chart, [but] I put Jackson just right underneath him,” defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. “He can go the distance every time he touches the football. If the hole is not there inside, he will bounce it outside. He can catch passes out of the backfield.”

Jackson rushed for 67 yards on 16 carries and didn’t catch a pass in St. Louis’ season-opening 28-0 loss to Seattle, but Blache said he didn’t see a drop-off.

“He had some great runs last week,” Blache said. “He had two called back because of holding penalties, but you see the ability, speed and power.”

The Redskins’ run defense, ranked in the NFL’s top eight during three of Blache’s five full seasons with Washington, got off to a good start last week in a 23-17 loss to the New York Giants, holding last year’s top ground game to 3.3 yards a carry.

New York faced a second-and-3 at the Washington 5 as the first quarter wound down, but bruiser Brandon Jacobs was thrown back by the defense on three straight runs, gaining just 2 yards and giving the ball back to the visitors.

Blache and his players noted that the Giants got into the red zone only because of consecutive runs of 22 yards by speedy Ahmad Bradshaw and 15 by Jacobs. The Redskins allowed just six runs of at least 20 yards last season, and just one as long as 25.

“We didn’t play up to our coaches’ standards or our standards,” defensive tackle Kedric Golston said.

With new starters at tackle and strongside linebacker - All-Pro Albert Haynesworth and top draft choice Brian Orakpo - and with Phillip Daniels back at left end after missing all of last season with a knee injury, Blache said his unit is developing the chemistry that helps define elite defenses.

But even the critical coach had to admit the Redskins could be special.

“I like my people, but I didn’t know exactly how they were going to [play],” he said. “It’s kind of like driving a new car. You know it’s a nice car, but you don’t know exactly how it’s going to handle. … I just had to find out last week how those guys were going to drive, and I’ll tell you what - they drive pretty good.”

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