DETROIT — Running backs coach Earnest Byner pulled out a little retro footage this week to inspire his prize pupil, Clinton Portis. The results — 147 yards on 34 carries in the Washington Redskins’ 17-10 win over the Detroit Lions yesterday — were huge.
Portis saw on tape how, during two seasons with the Denver Broncos, he used to burst through the defensive line and then attack the linebackers and safeties — the so-called second and third level of the defense. Portis hadn’t had many runs like that this season — until yesterday.
“Coach showed me a couple runs from Denver when I was on the second level, making people miss and pounding people,” Portis said. “He asked me, ‘What will it take to get this guy back?’ It’s been awhile since I’ve been competing on the second level against safeties and linebackers.
“It was just, stay on your tracks, make the right reads, don’t try to do too much and let the game come to you. Week in and week out, if I stay on my tracks, that’s what can happen.”
Despite four games this season in which he rushed for 70 yards or fewer, Portis is on track to break Stephen Davis’ franchise record for rushing yards in a season (1,432 in 2001). Yesterday’s performance gave Portis 810 yards, putting him on pace to surpass the 1,600-yard mark.
Last week, in a loss to the Green Bay Packers, Portis gained just 70 yards on 17 carries. Coach Joe Gibbs blamed himself again yesterday for not sticking with the run against Green Bay.
Five of Portis’ runs against the Lions went for 12 or more yards. When Portis reaches that second level he uses his open-field moves and surprising power.
“I really don’t think DBs and safeties want to come down and take a shot at me,” said Portis, who also threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Laveranues Coles. “They love to pound me, but if you come in too aggressive, I stop on a dime and your missed tackle is the last one. I think they’re a little timid and a little hesitant. We need to keep them that way.”
The Redskins finally have found a playmaker on the defensive line.
Tackle Cornelius Griffin, who already has made a strong case for Pro Bowl consideration, had perhaps his best game of the year against the Lions. Griffin recorded six tackles, two sacks and two pass deflections, and created pressure on several other key plays.
The offseason acquisition from the Giants is on pace for a 120-tackle season, gaudy numbers for a defensive lineman and plenty of reason for coach Joe Gibbs to crow.
“He’s one of those special guys, a great person,” Gibbs said. “He’s a man, a big, strong guy. I think we’ve got somebody over there we think is the total package.”
Griffin was all over the place yesterday. He sacked Detroit quarterback Joey Harrington one moment, dragged down tailback Kevin Jones the next and swatted away a pass moments later. That raises the question: How has Griffin managed to put himself in position to make so many plays?
“Because the defense allows me to make plays,” he said. “They give me the freedom to make it happen.”
Plenty of eyebrows were raised around the league when the Redskins gave Griffin, who some believed was a declining player, a seven-year, $30.75million contract and an $8.3million signing bonus.
Eight games into the season, Griffin is earning his paycheck.
“It doesn’t matter what things were said by those people,” he said. “It matters what my teammates say about me, what my coaches say about me.”
Daniels down again
Phillip Daniels’ injury-plagued season continues.
The veteran defensive end had to leave yesterday’s game early in the second quarter after aggravating the pulled groin that sidelined him earlier this year. He did not return, and early indications are Daniels will be out several more weeks.
Midway through the season, the Redskins have gotten little out of their investment in Daniels. Signed away from Chicago to a five-year, $12.365million contract, Daniels has played in only four games (and he’s failed to make it through two of those). He also missed most of training camp and the preseason with an abdominal strain.
Demetric Evans replaced Daniels at right end and finished out the game.
Washington’s other starting defensive end, Renaldo Wynn, also left yesterday’s game after spraining his right ankle in the first quarter. Wynn returned after only a few plays, though, and finished the game.
The Redskins suffered no other significant injuries.
The Redskins committed four 15-yard penalties: taunting calls on cornerback Fred Smoot and running back Clinton Portis and unnecessary roughness flags on Smoot and linebacker Antonio Pierce.
Smoot’s taunting penalty and Pierce’s infraction helped the Lions pick up their only points of the first half, a 40-yard field goal by Jason Hanson with three seconds left.
“The ref said I twisted his ankle,” Pierce said of his tackle of Lions tight end Stephen Alexander. “I don’t know. It was a two-minute drill, and I was trying to keep the guy in bounds.”
Smoot was called for taunting when he joined Marcus Washington in a strutting celebration after the linebacker nearly tackled Lions running back Kevin Jones for a safety on the first play of that last-minute drive in the second quarter.
“That was an iffy call,” Smoot said. “We gave them those three points with those penalties.”
Smoot didn’t question the penalty called on him after he hurled receiver Reggie Swinton out of bounds after a 7-yard catch on the Lions’ second series.
Portis’ penalty occurred after he was tackled by linebacker Earl Holmes after a 2-yard run on second-and-12 midway through the third quarter with Washington leading 10-3.
Right tackle Ray Brown lost the rhythm of the snap count in the second quarter and blew a chance to score a touchdown.
The 41-year-old was the target on a fourth-and-1 trick play, in which he was to release into the end zone and catch a pass over the deep middle. But before the snap he arched his back just a hair — “a little hump,” he called it — and was flagged for a false start. The Redskins then kicked a 24-yard field goal.
“I moved,” Brown admitted. “No doubt. I’ve got to stay off that penalty list.”
With the crowd noise at domed Ford Field making it difficult to hear, Brown said he “somehow” lost his usual sense of pace. He laughed as he explained that his error had nothing to do with his being anxious to score a touchdown.
“What I try to do is catch the first color on the snap count, then I’ve got a good sense of the pace,” Brown said. “I just lost it somehow. I looked in, then I come back, then I just lost the pace.”
Tight end Stephen Alexander, defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson and guard David Loverne, all former Redskins, started for the Lions.
Alexander, who played for the Redskins from 1998 to 2001, caught two passes for 19 yards.
Loverne played for Washington in 2002 and had a tough day against Redskins defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin.
Wilkinson, a Redskin from 1998 to 2002, is part of a Lions run defense that entered yesterday’s game ranked 11th in the league. However, Big Daddy and crew surrendered 147 yards to Redskins running back Clinton Portis.
The Redskins’ inactives were kicker John Hall, linebacker Mike Barrow, linebacker LaVar Arrington, tackle Vaughn Parker, wide receiver Darnerien McCants, return man Antonio Brown and defensive tackle Jermaine Haley.