Redskins' Defense Poses Major Challenge

Pick a ranking, any NFC ranking, and they all look pretty good for the Washington Redskins’ defense. First in the NFC in total yards per game. First in passing yards per game. Tied for first in first downs allowed. First in third-down efficiency. First in points allowed. - More Audio | Video | Packers-Redskins Game Center Notebook: Harrell Gets His Feet Wet


Pick a ranking, any NFC ranking, and they all look pretty good for the Washington Redskins' defense.

First in the NFC in total yards per game. First in passing yards per game. Tied for first in first downs allowed. First in third-down efficiency. First in points allowed.

Coming off back-to-back NFC North games against formidable defenses in Minnesota and Chicago, the 4-1 Packers have perhaps an even greater challenge on their hands in the 3-1 Redskins.

Adding to the intrigue of the matchup is the fact that the Packers' offense is second in the NFC in total yards and first in passing yards, so as the old saying goes, something's gotta give.

"I think their defense in general is playing by far the best football we've seen up to this point," Packers quarterback Brett Favre said. "It's not a knock against the teams we've played. But they really haven't had injuries, they have a lot of veterans, they have high (draft) picks.

"I could see them in their meeting rooms saying, 'Hey, this is how we expected our defense to play.'"

Two of the Redskins' statistical rankings are especially telling as to how they've been so successful defensively.

One is their league-leading performance on first down. The Redskins allow just 4.0 yards per play on first down, best in the NFL and 1.2 yards per play better than the league average. That contributes greatly to their third-down defense, which is allowing opponents to convert only 32.7 percent of the time (18-of-55), tops in the NFC and second in the league.

To illustrate how the two statistics correlate, the strong first-down defense has forced opponents into more long-distance conversions on third down. Of the 55 third downs for the Washington defense, the opposing offense has needed 6 or more yards for the first down in 35 instances, or 64 percent of the time.

Offenses have converted just nine of those 35 chances (25.7 percent), including an 0-for-13 mark when needing 10 yards or more.

As with most strong defenses, it all starts up front with the defensive tackle tandem of Cornelius Griffin and Anthony Montgomery, who are flanked by veteran ends Andre Carter and Phillip Daniels. Middle linebacker London Fletcher, a key offseason acquisition from Buffalo, quarterbacks the entire unit.

"They have two great defensive tackles, and on defense that's where you want to start," tight end Bubba Franks said. "Then off the edge, there are two savvy veterans, and you can't really surprise them too much. Overall this is a great defense. This is going to be a big challenge for this offense to rebound off of last week."

That front four did a lot of the damage in dismantling previously high-flying Detroit last week. The Redskins recorded five sacks with essentially a four-man pass rush, a bit of a departure from the aggressive blitzing Washington assistant head coach/defense Gregg Williams is known for. Williams has been with the Redskins since 2004 after a three-year stint as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills.

{sportsad300}The work up front helped hold the Lions to just 144 total yards and 11 first downs. The defense also recorded a safety and two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown by cornerback Carlos Rogers.

"They're not taking really any risk on defense," Favre said. "Gregg Williams, we've played against him in the past, and you never really know what you're going to get from him. He's changed dramatically. That's not to say he won't roll the dice against us, but against a very high-powered offense in Detroit, they played as vanilla as you can play and never gave up anything.

"When you can do that and get pressure with the front four, it sure makes it a whole lot easier to call a game. He's presented problems to us in the past with his exotic blitzes and things of that nature that would pose a threat to us again. But why do it if you don't have to?"

Behind that defensive front is a secondary loaded with talent. Rogers, fellow cornerback Shawn Springs and safeties Sean Taylor and LaRon Landry were all first-round draft picks, with Landry the rookie. Nickelback Fred Smoot was a second-round selection.

Springs and Smoot have played a combined 16 years, while Taylor, Rogers and Landry have all come into the league since 2004.

"There's a mix of young and old but they're all playing well together," Favre said. "You don't see them make any mistakes. They don't do anything crazy, but they just don't make any mistakes."

That will be the Packers' primary task, to limit mistakes, after a game in which they had five turnovers and 12 penalties. Eight of those 12 penalties were committed by the offense and special teams, hurting field position and creating difficult down-and-distances, the very situations strong defenses like the Redskins' thrive upon.

"We can't put ourselves in bad situations," Franks said. "As long as we don't hurt ourselves as an offense, then we feel like there's not a defense that can really stop us.

"As long as we take care of our work."

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