2 shutouts reflect on Petitbon Assistant maximizes Redskins defense

September 17, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

HERNDON, Va. -- The strong safety is on the injured reserve list. The free safety, the right cornerback and the middle linebacker were signed when they were left unprotected on Plan B. The left linebacker was put on the trading block during training camp and no takers were found.

Welcome to the defense of the Washington Redskins.

It may not look too impressive on paper, but it has recorded two shutouts in the first three games.

The Redskins, ranked No. 2 on defense in the NFL and No. 1 on pass defense, are off to a 3-0 start.

Even though only one player -- cornerback Darrell Green -- made the Pro Bowl last year, the Redskins have come together as a defensive unit after having a shaky exhibition season.

"Exhibition games don't mean anything. You don't game plan. You just go out and play," said Richie Petitbon, the assistant coach who runs the defense.

Once the real games start, the Redskins' game plans are the key to their success. Petitbon draws up a complicated one, and the Redskins know how to execute it.

"We work hard. We know what we have to do to be successful and intelligence is very high on our list. We don't keep bad [character] guys. This tends to make you a good unit. You can't be individuals," he said.

The coaches have to get them to work as a unit and Petitbon is candid enough to say that he and his staff do that.

"I think we do a good job. If you look at the record over the years, that shouldn't be a surprise. Players still have to play. Those are the guys who have to do it on Sunday," he said.

The one thing Petitbon doesn't get is recognition. While other defensive coordinators on Super Bowl teams such as George Seifert and Bill Belichick have moved up to head coaching jobs, he continues to toil in obscurity for the Redskins.

That doesn't seem to bother him. He gets the recognition he wants.

"I get a check every week," he said with a smile.

He doesn't need his ego stroked.

"No, I've had those days," he said, referring to his days as a defensive back when he was on George Halas' last championship team with the Chicago Bears in 1963.

"It's just not that important," he said.

If Petitbon were in a head coaching spotlight, he'd get a lot of attention because he's one of the few coaches who says what he thinks.

He admits he was worried about the Detroit Lions' run-and-shoot offense. But the Redskins blasted the Lions, 45-0, and he said, "I think maybe we taught Detroit something."

He also admits he was surprised when Phoenix Cardinals coach Joe Bugel, a former Redskins assistant coach, tried the no-huddle offense against them with a young quarterback, Tom Tupa.

"I don't like to coach other people's teams, but that wasn't the smartest thing in the world from my point of view," Petitbon said.

The Redskins didn't practice against the no-huddle last week because they didn't expect it from the Cardinals, but they had prepared for it earlier.

"We were able to run a game plan at them and not just sit in one defense. You have a general little theory of what you want to do and not limit yourself because of the no-huddle," Petitbon said.

The Redskins are doing all this even though safety Alvin Walton is on the injured reserve list and they have three starters -- linebacker Matt Millen, cornerback Martin Mayhew and free safety Brad Edwards -- off the Plan B list.

Another starter, Wilber Marshall, was offered to the Houston Oilers during training camp and they weren't interested. But he intercepted two passes Sunday.

One of the keys to the success of the defense is that it keeps playing consistently.

"I think we've really maintain a pretty consistent [defense] over the years. I don't think we've ever been great. I don't think we've ever been bad," Petitbon said.

When asked if this could be one of his best defenses, he said, "If they keep shutting people out, I guess they have to say they're one of the best. We've got a lot of bridges to cross. Three games doesn't a season make."

Not that Petitbon is easily satisfied.

"I don't think we played the run as well as we'd like to. [They gave up 55 yards.] It was not one of our better efforts. We lined up wrong a couple of times," he said.

Overall, though, he was pleased with the effort of most of his players.

He mentioned defensive lineman Charles Mann, whose wife had their second child, a boy, early Sunday morning.

"He just had a great day. He ought to have a baby every Saturday night. He was up all night and he had his best game of the season," he said.

If that happens, Petitbon will likely think of something. He usually does.

NOTES: The Redskins were fined $1,000 by the NFL because WR Gary Clark high-fived the fans a week ago. The NFL is fining the teams instead of the players as part of its anti-celebration crackdown. . . . The NFL is reviving the Pass, Punt and Kick contest. Boys and girls from 8 to 13 who are interested in participating should show up at the RFK Stadium Auxiliary Field on Oklahoma Avenue and 21st Street NE in Washington, D.C., from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28 or Oct. 5. It's being sponsored by the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Clubs.

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