Patriots' "D" is "Skins" next test

Champions' pass coverage a challenge to hot attack

August 29, 2002|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - By now, Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier is well-aware of the defensive challenges his high-octane, pass-happy team will face this season.

Becoming the first team to average at least 35 points in four preseason games and earning a label as the most prolific passing attack in the NFL has a way of drawing the attention of defensive coordinators around the league.

But if the first-year coach from the University of Florida is supposed to be worried, he doesn't show it. After all, Washington scored a combined 75 points against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - no slouches in the defensive department.

The Redskins face their toughest assignment in their final preseason game at 8 tonight, when the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (2-1 in preseason) take to FedEx Field.

"I watched the [St. Louis] Rams and the Patriots in the Super Bowl, and New England had a good, solid defensive plan," Spurrier said. "It wasn't complicated, but they executed it well. Whether or not they will do that to us, who knows? They've got a bunch of coverages, and they play them extremely well."

New England is a pedestrian 25th against the run in the preseason but fourth against the pass and seventh overall on defense.

Derrius Thompson said tonight's game should be a good test of Washington's offense under Spurrier.

"They didn't win a Super Bowl for not having players," said Thompson, who leads the team in preseason receiving yards with 307 and touchdowns with four. "They've got some good talent over there. It's a good matchup to see their defense go up against our offense."

Although tonight is just an exhibition, Washington can enter the regular season on a positive note with a win.

Not only should the Redskins eclipse the franchise preseason record of 156 points set in 1975 in seven games, but they also could become the first team to finish with a perfect record since the 1985 squad went 4-0.

To do so, Washington will need to reverse its trend of collecting penalties. The Redskins have been flagged for a league-high 40 penalties and a loss of 299 yards.

Also, the Washington defense - which has recovered seven fumbles, intercepted five passes, and sacked opposing quarterbacks 12 times - meets a Patriots offense that is ranked seventh in the preseason.

Tonight's game also could be Danny Wuerffel's best opportunity to establish himself as the starting quarterback for the Sept. 8 opener. Wuerffel, who will start at quarterback and play the first half after missing the Tampa Bay game Saturday because of the flu, is competing with former Chicago Bear Shane Matthews for the spot.

"Like everybody else, I'd like to play whenever I can," said Wuerffel, who has completed 63.4 percent of his passes for four touchdowns. "We'll see how that works out."

Several players can cement their positions on the team with solid performances tonight.

Most notably, running backs Kenny Watson and Robert Gillespie are battling for one spot.

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