Redskins draw bead on old pal Davis

Stopping ex-teammate tops Washington's list against Panthers today

Pro Football

November 16, 2003|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

If their paths should cross during today's game, Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot knows what he will do to Carolina Panthers running back Stephen Davis.

"He's a big, strong, physical guy, but you know me," the 5-foot-11, 174-pound Smoot said of Davis, who is 6 feet and 230 pounds. "I'm going to cut him low."

How Smoot and the rest of Washington's defense plan to contain their former teammate will play a significant role in determining the winner of today's 1 p.m. game at Ericsson Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

For seven years, Davis was a battering ram for the Redskins, his brute strength and determination carrying the team during a run of mediocre seasons.

Now, he is on the other side of the field, and he's been thinking about today's game since NFL schedules were released last spring.

And sprained ankle aside, Davis figures to be a factor.

"They are my old team," Davis said earlier this week. "The thing is, I want to go out there. I want to play all of them. Not playing this game will definitely hurt me a little bit."

Davis - who is listed as probable - has been everything the Panthers envisioned when they signed him in March to a five-year, $15.5 million contract after Washington released him last winter.

Even though Davis sat out last week's game against Tampa Bay, he still ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards (992).

Davis, who has scored five touchdowns, needs just 129 yards to break the club's single-season rushing record of 1,120 set by Anthony Johnson in 1996.

He has already claimed several other team records. In half a season, he is the franchise leader in 100-yard rushing games (six), consecutive 100-yard performances (four) and most rushing yards in a single game (178 in an overtime win over the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 26).

It's a track record that Redskins fans are familiar with. When Davis was with Washington, he became the team's first player to register three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (1999-2001).

Which is why he is still mystified as to why the club cut him without even inquiring about renegotiating a contract that would have counted more than $5 million against the salary cap.

"It was very hard, considering that I had some injuries last season," said Davis, whose power running style clashed with Redskins coach Steve Spurrier's pass-emphasis offense.

"Back when they released me and I was jumpy for a while, I was like, `I wish they would've gave me a better chance.' But things happen for a reason. That's why I'm here now."

For Carolina coach John Fox, Davis' availability was a gift.

"I was pretty familiar with what he was capable of," said Fox, who was the New York Giants' defensive coordinator from 1997 to 2001. "Our offense is a little bit like what [the Redskins] used to do. So I've seen him basically execute what we were asking."

Redskins middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter had a similar view when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles.

"When I was in Philly, I always regarded him as one of the best backs in the league," Trotter said of Davis. "He has great feet, great balance, and you very seldom see him go down with arm tackles. If you try to trip him up, he has that great balance to stay on his feet and get those three extra yards."

That's why wrapping up Davis will be the key for a Redskins defense that is allowing 128.7 rushing yards a game.

"They're an extremely good Panthers team ignited by Stephen Davis," said Redskins defensive end Bruce Smith. "I think the main focus and the main key for us is stopping the run. If we don't stop the run, it'll be a long day for us."

THREE KEYS FOR REDSKINS

1. Suspect secondary

The Panthers' pass defense is 25th in the NFL, giving up 223.2 yards a game. Twelve of the 18 touchdowns scored against Carolina have been via the pass. This matchup appears to bode well for Washington's 14th-ranked passing offense (209.3 yards per game).

2. Watch No. 93

The Redskins, who didn't allow a sack for the first time this season in last week's win over Seattle, will have a hard time repeating that feat with Micheal Rucker on the other side of the line. The defensive end is tied for the league lead in sacks (11) with Tampa Bay's Simeon Rice.

3. Test Delhomme

In his first season as a starter, Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme has been average at best, completing 57.8 percent of his passes for 1,671 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. With Stephen Davis averaging more than 24 carries a game, Delhomme has been asked just once - in the victory over Tampa Bay last week - to win a game for Carolina.

Redskins today

Matchup: Washington Redskins (4-5) vs. Carolina Panthers (7-2)

Site: Ericsson Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

Time: 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Line: Panthers by 6

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