Redskins `D' sets its focus on `26'

Saints' McAllister arrives as NFL's 3rd-best rusher

November 28, 2003|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - The number 26 has a dual meaning for the Washington Redskins.

That's the NFL ranking assigned to a Washington defense that is surrendering 345 yards a game. It's unfamiliar territory for a unit that has been ranked in the top 10 in the league in yards allowed for the previous three seasons.

That's also the jersey number of the one player the Redskins plan to concentrate on when they meet the New Orleans Saints Sunday at 4:05 p.m. at FedEx Field - Saints running back Deuce McAllister.

"He's a combination of everything," said strong safety Ifeanyi Ohalete. "He can run, he can catch out of the backfield, and he can block. He's definitely a big threat."

Ohalete's concerns are well-warranted. With 1,228 rushing yards, McAllister is the NFL's third-leading rusher, and his eight touchdowns are tied for ninth-best in the league.

McAllister has produced a club-record eight consecutive games of at least 100 yards. On Sunday, he compiled a career-high 184 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns in a 33-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

McAllister, who has also caught 46 passes for 332 yards, is second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,560. That's more than 41 percent of New Orleans' output for the season.

He's the reason why Washington's defensive players are spending significant time in the video room poring over film of McAllister's runs.

"After watching him on film, he's very elusive," said defensive tackle Bernard Holsey. "If you make a mistake and you're in the wrong place, he'll definitely capitalize on it."

In just his third season, McAllister - the team's first-round pick in the 2001 draft - has made Saints fans forget about former running back Ricky Williams.

New Orleans dealt Williams to the Miami Dolphins after McAllister's rookie campaign because team officials believed McAllister's speed (4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash), size (6-foot-1, 221 pounds) and field vision made him a better fit for the Saints' high-octane offense.

McAllister has not disappointed. Last year, he led the NFC in rushing with 1,388 yards and was sixth in the NFL en route to his first Pro Bowl start.

Since 2002, McAllister has had more 100-yard rushing games than any other running back, reaching that mark in 16 of 26 contests.

"We had two good backs here, and we just felt that we wanted to lean that way," said New Orleans coach Jim Haslett. "I think there's a lot more upside to Deuce still."

McAllister, who spent the offseason improving his blocking technique, credits a team-wide emphasis on the running game for his success.

"The offensive line has done a great job, and my fullback (Terrelle Smith) has done a great job," McAllister said. "We have to be able to run the ball to be successful, and we've done a good job of it."

McAllister will match up against a Redskins defense that has allowed four running backs (the New York Giants' Tiki Barber, the Buffalo Bills' Travis Henry, the Dallas Cowboys' Troy Hambrick and Williams) to reach 100 yards.

But Washington defensive coordinator George Edwards knows that snapping McAllister's streak will take a cooperative effort.

"Everybody's got to use their arms and wrap up and tackle him," Edwards said. "It's no different than any other back. You've got to get to him, get into position, and get good leverage on him."

Next for Redskins

Matchup: New Orleans Saints (5-6) vs. Washington Redskins (4-7)

Site: FedEx Field, Landover

When: Sunday, 4:05 p.m.

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

Line: Redskins by 1 1/2

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