Bledsoe braces for ex-coach's `D'

Cowboys QB says facing Williams-led 'Skins unit `isn't going to be a treat'

September 16, 2005|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - For two seasons with the Buffalo Bills, quarterback Drew Bledsoe and head coach Gregg Williams matched wits and skills on the practice field. Touchdown passes and interceptions weren't recorded, and Bledsoe took comfort in knowing that he and Williams were on the same side.

That will change Monday night when Williams, the assistant head coach in charge of the Washington Redskins' defense, visits Bledsoe and the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC East showdown between 1-0 rivals.

On that night, touchdowns and interceptions will count, and Bledsoe is well aware of what his team can expect.

"Facing Gregg's defense was never a treat even just in practice when we were up there in Buffalo," Bledsoe said yesterday in a conference call. "Facing them for real this Monday night isn't going to be a treat either.

"Obviously, they had a great year last year, and it looks like they've picked up right where they left off."

The Washington defense, which ranked third in the league in 2004, began this season ranked second after limiting the Chicago Bears to 166 yards of offense in the team's 9-7 victory Sunday.

Washington will face a prohibitively tougher test in the Cowboys, who compiled 301 yards of offense in a 28-24 win over the San Diego Chargers.

"We had a good outing in the first outing, but that's all that was," Williams said. "We're playing a better football team this week."

Relentless against the rush (only three opposing backs reached 100 yards last season) and opportunistic against the pass (the defense finished in the top half of the league in interceptions and sacks), the Redskins unit's success can be traced to Williams, who had molded the Tennessee Titans and Bills into defensive powerhouses.

A perfectionist who has little care for salaries or draft position, Williams and his staff have scripted 21 defensive packages to disguise coverage and blitz schemes.

Even in the current era of sophistication, 21 packages is rare. Right end Phillip Daniels said he learned a maximum of eight packages when he played for the Bears, and linebacker Marcus Washington said the most he had encountered was 11 at Auburn.

"I think the more packages we can throw at you and the more we can make them look the same, I think it's definitely tough on an offense if they can't figure out, `What are they lining up in? What are they doing? Where are the strong points?' " said Washington, who earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl last year. "I think that definitely gives us a bit of an advantage."

After reviewing film of the Redskins' victory over Chicago, Bledsoe said the most surprising call was the defense's ability to blitz both cornerbacks and still play a zone coverage.

"There's some stuff you're not supposed to be able to do, but he finds a way to make it work and make it sound," Bledsoe said. "It's a great challenge for us. Not only am I going to have to be sharp, but our entire offense is going to have to be on top of it."

Despite the unit's success on Sunday (only the Bills gave up fewer yards than the Redskins in Week 1), Williams continues to preach improvement. For instance, although Washington - which finished in the bottom half of the league in take-aways (26) last year - forced Chicago into two turnovers, Williams isn't content just yet.

"I think it takes usually the first month of the season for you to settle in to find out all those types of answers," he said. "Really, I've kind of used the benchmark of the midpoint of the season, and you'll start to see who your personality is and who your identity is defensively. I think our guys know our identity and how hard we have to push to be better than we were last year."

That personality has rubbed off on the players.

"You're either getting better or you're getting worse," said linebacker LaVar Arrington. "So it's always a work in progress. I don't think you ever stop working at being better. I don't think anybody's that good."

Next for Redskins

Matchup: Washington Redskins (1-0) at Dallas Cowboys (1-0)

When: Monday, 9 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/1430 AM, 106.7 FM

Line: Cowboys by 6

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