Good hands give Redskins leg up

With just six turnovers, surprising Washington has run up 3-0 record

Pro football

October 09, 2005|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

The Washington Redskins have turned it around by not turning it over.

Washington's 3-0 start - the franchise's best since 1991 - has been built on a revived offense, a stingy defense and key plays. But the Redskins also have done a better job of protecting the ball, an area of emphasis under coach Joe Gibbs.

Last season, Washington committed eight turnovers in its first three games, resulting in a 1-2 start. This fall, the team has turned the ball over six times, a total that puts the Redskins in the top half of the league.

But Washington has surrendered just 10 points on those giveaways. Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys reaped 24 points off those turnovers.

"We've talked about turnovers and how they lose games for you," said quarterback Mark Brunell. "We've been real fortunate in that we've turned the ball over and yet we're finding ways to win games."

The Redskins' resolve will be tested today when they meet the Denver Broncos at 4:15 at Invesco Field at Mile High. The Broncos (3-1) have forced 10 turnovers - the third-best total in the league.

Part of Washington's success at retaining possession can be traced to Brunell at quarterback. Despite his age and questions about his effectiveness, Brunell, 35, has thrown just two interceptions. Last year, he lost two fumbles and was intercepted once in the first three games.

"He's doing a great job," offensive tackle Chris Samuels said of Brunell. "A lot of people thought he was out of gas with his career, but he's proving them wrong at this point."

Unlike season-opening starter Patrick Ramsey, who isn't regarded as a mobile quarterback, Brunell can tuck the football and run if his passing options are shut off. Among his 11 rushes for 49 yards are a 25-yard scramble against the Dallas Cowboys and an 18-yard run against the Seattle Seahawks - both of which led to touchdowns.

"Running is the last option," said Brunell, who has run for more than 2,300 yards and posted 15 rushing touchdowns. "You hope that your other options are there. You have two, three or four receivers after you go through your progressions, and if nothing is there, it's either throw it away or run."

On the flip side of the turnover topic is the Redskins' inability to cause take-aways. The defense has forced just two turnovers - only the Houston Texans (zero) and Ravens (one) have fewer.

In fact, Washington has joined the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers among the ranks of the unbeatens despite finishing on the negative side of the take-away/giveaway ratio in each of its first three games. The Redskins are the only team in the league with a winning record that owns a negative total in the take-away/giveaway ratio.

"I don't know how many teams have ever won three games and been on the minus side of the turnover ratio," Gibbs said. "It really concerns us and is something we have to address."

Today's opponent had problems protecting the ball last season. Twenty of Denver's 29 turnovers were interceptions tossed by quarterback Jake Plummer.

This year, however, Plummer has been intercepted just three times as the Broncos have put the ball in the hands of running backs Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell.

Anderson has rushed 62 times for 267 yards and one touchdown, and Bell has posted 154 yards on 33 carries. Together, they've helped Denver average 144.3 rushing yards a game - third best in the league - and win three consecutive games.

"It's definitely not going to be a cakewalk," said Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington. "We know that Denver is going to come out and be Denver. They're going to run the ball. If we're not ready to go, they'll hurt us."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

Keys to the game

CLINTON PORTIS

The Redskins' Portis, the NFC's eighth-leading rusher with 263 yards, should be plenty motivated today against the club that drafted and eventually traded him. But the Broncos have won their past three games by containing the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chiefs' Priest Holmes and the Jaguars' Fred Taylor en route to giving up just 79 rushing yards a game.

JAKE PLUMMER

Broncos quarterback Plummer has the arm strength and receiving corps to score points. But perhaps his greatest attribute is his ability to scramble out of the pocket and throw on the run or keep it for big gains. The Redskins' rush must keep Plummer in the pocket or risk getting burned.

MOSS AND PATTEN

Denver cornerbacks Champ Bailey (hamstring) and Darrent Williams (ankle) likely will play, but they won't be at 100 percent. If the Broncos will spell the duo with rookies Domonique Foxworth (Maryland) and Karl Paymah, that's a scenario Redskins receivers Santana Moss and David Patten would relish.

PREDICTION

Both teams have a lot riding on today's game, but Washington struggled on the road last season (3-5). Both defenses probably won't give up many points, but the law of averages would seem to dictate that another close finish might go against the Redskins. The bubble could burst today. Broncos 17, Redskins 14.

[Edward Lee]

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