For Redskins, `D' is failing grade

Washington's defense is now having trouble stopping the run, preventing big plays

Pro Football


ASHBURN, Va. -- It was difficult to tell what caused Phillip Daniels more pain: his sprained left ankle or the Washington Redskins' recent defensive woes.

Big plays, an inability to stop the run and missed tackles have dogged the defense in recent weeks. Things may only get worse Sunday night when the 4-3 Philadelphia Eagles bring the NFL's eighth-ranked offense to FedEx Field.

"There's no excuse," said Daniels, the starting right defensive end. "We've got to go out there and stop whatever they put out on the field against us. We've got to go out there and whatever we see, play it and not have the mistakes we've had, like bad angles and missed tackles and stuff like that."

Long considered to be Washington's strongest unit, the defense has taken a step backward from the corps that was known last year for stuffing the run and preventing the big plays.

This season, the Redskins (4-3) have surrendered 19 plays of 20 yards or more - slightly ahead of last year's pace when the defense gave up 40 such plays. However, five of those plays have resulted in touchdowns, matching the same number the unit allowed for the entire 2004 campaign, and nine have occurred in the past three games.

"I guess we've been consistent the past few weeks - we're giving up big plays," safety Ryan Clark joked without much of a smile. "We work at practice, we run to the ball, we do tackling drills and everything you're supposed to do to be a good team. But something's been missing on Sunday. We've got to find it out soon."

One possible move to solidify the defense could be the return of linebacker LaVar Arrington to the starting lineup.

Another area of concern has been the defense's inability to stop the run. The New York Giants' Tiki Barber gouged the unit for a career-best 206 rushing yards in Sunday's 36-0 loss, forcing the Redskins to tumble from 15th against the run to 25th.

Opponents have scored six rushing touchdowns against Washington. They scored seven on the ground last year.

The Eagles are ranked first in the NFL in passing and last in rushing, but with wide receiver Terrell Owens (sprained ankle) listed as doubtful for Sunday's game, Daniels said he expects to see a lot of Philadelphia running back Brian Westbrook.

"I'm pretty sure [the Eagles' game plan] might change this week," Daniels said. "They've seen teams get some runs on us. Until we put the fire out, I think they'll change."

Said Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb: "You could say yeah, and you could say no. I really don't know. Last week, I think we opened up the run a little bit more [19 carries for 79 yards in a 49-21 loss to the Denver Broncos]. Obviously, that doesn't stand out as much because of the result of the game, but it's something we've obviously been focusing on."

Coach Joe Gibbs, who tends to focus solely on the offense, has been paying more attention to the defense and said part of the unit's problem may stem from being too aggressive.

"We'd come up and we probably have a chance to get the guy down, but we try and explode on him and miss the tackle," Gibbs said. "There's all kinds of things like that. So does it concern us? Yeah. We don't want to give up big plays. Our players are smart. That's one that we hopefully can fix."

Injuries have also taken a toll on the defense. Only free safety Sean Taylor has started all seven games in the secondary, and now injuries to Daniels and defensive tackles Cornelius Griffin (strained hip flexor), Joe Salave'a (plantar fasciitis), Cedric Killings (high ankle sprain) and Aki Jones (sore hamstring) could further deplete the Redskins' ability to stop the run.

But several players won't use injuries as an excuse and argued that this season's defense is the same unit that finished last season ranked third in the NFL in yards allowed.

"Nothing's changed from last year to this year," middle linebacker Lemar Marshall said. "The guys are there. We've just got to make that play. That's all I see from every loss that we've had."

Eagles@Redskins Sunday, 8:30 p.m., Ch. 20, ESPN, 1430 AM, 106.7 FM Line: Redskins by 3

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