'Skins still in must-win mode as they visit unbeaten Colts

Washington hopes to make inroads vs. NFL's worst rush defense

October 22, 2006|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun reporter

The Washington Redskins lead the NFL in one category this season, however unofficial.

No team has played in as many "must" games.

Starting with a couple of seemingly meaningless exhibitions, the Redskins have constantly been in the mode of needing to win, whether it was to help repair their frazzled psyche or simply to keep pace with other teams in the NFC East when it comes to challenging for a playoff spot later on.

After losing two straight games that fell somewhere in that category - to the Tennessee Titans last Sunday at home and to the New York Giants two weeks ago at the Meadowlands - Washington (2-4) finds itself facing a similar scenario today when it plays the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts (5-0) at the RCA Dome.

Going into the Tennessee game, Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell did not think his team was in a must-win situation, but that loss has changed things for him.

"It's very obvious, we need a win," said the beleaguered Brunell. "We're certainly not where we thought we'd be, but hope is not lost. We have an opportunity to face a very good team, and hopefully come away with a win. They're one of the best, if not the best team in the NFL right now."

Said running back Clinton Portis: "We would love to be spoilers. Hopefully they overlook us, they find a way to come not fully prepared. We need this win; they don't."

The Titans' performance two weeks ago in Indianapolis gives the Redskins a sliver of confidence that they can beat the Colts. By running the ball, and keeping the Colts' offense off the field, Tennessee went out to a 10-0 lead at halftime.

Only some late-game heroics from Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning helped the Colts survive, 14-13.

"We want to get the ball down the field. We want to run the ball. There's a lot of things that we want to do," Brunell said. "There's a lot of things that we go into each game with a mind-set of doing. Unfortunately at this point, we haven't been able to do that. We need some consistency, especially with the run. Hopefully that opens up some opportunities in the passing game."

Said Redskins coach Joe Gibbs: "I think when we look at them [the Colts defense], they're very, very good at what they do. I didn't even know what their stats were. I'll tell you this, they're hard to prepare for on defense. They're very quick; they've got Pro Bowl players over there. I know we'll have our hands full."

The Titans, who had the lowest-ranked rushing defense in the NFL, held Washington to 125 yards on the ground at FedEx Field on only 26 carries. The Redskins know they need to run the ball more, and hold on to the ball longer, to have any chance to beat Indianapolis, which has replaced Tennessee at the bottom among rushing defenses.

Portis, who was held to 58 yards on just 14 carries against the Titans, voiced his frustration last week about the team's running game, saying he would like the same opportunity and same types of plays called as he got against the Jacksonville Jaguars three weeks ago.

In a 36-30 overtime win, Portis rushed 27 times - mostly between the tackles - for 112 yards and one touchdown.

"If they've got the worst running defense, you know they're going to work on that and try to come up with something we haven't seen," Portis said. "We know we've got to keep Peyton off the field. We know we've got to keep Marvin [Harrison] and Reggie Wayne off the field. The only way to do that is for us to stay on the field."

Trying to stop the Colts is where the Redskins could be in trouble, because their defense is banged up. The Redskins might be without pass-rushing defensive end Cornelius Griffin for the second straight week and will not have cornerback Carlos Rogers, who broke his thumb against Tennessee.

"It's a challenge that you want. It's why you play this game, to play against the best," said defensive tackle Phillip Daniels. "Nobody wants to play against somebody you can push around."

Said Gregg Williams, the team's assistant head coach for defense: "You've got to play very sound. You've got to make sure you minimize explosive plays. This is a good test for us."

And another must game.

don.markus@baltsun.com

Keys to the Game

In a Corner

Veteran cornerback Shawn Springs has picked up the pace in his return after missing nearly two months after abdominal surgery. Though Springs has played well in practice this week, whether he can make it through a full game covering the likes of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne is another matter.

Brunell's Last Stand

With the bye week approaching, the Redskins will have to decide whether it's time to prepare second-year quarterback Jason Campbell for his first NFL start Nov. 5 against Dallas. It seems doubtful that Mark Brunell is going to put up the kinds of numbers against the Colts that will ensure his keeping his job.

Another Dose of Manning

Two weeks after Eli Manning showed his potential for becoming an All-Pro quarterback, the Redskins will get to face big brother Peyton, who has been an All-Pro in three of his first seven seasons. Though he doesn't have Edgerrin James blocking or running for him anymore, Manning could throw for 400 yards against Washington's depleted secondary.

[Don Markus]

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