Redskins-Cowboys: The "D" Showed Up in Big D, Just Not for the Cowboys

Craig Garrison SrSenior Analyst ISeptember 29, 2008

The statistics don't show it at first glance. The score doesn't indicate just how much the Washington Redskins' defense controlled the Dallas Cowboys. But make no mistake about it, the Redskins' defense shut down the "best offense in the NFL."

For the third week in a row, the Redskins' defense rose above the hype, found playmakers where there were previously none, and pressured a top-five offense into a less-than-top-five performance.

Unknown players like Chris Horton, Demetric Evans, Kedric Golston, Anthony Montgomery, Chris Wilson, Reed Doughty, Rob Jackson, and Leigh Torrence were all afterthoughts during the offseason in which they entered the NFL. But each has played major roles in the Redskins' defensive surge this season.

From undrafted free agents (Wilson, Torrence) to fifth, sixth, and even seventh-round draft picks, all of these men have found a home under defensive coordinator Greg Blache.

Entering Sunday's showdown with "the NFL's best team," the Redskins' defense couldn't boast a high ranking, the best pass rushers, the best cornerbacks, the best linebackers, or the best defensive linemen in the league. But they may now be able to boast that they play together as well as any other team in the NFL.

Blache only had four active cornerbacks on his gameday roster of defensive players. A surprising strategy, considering he was facing an offense that boasts "the most potent" weapons in the NFL. Many had stated that Cowboys' playmaking quarterback, Tony Romo, was on his way to being considered one of the top three or four quarterbacks in the NFL.

Some have taken that further, saying he is NOW the best OVERALL quarterback in the league.

But Blache and the Redskins were not intimidated. They knew what they could do. The players had absolute confidence in Blache and his gameplan, and they executed that plan very well.

Romo set a team record with another 300-yard passing game. The Cowboys' game-changing wide receiver, Terrell Owens, had seven receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Jason Witten, perhaps the best all-around player at his position in the NFL, had seven catches for 90 yards and a touchdown.

But these number were not indicative of the way the Redskins dictated what the Cowboys' offense would do on most every down.

While the Redskins did not record a single sack, Romo was pressured the entire game. Utilizing all eight active defensive linemen in a constant rotation to keep players fresh, the Redskins made Romo feel consistent heat.

He was able scramble skillfully and was able to get the ball out of his hands before any of the four, and sometimes five, pass rushers could make contact.

Rather than blitzing relentlessly, as the Philadelphia Eagles had done two weeks prior, giving up many big plays and quick scores, Blache slowed down Romo's downfield reads with a myriad of defensive looks.

Eight in the box, cover two, single high safety, man to man, man zone, underneath zone, and on and on, such that Romo was unsure enough with his pre-snap reads to make him hesitate ever so slightly on many dropbacks.

The result was another impressive, but little recognized, statistic: The Cowboys led the NFL last season in plays over 40 yards and seemed to be on their way to repeating that again this season. On Sunday, the Cowboys had plays of 26 yards, 23 yards, 22 yards, 21 yards (Witten touchdown), but none more than 26 yards. No big plays for the "Big Play Cowboys."

Cowboys' tight end Jason Witten is statistically the league's best third-down receiver. But on Sunday, Witten had only one catch on third down, and he was tackled shy of the first-down marker.

The Cowboys worked hard to put the ball in wide receiver Terrell Owens' hands early and often. Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett called as many as 18 plays that were intended for Owens. The Cowboys' only ran 58 offensive plays total. That's a full 31 percent of the offense run through Owens. Too much?

To make it even more difficult for the Redskins, underrated veteran cornerback Shawn Springs, who had blanketed Owens the entire first half, left the game early in the third quarter with a strained calf and did not return. But that adversity was heightened even more when fellow cornerback Fred Smoot was injured later in the third quarterback and sat out several series before returning in the fourth quarter.

Blache employed what the Redskins call their "cobra" package, commonly known as "big nickel" around the league, where there are three safeties on the field, two cornerbacks, and only two linebackers.

For the Redskins, two of those safeties were drafted in the sixth round or later. Very impressive for a team most "NFL insiders" consider one of the worst in regards to player management and selection.

The Cowboys also boast one the most powerful running backs in the NFL in Marion Barber. Barber finished the game with only eight carries for 26 yards. But with only two of those carries for more than three yards, the Redskins' defense forced Garrett and Romo into obvious passing situations through out the game.

The Redskins' defense stopped Barber for zero, minus one, one, three, and three yards on consecutive carries through the start of the third quarter. His last carry was with 1:50 left in the third quarter and was for no gain. 

Romo attempted 47 passes, creating a matchup most would have considered favored the Cowboys. But Blache had his group ready. And his group of misfits and draft-day afterthoughts made him and the Redskins look pretty good.

The Redskins defense hadn't given up more than 17 points yet this season. They hadn't given up a fourth-quarter score yet this season.

And with only three cornerbacks on the field, one of whom had come out of the game earlier after knocking himself silly on a Patrick Crayton tackle (Zorn would say after the game, "He was back in Ashburn when he got up, I think he thought he was on the practice field." "I did," Smoot agreed. "Then I looked up and we were in Texas Stadium, so it was time to play some football.").

Blache called for his defense to play a soft zone in an effort to force the Cowboys to use as much time as possible while they marched downfield in their comeback attempt. 

Following the game, Blache was DEFINSIVE when that final defensive series was brought up. "Prevent is a term you guys like to use," he said when asked, "Talk to me about your prevent defense..." by ComCast's Kelly Johnson.

He would continue, "We beat Dallas. Nobody else had beaten Dallas. So ya'll can call it what you want, we saw how they beat other people, and we kept them beatin' us."

Also credit Redskins' running back Clinton Portis (21 carries for 121 yards), quarterback Jason Campbell, and Zorn in helping the defense. The Redskins' offense held the ball for over 38 minutes in the game and had ZERO TURNOVERS.

Zorn utilized running back Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts to take more than 11 minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter, calling only three passes in the final stanza. Portis carried five times for 30 yards and Betts had seven carries for 20 yards in the fourth quarter.

The Redskins brought their defense to Irving, TX. They also brought a swagger that Redskin fans haven't seen in many years. And they go home with a win over a division rival, in a place where "they can't win," to a team no one thought they could beat, in a stadium that has produced nightmares for many Redskins players, coaches, and fans.

But most importantly, they leave with confidence, and perhaps take a little respect along as well. 


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