Portis, Jason Campbell, and Head Coach Jim Zorn have helped the Redskins' offense gain a lot of ink this year, but the real story is on the other side of the ball.
Now, before the "Portis Posse" starts lighting up the comments, let me be clear: There's no question he's having a stellar year. But the key to the Redskins' winning ways in tight games this year—and their hopes of hanging onto that sixth NFC playoff spot—isn't in the hands of an offense averaging 18.3 ppg with Portis who has a very, very talented and capable backup in Ladell Betts.
The Redskins' postseason plans rest with their defense, currently ranked third in the NFL, holding opponents to 18.1 ppg.
The critical stretch for the Redskins so far this year was a 6-1 run between Weeks Two and Eight, during which time Washington secured road wins at division foes Dallas and Philadelphia, as well as a tight win over Cleveland at home and a key win over NFC West leader Arizona at FedEx Field.
Linebacker London Fletcher and safeties LaRon Landry and Chris Horton (a sensational rookie) have combined career seasons with solid play on the line and an injury-plagued but capable rotation at the corners and outside linebackers to get the Redskins through their toughest contests.
Against Cleveland, Fletcher and crew stuffed Jamal Lewis and shut down the Browns' offense on four consecutive attempts from the one yard line. Washington won by two points.
In a 24-17 win over the Cardinals, Portis only gained 68 yards, but Kurt Warner was held under 200 yards passing and the Cardinal's rushing game was shut down by Fletcher and company.
And in a two-point win over Dallas, the Redskins held the entire Dallas rushing attack to under 50 yards, including only 26 yards for Marion Barber. Fast-forward to the second Dallas-Washington matchup just a couple weeks ago: Dallas leaves FedEx Field with a 14-10 victory thanks to a 114 yard rushing performance by Barber.
Fletcher's leadership has been key all season, but Horton may be the most critical addition. His emergence as a consistent performer at strong safety has freed up LaRon Landry to show his athleticism and exceptional field speed, roaming the deep middle.
Less than a year after the tragic loss of Sean Taylor, Horton has restored the Redskins' safety tandem to one of the best in the NFL.
Gutsy performances have come from a crew of solid corners—Springs, Smoot, Rogers and now the controversial DeAngelo Hall—battling various injuries. A similar mix of consistent contributors have delivered at outside linebacker, including Rocky McIntosh, Marcus Washington, H.B. Blades, and Khary Campbell.
There is no better opportunity for the Redskins defense to show their colors than this Sunday when they host the 10-1 defending Super Bowl Champion Giants. Keep an eye on Fletcher, Landry, Horton, and company when the Giants have the ball.
If they can hold the Giants to 16 points, as they did in Week One, then Portis (or Betts), Campbell and crew need only post their (rather pitiful) season average of 18.3 points to pull off a critical upset.