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Marshall Faces Toughest Assignment Yet

People still were filtering into Giants Stadium back on Week 8 when Tiki Barber latched on to his first touch of the day. He sprinted 57 yards and only a great play by Shawn Springs helped the Redskins avoid more damage.

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The point is that the Redskins had better plan to put the clamps on Barber very early on Saturday. A back like Barber? You can't let him have success early. You'll live to regret it.

When an opposing running back picks up 206 yards against you, as Tiki Barber did versus the Redskins back on Oct. 30, your middle linebacker has to take it personally.

Lemar Marshall has had a solid year in the middle for the Redskins but his biggest challenge is just ahead. Marshall will be charged with getting the Redskins' defense in its proper configuration Saturday afternoon when Washington hosts the NFC East-leading Giants.

He'll also have to make enough plays to contain Barber in the most vital regular-season game ever played at FedExField.

When the Redskins bashed Dallas 35-7 last Sunday, the fanfare went the way of Chris Cooley, Phillip Daniels, Mark Brunell and Marcus Washington. Very quietly, Marshall once again led the Redskins in tackles with nine. His game was sideline to sideline in execution and very professional in tone.

But now comes Barber, just off a 220-yard day in a 27-17 win over Kansas City, a team with a defense that had all sorts of trouble regarding the fine art of tackling.

In any event, Barber is now up to 1,577 yards, which is the Giants' all-time record, with two games left. The 5-10, 200-pound Barber, nine years removed from the University of Virginia, is being asked questions about the possibility he'll hit 2,000 yards in the 2005 campaign.

Barber's candidacy for MVP is likely to hit stiffer opposition Christmas Eve versus the Redskins than it did last week versus the Chiefs. That's because of Lemar Marshall and his teammates at linebacker.

Marshall played next to Antonio Pierce last season, a year in which Pierce established himself as a top-notch NFL linebacker.

The 6-2, 227-pound, fourth-year Marshall has taken on a challenge this year in terms of shifting to a more demanding position.

"When we entered this year, we had a lot of scenarios for middle linebacker," head coach Joe Gibbs said. "One of the most important ingredients to this year is Lemar's play at middle linebacker. He's very conscientious. It was a big step for him to go from starting outside to starting inside."

Heading into the Week 16 game against the Giants, Marshall leads the Redskins' defense in tackles with 117 (92 solo). He has two sacks and two interceptions.

Both Marshall and Pierce were valuable backups on the Redskins' defense in the 2002-03 seasons before finally getting a shot at starting jobs. Pierce injured an ankle two weeks ago as the Giants edged Philadelphia 26-23 in overtime.

"Lemar's become more vocal," said Washington, who now plays alongside Marshall. "He's been a leader for us and he's producing."

Says Marshall: "You just go out there, have fun and make sure everybody is on the same page. Sometimes that's probably the most difficult thing, for guys to be on the same page."

Back on Oct. 30, Marshall (12), Ryan Clark (11) and Walt Harris (10) all registered double digits in tackles. This time around, Marshall and the linebackers have to make sure Tiki Barber isn't allowed to sprint out of the gate.

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