For the last two seasons, the Redskins' run defense has been among the best in the NFL. The defense entered Sunday's game at Denver ranked fifth in the NFL against the run. But the unit gave up two long touchdown runs to Broncos' running back Tatum Bell--helping the Broncos to a 21-19 win at Invesco Field at Mile High.
Bell finished the game with 127 yards on 12 carries. As a team, the Broncos rushed for 165 yards on 28 carries, a 5.9-yard average.
It was the first time the Redskins' defense had allowed a 100-yard rusher since Nov. 28, 2004, when Jerome Bettis ran for 100 yards on 31 carries in a 16-7 loss at Pittsburgh. Baltimore's Jamal Lewis and Cincinnati's Rudi Johnson are the only other backs to run for 100-plus yards against the Redskins since assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams took over.
Bell's first touchdown came in the first quarter. On a 4th-and-1 play at the Redskins' 34-yard line, Denver head coach Mike Shanahan decided to go for it. Bell took a handoff and shifted left, avoiding a tackle in the backfield. He weaved past linebacker Warrick Holdman along the left sideline and into open field, racing into the end zone for the game's first score.
In the third quarter, Bell scored again on a long touchdown run. He broke loose along the right sideline for a 55-yard touchdown run, putting the Broncos in the lead by a 21-10 margin. Bell followed a block by tight end Nate Jackson, who pushed aside Marcus Washington to free the second-year running back.
On the second touchdown run, Broncos' quarterback Jake Plummer checked out of a pass play after he noticed the Redskins in blitz formation.
Williams blamed both touchdown scores on missed tackles.
"We had several opportunities to get him down," he said. "When you're on the road like that, you can't miss tackles and expect to win a close game.
"We can't allow those long runs on defense. We have to finish plays. I thought our guys played hard, but you can't make the mistakes that we made."
Entering the game, there was plenty of focus on stopping the Broncos' rushing attack. It's been successful through the years no matter who is the running back--something of which Redskins running back Clinton Portis has firsthand knowledge.
"They have the stretch run," Portis said. "You have to stay disciplined if they bootleg. If you chase the bootleg and they hand the ball off, then you're in trouble. They execute so well. They have perfected that system. It's hard to stop."
Before the game, safety Ryan Clark said the Broncos running game isn't designed for long gainers like the ones that Bell had on Sunday.
"They have very good run schemes," Clark said. "It's a straight-ahead scheme, even though it looks like it is side-to-side. That gives the running backs a lot of options for where they can go. They pick their holes. If they pop a long run, they do. But it's really not a home run offense."
Cornerback Shawn Springs credited the Broncos' offensive line.
"They block well," he said. "They have a system. Just like Pittsburgh has had years of great linebackers, Denver has great lineman."
-- PRE-GAME INACTIVES
Cornerback Walt Harris was declared inactive for Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos and rookie cornerback Carlos Rogers started in Harris's place for the second week in a row.
For the Broncos, cornerback Champ Bailey was also among the pre-game inactives and did not play against his former team. The Broncos started a pair of rookie cornerbacks in Darrent Williams and Domonique Foxworth.
Harris had been downgraded to doubtful last due to a lingering calf injury. He had not practiced all week leading up to the game.
Harris was also sidelined last week in the Redskins' 20-17 overtime win over the Seattle Seahawks. Rogers saw the bulk of playing time at cornerback, opposite starter Shawn Springs.
Of Rogers performance in the Seahawks game, assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said: "I think he stepped up like we thought he would. He is right on pace to playing the way we think our corners need to play. Each game he is going to get better."
In Denver, Rogers was matched up against Ashley Lelie, a 6-3, 200-pound wide receiver who caught 54 passes for 1,084 yards last season. Entering Sunday's game, he had 10 catches for 108 yards.
"Carlos saw another style of receiver and another style of offense in Denver," Williams said. "I think that [secondary coaches] DeWayne Walker and Steve Jackson have done a very good job with him."
Along with Harris, the Redskins also declared the following players inactive: kicker John Hall, offensive lineman Jim Molinaro, linebacker Zak Keasey, defensive lineman Nic Clemons and Aki Jones and running back Nehemiah Broughton.
The third quarterback was Jason Campbell.
Along with Bailey, the Broncos listed the following players as inactive: wide receiver David Terrell, cornerback Roc Alexander, linebacker D.J. Williams, center/guard Chris Myers, defensive linemen Monsanto Pope and Marco Coleman and tight end Nate Jackson.
The Broncos only carry two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster. Behind starter Jake Plummer, the backup was Brad Van Pelt.
-- ROGERS, JIMOH STEP UP
When Springs was sidelined with a shin injury in the first quarter, the Redskins' defense was suddenly down to two cornerbacks: Rogers and third-year player Ade Jimoh, who has played mostly special teams in his tenure with the Redskins.
Williams admitted that he was surprised that the Broncos' offense didn't attack Rogers and Jimoh more. Plummer was 10-of-25 for 92 yards in the game. Jimoh was beaten on a touchdown pass against Ashley Lelie in the second quarter, but otherwise held his own, Williams said.
"I thought Ade Jimoh came in and played strong," Williams said. "He really did. Carlos stepped up and played strong. They both made some young mistakes, but they also made some good plays too in the ballgame. Carlos played real physical against the run."
As for Springs, his status will be updated on Monday. His shin had been bothering late last week in practice and it appeared he re-aggravated the injury on Sunday.
Harris has missed the last two games with the calf injury. If neither Springs or Harris are available, the Redskins will likely be forced to sign a cornerback to the roster.