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Redskins' Defense Is Bringing the Hurt

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The Redskins may have the reputation of being a "bend but don't break" defense but their strategy derives more from boxing than football.

Bend but don't break. That means yielding yardage, giving away turf, but then turning the opponent away at the goal line.

Certainly the Redskins do that. They allowed the Dallas Cowboys one offensive touchdown, the Philadelphia Eagles one, the Green Bay Packers one. Yet they rank last in the NFL in total defense, which measures only the yardage allowed.

Think back to Muhammad Ali for a moment when he defeated George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974. Ali recaptured the heavyweight championship by absorbing Foreman's many punches, taking the brunt of brute force but wearing the bigger man down before unleashing his own fury and putting him away in the eighth round.

That's the Redskins' defense. Might appear to be reeling but it knocks people out.

The Redskins sent St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson out of the game. KO'd Michael Vick and broke running back LeSean McCoy's rib in Philly. Battered the Packers, leaving quarterback Aaron Rodgers with a concussion.

"We're a team that flies around to the ball and when you play good teams, they're going to put the ball in the playmakers' hands so that's who has the ball and that's who we're going to hit the most. I think guys are just trying to make teams feel the pain, set a tone early and sustain that throughout," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander says.

Teams talk about forging their identity as the year unfolds. Pounding and hitting seem to be the new trademarks.

"That's Redskins football. That's the mentality, the will here," linebacker Chris Wilson said. "Not to hurt guys, but we play hard."

The Redskins attack the football in bunches. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall likes to call it "rat-packing" when the Redskins converge in a swarm. They've forced eight turnovers in five games, against 17 in 16 games last season.

Three of the teams the Redskins have played (Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia) rank in the top 10 in total offense. Green Bay is 12th. They've been up against some potent forces and they gave up some ground but they beat three of those four teams and severely limited their scoring.

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Case in point? The goal-line stand against the Packers. Leading 7-0 in the second quarter, the Packers faced a fourth-and-one from the Redskins 1-yard line. They elected to try to score a touchdown and Aaron Rodgers' pass for tight end Andrew Quarless hit Alexander in the helmet.

"We were fortunate to get that goal-line stand," Wilson says. "However, they got the yards to get down there. At the end of the day, you're looking at yards and no points."

Bend but don't break. Rope a dope. Take everything the other guy throws at you – an 85-yard drive made up of 10 plays that took 5:42 off the clock – and then knock him out. The Packers had the ball 11 more times and kicked two field goals and missed two field goals.

Every quarterback who has started against the Redskins so far has been to the Pro Bowl; the only non-qualifier was the Rams' Sam Bradford and he's a rookie (and was the overall No. 1 pick in the April draft).

That's proper preparation for the challenge Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning come to town. There's not any give in the schedule.

"It just doesn't get easy for us," Hall says. "It's great offense after great offense for us."

That's why they bend a bit. That's why they rank last in yards allowed. That's why that number means little to Manning as he studies the tape of the Redskins defense.

"I'm pretty sure any coach would tell you that points is all that matters," he says. "Same thing on the offensive side. If you're moving the ball and having a ton of yards and not scoring touchdowns in the red zone, it doesn't really matter. That's the bottom line. They're not giving up points and they're keeping teams out of the end zone."

It is the scoreboard and not the stat book that tells the final tale. You wanna argue? Knock yourself out.


Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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