Jump to content
Washington Football Team Logo

SI: Gibbs' return overshadows Williams' outstanding defense


Recommended Posts

Secret weapon

Gibbs' return overshadows Williams' outstanding defense

September 12, 2004 8:35PM


LANDOVER, Md. -- Both the spotlight and the day belonged to Joe Gibbs on Sunday at FedEx-Field, and what else would you expect when the Redskins' retro head coach makes his ballyhooed return to an NFL sideline after an 11-year hiatus?

But don't believe all the hype, because the win, the first of Gibbs' surprise second Washington administration, belonged almost entirely to the defense and another of the Redskins' new coaching hires: assistant head coach/defense Gregg Williams.

With Gibbs back on the job, hope is a plentiful commodity in the nation's capital these days. Returning deities are all well and good. But if Redskins fans are honest about it, the most encouraging facet of Washington's ugly 16-10 opening-day win over Tampa Bay was the dominant debut turned in by Williams' defense.

"That defense coached itself silly,'' said Gibbs, tossing one of his several post-game kudos toward Williams and his defensive staff. "All I do is walk down there and scream, 'Stop 'em.' That's about it.''

That's about all Gibbs had to do on this day. The Redskins' aggressive, pressuring defense did the rest, with Williams expertly calling the shots for a unit that blitzed on at least 40 percent of its snaps against the befuddled Bucs. Maybe this wasn't exactly how the Redskins' return to glory was imagined under Gibbs, but I'm guessing the D.C. faithful will take it.

"I can't talk enough about the defense,'' Gibbs said. "Our defense played extremely well in the preseason, when our offense was sputtering pretty much. I was just praying we were going to have that kind of defense when we got to the regular season.

"Everybody saw it. They kept us in the game and made big plays, got turnovers, got sacks. I've got to tell you, that will be one of the best things that happens to all of Washington if we can develop a really good defense that way. I think we've got a chance.''

They've got a chance, all right, largely because Gibbs wasn't the only coaching comeback story going Sunday. Williams, fired in January as Buffalo's head coach after leading the Bills for three seasons, is again reminding us that he has one of the best defensive minds and track records in the league. Along with defensive coordinator Greg Blache, Williams quickly has molded a unit that has set a tough, tenacious tone in Washington, replacing the woefully underachieving attitude that prevailed in recent Redskins seasons.

"Our heart and soul is our defense right now,'' said Redskins middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, who started in place of the injured Michael Barrow and recorded the key fourth-quarter interception that set up John Hall's go-ahead 30-yard field goal with 8:55 remaining. "Coach Gibbs kind of said that when we first got together, that our defense was going to help us win games and be the reason we're going to win games.

"Coach Williams wants us to be physical and aggressive, and he's going to blitz us. He's not going to let the offense dictate to us. We're going to dictate to them. I think we showed Tampa that today. Coach Williams is an aggressive coach and a very smart coach and he's on top of his game. He just trusts in his players.''

While no one is ever going to mistake Tampa Bay's mostly horizontal version of the West Coast offense for the NFL's state-of-the-art attack, the Redskins defense made the Bucs look positively anemic on offense. Disguising their coverages and their blitz packages in a way that kept the Bucs off balance for much of the game, the Redskins defense held Tampa Bay's offense to just a field goal -- the first time that the Bucs didn't score an offensive touchdown when quarterback Brad Johnson started a Jon Gruden-coached game in the three season the duo have been together.

Check out these defensive highlights for Washington:

• Tampa Bay didn't record a first down on its opening five series, and had more points (three) than first downs (two) at halftime. Only once on their 13 possessions did the Bucs record more than one first down in a drive. Tampa Bay finished with 10 first downs, and scored its only touchdown on defense, when cornerback Ronde Barber returned a third-quarter Mark Brunell fumble 9 yards to tie the game at 10-10.

• The Redskins forced nine Josh Bidwell punts, limited the Bucs rushing game to a paltry 30 yards on 15 carries, with a long gain of seven yards by Charlie Garner, and gave up just 169 total net yards, that's the lowest net yardage in Gruden's three seasons in Tampa Bay. In the first quarter, Tampa Bay had just 10 yards of offense, compared to 145 for Washington.

• Tampa Bay was 3-of-13 on third downs (23 percent), and the Bucs' biggest gain in the passing game was a 24-yard second-half completion to tight end Rickey Dudley.

• Johnson was sacked four times for 30 yards, losing a first-quarter fumble that was caused by blitzing strong safety Matt Bowen and recovered by Redskins defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin. On Pierce's interception, pressure straight up the middle from defensive tackle Jermaine Haley forced Johnson's poor throw. Bowen later sacked Johnson a second time, ending the Bucs' last best chance to rally from a 13-10 deficit with under six minutes remaining.

"The big thing today was we wanted to know who's defense was going to come out on top at the end of the day, us or Tampa's,'' Pierce said. "I haven't seen the stats yet, but in the end it looked like us.''

None of which really should have come as a shock to anybody, given that the Redskins were playing Williams' brand of attacking, aggressive defense throughout most of the preseason. Remember those early blitzes against Michael Vick and Atlanta in the preseason finale, the ones that prompted Falcons head coach Jim Mora to yank Vick after just six snaps?

"I'm loving life,'' said Williams, asked about his return to the assistant coaching ranks. "It's great, this is what I do. You get a chance to be a head coach because you're good at other things, but I enjoy doing this.''

And why not? Defensive football can be fun when you're creating fumbles, interceptions and sacks. And winning because of it.

"We got a chance to play aggressive today,'' Williams said. "We talk about flipping the field. We tied for the league lead in takeaways in the preseason. Joe Gibbs' teams take the ball away and protect the football. He preaches that every day, and we monitor it every day in practice.''

Pierce, Bowen and the rest of the Redskins defenders love playing for Williams, because he turns them free to make things happen in his system. Gibbs' offensive pedigree might wind up making for a brighter future in Washington, but Williams' résumé on defense is dominating the present.

"If you work hard for Gregg, he's going to put you in position to make plays,'' Bowen said. "I think everyone likes the way he coaches. He doesn't have favorites. He doesn't play favorites. We have a defensive team, and he expects guys to work hard and make plays. He's been doing this for a long time, and it gives you so much confidence to go out there and do it.''

On Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Redskins' defense went out there and did it, all game long, bringing Gibbs' celebrated return to a successful finish. The win goes on Gibbs' career record, making him 141-65 as the Redskins' head coach. But in Washington this season, Williams and his defense might have as much to do with winning as anyone.


Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...