The Redskins' secondary, sieve-like last season, had been shredded by Eli Manning, Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey in the process of turning a 17-3 halftime lead into a 24-17 loss to the New York Giants in its last game.
So naturally, the Redskins shut down the Lions' passing game as if they were a stone wall. At halftime, Detroit's Jon Kitna, who had been leading the league in passing yards, had completed 5-of-11 passes for 33 yards. By the time Washington completed its 34-3 thrashing of the Lions, Kitna had been picked off twice (one for a touchdown), thrown for just 106 yards and posted a pitiful 34.6 passer rating.
"If you disrupt their timing and play within your scheme, you might have a great day," said cornerback Carlos Rogers, who closed out the scoring with a 61-yard interception return for the first touchdown of his three seasons.
Rogers' score and right end Andre Carter's sack of Kitna for a safety in the third quarter meant that Washington's defense outscored Detroit's offense 9-3.
"I got tired of hearing about their offense all week," said left end Phillip Daniels. "No one talked about our defense. They've got weapons over there and Kitna's a good quarterback, but we were confident going into the game. We just came out and played the way we know we can play. As long as we keep playing like this, we can do some good things."
Washington's defense did plenty of good things in 2004, when it ranked third in the NFL, and 2005, when it was ninth and was the focal point in the Redskins' first playoff berth in six years. However, assistant head coach Gregg Williams' unit lost ace cornerback Shawn Springs for two months in the preseason opener and never recovered, winding up second-to-last in the league.
In response, Williams changed four starters, not re-signing weak-side linebacker Warrick Holdman and cutting middle linebacker Lemar Marshall and replacing them with 2006 second-rounder Rocky McIntosh and former St. Louis and Buffalo standout London Fletcher while drafting LaRon Landry sixth overall to end the revolving door at free safety and promoting Anthony Montgomery over fellow second-year tackle Kedric Golston. So far, the results have been promising with the next three games also against the excellent passing attacks of Green Bay, Arizona and New England.
The Redskins have allowed just 13 points and 268 yards a game after holding the Lions to just 144 yards. This even though Williams uncharacteristically didn't try to pressure Kitna with extra rushers, choosing to keep as many bodies in coverage as possible and trusting his front four (which came in with just 3.5 sacks) to get to the quarterback.
"How do you not let big chunks of yardage happen," Williams said of his pregame strategy. "When the front four is doing things they (were) doing, there was no need to (blitz). If we weren't effective with what we were doing, then we'd be asking how come I didn't blitz. Our offense was able to wear them down (22:14 time of possession in the first half) and get a lead (14-0 at halftime). We tackled very well and we were able to put pressure (on) with the front four. Those were the two single most important things going into the ballgame that we had to and we did that."