Special Effort

Clinton Portis deserves all the plaudits he receives today. He ran hard, he wiggled and squirmed and shot through holes

James Thrash could have pouted all season, watching his playing time diminish on offense. He didn't do that. Instead he focused on other ways he could help the Redskins. As big as Clinton Portis was in Sunday's 17-10 win over Detroit, James Thrash was equally big.

He returned a punt 43 yards, downed one punt at the 1and batted back two other punts that were downed at the 3. He covered well and he set a tone on special teams that others followed. Taylor Jacobs did -- he found a way to help by blocking a punt that Walt Harris returned for a score.

Thrash's effort is what Washington has needed. The Redskins have relied on defense all season. Sunday, they got help from special teams, allowing them to win two of the three phases. They had rarely done so in 2004, which is why they're only 3-5.

In essence, they did a Ravens: win with defense, special teams and a ball-control offense. I don't know how many more times that will work this season for them. But it worked Sunday.

Patient Portis: Clinton Portis deserves all the plaudits he receives today. He ran hard, he wiggled and squirmed and shot through holes. What I liked most of all was his patience, particularly on one sweep around right end. On the second play of the third quarter, Portis swept right end, with two blockers ahead of him. But a Lions linebacker waited for him to commit. Portis didn't, so the linebacker tried to squeeze inside -- and then Portis burst around the corner for a 21-yard gain. Excellent patience and a quick decision. It's hard to beat that combination in a running back.

Did you notice?: How many times the Redskins ran out of their bunched three tight end formation? It was quite often. Early in the game it was clear that when one of those three was a receiver, they would attempt to pass. If it were all tight ends, they would run. But they bucked that trend twice, once for a bootleg pass and another time on Portis' touchdown pass. That's good playcalling.

Did you also notice?: How much ground safety Sean Taylor can cover? Because of it, the Redskins could fool quarterback Joey Harrington. One play, it appeared Taylor would be in a Cover 2 zone. That would have left a fade down the right side a good pass. But on the snap Taylor raced over to cover a deep outside third, leaving the receiver covered and forcing Harrington to look elsewhere, eventually throwing incomplete. That's what a speedy safety can do.

Paying off: Cornelius Griffin has turned into the Defensive MVP based on his first-half performance. Griffin does a nice job staying low, getting into the backfield and disrupting plays. He also allows the linebackers to flow freely.

Run support: Linebacker Marcus Washington did a nice job of pinching the run back inside, as he's supposed to do. He gets upfield and squeezes backs lanes and the swarming defense does the rest.

Pocket presence: The Redskins' line finally gave Mark Brunell enough time and a decent pocket to throw from. It didn't help as he too often badly misfired. Patrick Ramsey's talents were more suited to this game than Brunell's. In other games Ramsey's lack of mobility makes it better for Brunell to play. But that's the problem. If these two passers combined talents they'd have a heck of a quarterback.

And another thing: I have doubts about Ramsey's ability to succeed behind this line. I also don't think the problems are Brunell's alone. But it's clear that after eight games the offense isn't working. A half-season's worth of struggling isn't a trend, it's reality.

Nice try: Corner Fred Smoot tried to say he was just slapping Marcus Washington on the fanny after a key tackle late in the first half, pinning Detroit inside the 3. But replays clearly showed Smoot joining in Washington's celebratory, um, dance. It wasn't Smoot's wisest moment. But we'll cut him some slack for how he's played this year. Just don't do it again.

Special teams honors: It wasn't just James Thrash excelling on special teams. Khary Campbell and Ade Jimoh had outstanding games here, too. Campbell made three nice tackles.


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