Defensive Performance Cause for Optimism

Forget the return of Clinton Portis and Chris Samuels, the best game as a Redskin for Antwaan Randle El and Shaun Suisham's game-winner, the best news in Washington's 16-13 overtime squeaker over Miami was the defense.

It's too soon to say that Gregg Williams' defense has recaptured the form that made it one of just two in the NFC to rank in the NFL's top 10 in 2004-05, but it certainly looks leagues better from the unit that was the conference's worst in 2006.

The Redskins throttled Miami's running game, holding former No. 2 overall pick Ronnie Brown to 32 yards on 11 carries and the Dolphins as a whole to 66 yards on 20 runs.

And while former Redskin quarterback Trent Green had a solid day throwing the ball for Miami, his 38 throws and 24 completions were largely of the dink-and-dunk underneath variety. If Fred Smoot hadn't dropped a sure interception with nothing but 35 yards of grass ahead of him in the final minute of regulation, the defense would've won the game instead of having the offense and Suisham do so in overtime.

London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh, the new starting linebackers, combined for 23 tackles. Fletcher, who previously ran Williams' defense in Buffalo, was active in getting his defensive mates in the right spots pre-snap and is a step up over former starter Lemar Marshall, who was out of place in the middle. McIntosh is still lacking in pass coverage but he was all over the field much more than predecessor Warrick Holdman ever was.

After a near-invisible rookie year, Anthony Montgomery started ahead of Kedric Golston at right tackle. Neither made the stat sheet, but they helped clog the middle the way that released former tackle Joe Salave'a used to. Cornelius Griffin, who said that he feels better than he has in a couple of years, played well next to the youngsters.

Safety LaRon Landry, who one-upped fellow first-rounders corner Carlos Rogers and safety Sean Taylor, in starting his NFL debut for Williams, didn't flash the way he did in preseason but he wasn't a liability like the departed Adam Archuleta, whose horrible play symbolized all that went wrong for Washington's defense in 2006.

And even on a down day, once-and-again Redskin Smoot is more of a playmaker than Kenny Wright was while trying to replace the injured Shawn Springs last season.

Right end Andre Carter, who finished 2006 with a rush after a rough first three months, picked up where he left off with a sack, giving him five in his past six games after he managed just two in his first 11 contests in burgundy and gold.

Left end Phillip Daniels batted down Green's pass on the opening play, setting the tone. Miami's six first-half series produced just four first downs and 75 yards before finally scoring on a gamble as time expired in the first half.

Strong side backer Marcus Washington wasn't his Pro Bowl self, but he was gutsy just playing three weeks after dislocating his elbow.

Springs hit Jesse Chatman so hard that the running back stayed down for a while. Fellow cornerback Carlos Rogers had his share of mistakes but also saved four points by dragging down Marty Booker at the 1-yard line on third-and-goal from the 5 late in the third quarter.

"We played the way I thought we would," Williams said with characteristic confidence. "I was super-happy with 23 tackles from London and Rocky. We laid the wood. We ran fast. We challenged the receivers. Our four-man rush moved [Green] off the spot. The quarterback never was set."

The Dolphins aren't the Eagles -- who are up next for the Redskins -- on offense. They're not even the Giants, who come calling on Sept. 23. So it's certainly not set that Washington's defense is back to its old self. But for a start, Williams isn't the only one who'll take it.

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