Pushing for respect, defense spins wheels; Cardinals' numbers stain signs of progress for unit; Redskins notebook


ASHBURN, Va. -- Was the Washington Redskins' defense that good or was the Arizona Cardinals' offense that bad?

The Redskins (4-1), whose defense still ranks last in the NFL, would prefer the first perspective after gaining confidence by holding an opponent under 20 points this season for the first time and limiting Arizona to 274 yards of total offense in a 24-10 victory.

Nevertheless, the defense has found itself in a no-win situation with its critics, since the Cardinals entered the game averaging 14 points and 238 yards and lost quarterback Jake Plummer in the third quarter to a broken finger that will keep him out four to six weeks.

The Redskins, who have yet to beat a team with a winning record, realize that they won't silence doubters until they slow a top-notch offense.

"People say, well the Cardinals are not as good on offense as they were last year and it wasn't a real test," Washington coach Norv Turner said. "Hey, a year ago, they scored 29 and 45 points against us. They got 10 in this game. So, you have to feel good about that."

Just don't give too much credit to newly hired defensive specialist Bill Arnsparger. The more important factor was the bye week.

Two new defensive starters, linebacker Shawn Barber and cornerback Champ Bailey, had exhibited signs of tiring after four preseason and four regular-season games. Coming off a week of rest, Barber made a game-best 10 tackles in a focused effort, including a sack that sent Plummer out of the game, and Bailey, 21, became the youngest player in NFL history to intercept three passes in a game.

"We can't always count on our offense to score 50 points," Barber said. "It was a pride thing for us."

Targeting the Cowboys

The Redskins returned on a red-eye flight and Turner gave his players off until tomorrow. But don't expect a lackadaisical performance Sunday in Dallas. The Cowboys beat the Redskins a month ago, 41-35, on Rocket Ismail's 76-yard touchdown reception in overtime. The Redskins lead the Cowboys by a game in the NFC East.

"That game sticks with you," Turner said. "The way I approached our team after that game was the only way you get that feeling out of you is to win the next Sunday."

Injury front

Stephen Davis, who leads the NFC with 491 rushing yards, is listed as day-to-day with a sprained left ankle that he suffered early in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals and that sidelined him for the rest of the game.

Davis declined to go into detail about how injury felt yesterday. Trainer Bubba Tyer said Davis could practice tomorrow and should be able to play Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Redskins are more concerned about defensive end Ndukwe Kalu, their young third-down pass-rushing specialist who fractured his foot and is out for Sunday.

One possible solution would be to move Kenard Lang back to the outside in their nickel defense and insert Dan Wilkinson, who usually rests on passing situations, in the middle.

"You don't want to have injuries," Turner said. "But if you have one like that, you have a good answer for it."

Punch line

The offense had its lowest-scoring showing of the season on Sunday but still gained 410 total yards. Most of the thanks could go to the offensive line, which run-blocked well and allowed just one sack against blitz-happy Arizona.

As a result, the Redskins set season highs for rushing yards (167) and time of possession (34: 22).

End zone

Against Arizona, quarterback Brad Johnson threw his first interception as a Redskin, ending his career-best string of 126 passes without a pick.

Pub Date: 10/19/99

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