ASHBURN, Va. - The Washington Redskins' defense is not yet a masterpiece, and that suits Jessie Armstead just fine.
Armstead, who knows a thing or two about suffocating defenses, is well aware that the Washington squad that gave up 23 points to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday is not a true representation of his unit's potential.
And that's why Armstead isn't tossing a few helmets or lighting up his teammates after the Redskins opened the season with an eight-point home victory over Arizona.
"I think we'll keep defining ourselves as the season goes on," he said. "You can't start out on top of the mountain. Right now, we're still a long way from the peak."
Washington (1-0) will have to elevate its game beginning tonight, when the reigning NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles visit FedEx Field for a divisional meeting before a national television audience on Monday Night Football.
Philadelphia, which boasts a Most Valuable Player candidate in quarterback Donovan McNabb and other offensive weapons like running back Duce Staley and wide receiver James Thrash, will be hungry to even its record after falling, 27-24, to the Tennessee Titans last week.
A Redskins win would give the team a two-game lead over the Eagles, but Washington seeks to correct a few errors from the Cardinals game.
First, the Redskins want to cut down on the big plays that chew up yardage and sustain drives. Arizona quarterback Jake Plummer threw five passes that gained 15 yards or more, and four of those strikes came on scoring drives that produced 16 points.
"We gave up big plays that we would like to eliminate," said free safety David Terrell. "It wasn't exactly where we probably wanted to be, but we think we played good enough to win obviously."
Washington will try to turn the heat up on McNabb, one of the league's most elusive quarterbacks who can run as well as he throws.
McNabb, who threw for 3,233 yards and 25 touchdowns last season, was third among Philadelphia rushers with 482 yards and tied for first with two touchdowns.
Redskins middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who played with McNabb for three years, is all too familiar with his former teammate's talents.
"He's a guy who can hurt you in multiple ways - passing the ball, running the ball," said Trotter, who left the Eagles to sign with Washington in April as an unrestricted free agent. "He's a guy that definitely looks to pass first and run second. When you've got that type of athletic ability, it's hard to contain."
Tennessee proved that a smothering attack can limit McNabb, as the Titans sacked the quarterback six times, forced a fumble and harassed him into throwing two interceptions.
The Redskins didn't record a sack against Plummer and a Cardinals offensive line that isn't considered to be strong.
But the Eagles' offensive line is battered. Left guard John Welbourn will miss four to six weeks after breaking his left leg in the first quarter of the Tennessee game, and right tackle Jon Runyan is questionable for tonight with a sprained foot.
Besides, Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis doesn't put much weight on sacks.
"Last week, we did a great job pressuring the quarterback," Lewis said, noting that Plummer completed only 39 percent (14 of 36) of his passes. "On the other hand last week, I think McNabb completed 50 percent [18 of 36] of his. We had Jake Plummer less than 50. I will take that every week."
Pressure will have to come from someone other than Daryl Gardener. The defensive tackle is battling chronic back pain and may sit out. Carl Powell and Del Cowsette could get considerable playing time.
Before the season, much of the spotlight was on coach Steve Spurrier and his vaunted Fun 'N Gun offense. But the defensive unit understands that making a stand before a national audience will go a long way toward convincing the doubters.
"I think the best thing we can do is come back this week and work even harder," said defensive end Renaldo Wynn. "This is Monday night in our home stadium. This would be the game that we definitely want to come out and show everybody what we're all about."
Site:FedEx Field, Landover
TV/Radio:Chs. 2, 7/WJFK (106.7 FM)
Line:Eagles by 3