By Mark F. Gray
After what was described as either a “heated” or “animated” conversation with defensive coordinator Jim Haslett last week, DeAngelo Hall put the big play back into the Washington Washington Football Team defense in Chicago. Hall finally took command of the unit he called “his” defense with an NFL record four interceptions and the game winning touchdown to lead them to a 17-14 win and keep them within a half game of the New York Giants in the NFC east.
That Hall made history with those four interception speaks volumes about how schizophrenic Washington’s sportscenter corner can be. As was the case in the season opener against Dallas on any given Sunday he can earn a top play nomination. On others, however, he can blow assignments and give up game changing plays to opponents as was the case against the Colts the week earlier. However, in Soldier Field on Sunday Hall restored the big play factor to the Washington Football Team defense as the offense was stifled once again.
For the second time this year Hall scored the difference making touchdown to bail out their anemic offense. Donovan McNabb owes Hall a Chicago-style deep dish pizza for salvaging this homecoming. McNabb, who was inconsistent in the face of mounting pressure all game, gave up an interception return to D. J. Moore for the Bears touchdown. Hall’s 92 yard pick six in the third quarter evened in it up for him despite two others Washington couldn’t fully capitalize on.
McNabb was schizophrenic is his own right with his 17 of 32 200 yard performance with two interceptions. In fact, McNabb turned one of Hall’s interceptions into a scoring chance for the Bears but Washington’s defense stepped up and kept them out of the end zone by stuffing them inside the red zone.
The bright spot that continues to shine for the offense is Ryan Torain who ran for 125 yards against a Chicago defense which had been tough against the run. While the offensive line continues to struggle – with the exception of rookie Trent Williams – in pass protection they have gotten much better in the zone blocking scheme which has been a key to the rushing game’s emergence. Williams has been dominant against the top pass rushers this year and forced the Bears to move Julius Peppers around so he could get pressure against the others on the offensive front.
With Hall’s four interceptions and their two fumble recoveries the burgundy and gold defense has now already eclipsed the number of takeaways they had during the entire 2009 season. With the big plays as a byproduct of their physically imposing defense, Washington’s unit continues to emerge as the engine that drives this team.
Albert Haynesworth was back in the lineup Sunday and his presence was felt. He kept Jay Cutler out of the end zone with a jarring hit at the one yard line early in the second half that led to what became a game changing fumble. In addition to a sack he also delivered a crushing block on Hall’s interception return that was inspiring as well.
It remains to be seen if the offense can become as consistent as the defense over the final two months of the season. Perhaps Mike Shanahan, a noted offensive guru, has learned from his final days in Denver that defense wins in the NFL. Thanks to Hall and Haynesworth, Washington’s defense is proving statistics are for losers as they sit at 4-3.
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