By Mark F. Gray
Having worked through the never ending saga of Shanaworth during the offseason the Redskins appear to be farther along in one facet of the game that has held them back for the last decade. The distractions of personalities on the field and in the locker room may have actually become an asset rather than a liability heading into a week two showdown against the Houston Texans.
If there was a silver lining in the impasse between coach Mike Shanahan and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth it was that it forced the team to focus on the issues they can control. That appears to have given them a greater attention to detail and a new resilience which gave them an edge against the Cowboys and one they hope will help them complete the “Texas Two Step” against the Texans.
The contentious relationship between Shanahan and Haynesworth could have divided the locker room but seems to have brought the team together. Though some still resent the fact that Haynesworth didn’t build any camaraderie with his teammates by playing off the offseason team activities, the team has done anything but ostracize the round mound of can’t play more than two downs. The leaders – Donovan McNabb and London Fletcher – have set the tone of team policing by chiding him and standing up for him throughout.
When Clinton Portis went on a local sports talk and offered his sexist remarks about female reports in the locker room it was Haynesworth who came to his defense first. As reporters descended on Portis’ locker to get his reaction to the public response to his comments, Haynesworth ran the kind of interference that would make defensive coordinator Jim Haslett proud by putting tape on his mouth in a ceremonious gesture designed to symbolize thinking before you speak.
From “Coach Janky Spanky” to “Southeast Jerome” Portis outlandish characters and controversial remarks have endeared and alienated him in the past. Had the Redskins lost to the Cowboys this could have been the start of the snowball rolling downhill. But this is a different locker room that has been unified by a firm hand whose professionalism breeds confidence. While the organization was quick to put out the fire that Portis remarks may have caused, it is clear that his teammates understand that’s just “Clinton being Clinton”.
While last Sunday’s victory over the Cowboys was a character validation the Texans present an even greater challenge this week. Dallas was undisciplined and their game strategy was suspect. Houston is now confident after exorcising the demons of the Indianapolis Colts and they have weapons to attack them at the vulnerable spots in the Redskins defense. Arian Foster doesn’t figure to rush for more than 200 yards against Washington. However, Gary Kubiak should be able to exploit the vulnerability of the Redskins secondary by forcing safety Reed Doughty to cover Owen Daniels over the middle. Any adjustment they make to protect those seams could force man coverage by the corners which could lead to a massive game from Andre Johnson.
After their feel good week following the Cowboys win, it will be interesting to see if the new character and resilience of this locker room will generate another satisfying performance after the distractions of this week.
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