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During its last two games the Washington Redskins defense faced arguably the two best running backs in the NFL. And while the team lost both games, the statistics looked surprisingly good for the Skins.
Against Minnesota two games ago, the Skins defense held Adrian Peterson under 80 yards rushing, though "AD" found the end zone twice. Similarly against Philadelphia last week, LeSean McCoy was held for under 80 yards rushing, only "Shady" also found the end zone twice. McCoy added four passes for another 73 yards through the air.
In comments this week, the Redskins coaching staff seemed pleased with the defensive efforts against Peterson and McCoy.
"I think we have some confidence that we’ve got the capabilities to stop the run, but you’ve got to go out there and get it done," head coach Mike Shanahan said on Thursday at Redskins Park.
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Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett made similar comments regarding facing Peterson and McCoy, and knows his squad faces another tough challenge in San Francisco running back Frank Gore.
"Getting him down wasn’t the easiest part but I thought we did a good job on McCoy," Haslett said. "We’ve faced three of the best in the league back-to-back-to-back here, so I think Frank is different than Peterson and obviously McCoy is a jump around guy and he jump-cuts you and all that."
Peterson probably ranks as the best talent at running back in the league, a unique combination of size, speed, power and burst. McCoy is more elusive and shifty. Both are tough to tackle. Gore presents a different challenge. He has neither the speed of Peterson nor the shiftiness of McCoy, but he runs hard, and straight at would-be tacklers.
"This is a violent runner who goes downhill," Haslett said of Gore. "He hides behind people. He has great power and strength, great leg drive."
After two straight seasons of more than 1,200 yards rushing, Gore comes into the matchup with the Skins averaging about 75 yards per game. He has also scored seven touchdowns this season. Because the San Francisco offense struggles at times to pass the ball, many believe stopping Gore could be the key to a Redskins victory.
"It’s a different type of guy, but we’ve seen three of the best the last three weeks so this is a great test for us because I think we’ve done a pretty good job on the other two," Haslett said. "He’s got great leg strength and drive and I think that’s our challenge. When you get to him, you better be able to tackle him."
In its last two games, both losses, the Skins defense has given up more than 700 yards and only generated one turnover. Shanahan and Haslett built the defense around playmakers capable of getting the ball, and in turn the unit allows yardage. To beat San Francisco, slowing Gore would help, but creating turnovers might be the biggest key. In Washington's three wins this season, the defense has recorded five turnovers.
"We’ve got to take care of business," Haslett said. "It doesn’t make a difference how many games are left, how many days are left, what the season is, what the record is, you’ve got to go out and play every snap like it’s the last one."