In the Redskins' 16-10, season-opening victory over Tampa Bay, the Washington defense gave a sneak peek of what was to come. The Redskins' defensive unit gave up a scant three points, coming in the form of a 47-yard Martin Gramatica field goal. The Bucs' leading receiver was a rookie, Michael Clayton, who caught seven passes for just 53 yards.
That's pretty much been the story for the Redskins this season. The schedule has called for the Redskins to face a host of talented wide receivers this season, among them Tampa Bay's Joe Galloway, Green Bay's Javon Walker, Cincinnati's Chad Johnson, Philadelphia's Terrell Owens, Pittsburgh's Hines Ward and Dallas's Keyshawn Johnson.
This Sunday, Minnesota's Randy Moss visits FedExField for the first time. The Vikings need a win to ensure a playoff berth, so even though Moss has struggled through injuries this season, he is expected to play.
Meantime, the Redskins' secondary is heading into this game with question marks at cornerback. Shawn Springs will start at one spot, but Fred Smoot is doubtful due to a lower back injury and backup Ade Jimoh is out with an ankle injury.
Veteran Walt Harris would likely start for Smoot. Undrafted rookies Garnell Wilds and Rufus Brown would then serve as the nickel and dime cornerbacks. Wilds has seen limited action on special teams this year, while Brown was activated from the practice squad this week.
Even though the Redskins have been challenged by first-rate wide receivers this season, rare has been the occasion in which an opposing wide receiver has had an outstanding game against Springs, Smoot, Sean Taylor and company.
In Week 2 against the Giants, Amani Toomer was held to six catches for just 54 yards. Another solid defensive effort on the part of the secondary came in Week 8 against the Packers at FedExField. In the Redskins' 28-14 loss to the Packers, they held Javon Walker to just 57 receiving yards. This season, Walker has posted four 100-yard receiving games and a 200-yard outburst.
Of all the wide receivers that the Redskins have faced this year, Springs said he felt the most difficult to shut down was probably Cincinnati's Johnson. The Redskins held Johnson to six catches for 89 yards.
Springs claims the defensive backfield can't spend too much time focusing on each opponent's top receiver. That allows a secondary threat to have a breakthrough game.
"Each week, we try not to take anybody for granted," Springs said. "Each week, somebody else will try to make a name for themselves."
Only two wide receivers have broken the 100-yard mark against the Eagles this season: Detroit's Az-Zahir Hakim and Philadelphia's Todd Pinkston. The Cowboys' Keyshawn Johnson logged nine catches for 84 yards last Sunday.
Only seven wide receivers have caught touchdowns against the Redskins' cornerbacks this season. For perspective, Peyton Manning seemingly throws four touchdowns to his wide receivers every weekend.
Springs and Smoot, now in his fourth season as a Redskin, have formed a starting cornerback tandem that has quickly become one of the best in the NFL. Adding to the depth at the position is Harris.
Smoot is the only one of those three players to see significant time with the Redskins prior to this season. It helps that between Smoot, Springs and Harris, they have a combined 21 years of NFL experience. Springs came to the Redskins after a seven-year stint with the Seahawks, while Harris had played eight years for the Bears and Colts.
Smoot was involved in one of the season's more spirited chapters during the Redskins' 13-10 victory over the Bears in Week 7. Playing with two bruised shoulders, he helped limit Chicago's leading receiver, David Terrell, to one catch for 10 yards.
When veteran safety Matt Bowen went down with an injury in Week 5, it left Taylor, the team's highly regarded top draft pick out of the University of Miami (Fla.) and first-year Redskin Ryan Clark as the starters. Backups Todd Franz and Pat Dennis also have contributed at the position.
Assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams feels comfortable with his interchangeable parts in the defensive backfield.
"Our secondary is pretty versatile," Williams said. "We have corners who can play safety and safeties who can play corner. That was one of the things we tried to do when we decided which players would be on our team. We play a lot of packages."
This week, Williams and his charges are planning for the always-dangerous Moss, a West Virginia native. The level of competition Moss brings represents a fitting end to the Redskins' regular season. What would be even more fitting would for the Redskins' secondary to limit the success of another talented wide receiver.