A review of the best and worst performances by the Washington Redskins’ defense and some observations after re-watching the TV broadcast of their 40-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
OLB RYAN KERRIGAN: Kerrigan was outstanding rushing the quarterback. For all the offseason talk about OLB Brian Orakpo getting to double-digit sacks and establishing himself as an elite pass rusher, Sunday’s game indicates that attention might be targeted at the wrong outside linebacker.
Kerrigan had one sack and would have had up to four more if it weren’t for QB Drew Brees’ elusiveness and, perhaps, some ineffective angles. He also drew two holding penalties in the second half that contributed to the Saints going three-and-out on separate drives.
Kerrigan lined up all over the place – outside the right and left tackles, over the right guard, out in the slot, etc.; credit defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and the coaching staff for devising a game plan that presented New Orleans with varied alignments.
Kerrigan’s sack came from the right side – Orakpo plays there in the base defense – against LT Jermon Bushrod on one of the two plays in which Kerrigan rushed from a 4-point stance. He stayed low off the ball, engaged Bushrod and then ripped under with his left hand. He then did well to sharpen his turn around the edge and not let Bushrod ride him out of the play.
Why could Kerrigan afford to put both hands down and give away his intent to rush the passer? Because he drew holding on RG Jahri Evans the previous play to put the Saints in second-and-20, an obvious passing situation. Again it was the rip move, a strong upper-cut, that freed him and forced the blocker to illegally latch on.
Kerrigan wasn’t asked to cover TE Jimmy Graham much. That responsibility fell to ILB London Fletcher, SS DeJon Gomes and a few others.
CB DEANGELO HALL: Hall was good in coverage and very active out of the slot. He blitzed on 10 of QB Drew Brees’ 53 dropbacks, and he got one of the Redskins’ two sacks.
On the sack, he waited a split second after the snap for SS DeJon Gomes to begin his blitz. Gomes stayed wide and occupied RB Darren Sproles, which opened for Hall and free run at Brees inside. It took Hall a moment to bring down Brees because he tried to tackle him him, but no one ever said tackling was his strong suit.
Speaking of tackling, though, Hall did get RB Pierre Thomas for a 1-yard loss by getting around the left edge unblocked and pursuing him down the line from behind. We’re not used to seeing Hall positioned to make that type of play, but this is how the Redskins want to use him this season.
Hall was one of many in the Redskins’ secondary who answered the challenge to cover the Saints’ receivers man-to-man, sometimes without safety help. One play that comes to mind was an incompletion on third-and-20 on the opening drive of the second half, on which Hall did have help. Because he knew safeties were high to prevent a first down, he undercut WR Devery Henderson’s post and dove to make a play on the ball as it arrived.
DE STEPHEN BOWEN: The power Bowen demonstrated in the third preseason game carried over to Sunday. He was explosive off the ball and did well to get off a few blocks. On RB Pierre Thomas’ 1-yard loss, which is mentioned above in CB DeAngelo Hall’s write-up, Bowen got his hands into LG Ben Grubbs’ chest and disrupted Thomas’ running lane. That allowed Hall to make the play from behind.
Bowen batted down two passes; the second was one of the biggest plays of the game.
On first-and-goal from the Washington 8, with the Redskins leading 30-14, TE Jimmy Graham released on a crossing route from the right side of the formation. Neither SS DeJon Gomes nor ILB London Fletcher ran with Graham – a blown coverage obvious to QB Drew Brees. It would have been an easy throw and catch for a touchdown, except Bowen jumped and deflected the pass with his right arm. The Redskins held New Orleans to a field goal. Bowen saved the Redskins four points with that play.
SS DEJON GOMES: Gomes was far from perfect, but perfection is an unreasonable expectation for a second-year player with only five career starts entering a game against the league’s best offense from a year ago. Gomes flew around the field and made a positive impact in supporting the run on New Orleans’ 10 attempts. He closed quickly to tackle TE David Thomas on a reception inside the 5-yard line in the second half, which helped the Redskins limit the damage on that drive to only three points.
Gomes’ late hit in the first quarter was dumb. As coach Mike Shanahan said Monday, Gomes must be smart enough not to give the referee the opportunity to make that call. I thought the pass interference call against him in the second half was deserved. He contacted the receiver after five yards, and this officiating crew wasn’t letting much go.
Gomes’ crowning achievement was his interception late in the fourth quarter. QB Drew Brees overthrew the ball in uncharacteristic fashion – I still can’t believe how bad a throw that was – and Gomes was in the right position over top of the receiver to make the play. That he caught the ball was something special, too, considering how many interceptions the Redskins have dropped through the preseason and Week 1.
LS NICK SUNDBERG: He snapped nine times with a broken left arm. Savage.
FS MADIEU WILLIAMS: Too many negative plays has Williams on this list. He played the ball late instead of attacking the receiver on TE Jimmy Graham’s 20-yard touchdown in the first quarter. He was late and lost in coverage on WR Lance Moore’s 33-yard touchdown on fourth-and-10 in the fourth. QB Drew Brees’ pump fake paralyzed Williams and CB Josh Wilson, which is baffling considering Moore was the only receiver in their half of the field. Williams’ helmet-to-helmet hit against Graham was a textbook personal foul. He’ll hear from the league about that, I suspect.
One positive play: Williams broke up a long completion to Graham by getting his helmet on the ball and jarring it loose. Overall, though, the Redskins need him to be better finishing plays when the ball arrives.
Play of the Game: First-and-10 from the Saints’ 27. 3:39 Fourth quarter. 33-25, Redskins.
SS DeJon Gomes’ interception gave the Redskins’ enough breathing room to escape the Superdome 1-0. QB Drew Brees tried to force a throw to WR Lance Moore, who ran a nifty post route from the left. The Redskins had the middle of the field covered though. Brees might have fit the thrown in if he were his typical accurate self, but this pass sailed high. Gomes was in position to intercept it. His return of 49 yards to the 3-yard line set up the touchdown that provided the margin of victory. Gomes was patient in waiting for blockers as he ran down the right sideline.
I mentioned this Sunday night in the postgame thoughts and observations blog entry, but it’s worth mentioning again: QB Drew Brees’ 46.2 completion percentage was his worst in 88 games dating from Christmas Eve 2006. So how did that happen? A combination of factors, really: Some pressure on the quarterback, good coverage and some breakdowns by Brees.
The Redskins rushed four on 33 of Brees’ 53 dropbacks. Brees was 13 of 32 (40.6 percent) for 154 yards, 3 TDs and an interception; a passer rating of 61.2.
The Redskins rushed five defenders on 14 of the 53 dropbacks. Brees was 8 of 13 (61.5 percent) for 125 yards and a sack; a passer rating of 93.4.
As defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said after the game, the Redskins played man-to-man the entire game. That involved some risks, such as LBs London Fletcher and Brian Orakpo covering receivers in the slot, but overall the coverage was good. CBs DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson and Cedric Griffin each broke up multiple passes. And even when WR Marques Colston turned Griffin inside out on a double move to the post late in the second half, Griffin turned in time to recover and force a fumble.
ILB London Fletcher covered TE Jimmy Graham well, but that didn’t prevent Graham from six catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. Fletcher said after the game the only way he could’ve covered Graham better was if he actually wore his jersey. That cracked up reporters. Fletcher, though, could have said something along the lines of, “grow nine inches.” That’s the height advantage Graham repeatedly took capitalized on, including on his 20-yard touchdown catch. Unfortunately for Fletcher, good coverage doesn’t mean the touchdowns are worth any less.
The only reason LB Chris Wilson didn’t get a gasser for his role on the blocked punt is I haven’t had an opportunity to speak to him about it yet. He blocked down after weakly chipping DE Martez Wilson, who blocked the punt. I’m interested to hear what he saw and was thinking on the play.
The Redskins had two sacks but could have had about six more. ILB London Fletcher had a free run at QB Drew Brees and missed. NT Barry Cofield had Brees within reach. OLB Brian Orakpo and CB DeAngelo Hall tripped over each other when they were a step from crushing Brees on one pass play.
It turns out Brees is more elusive than the Redskins realized.
“I think he’s very underrated with that,” DE Stephen Bowen said after the game. “He’s not exactly a running quarterback, but he’s very elusive. He’ll make it seem like he’s about to throw, he’ll duck. It’s almost like you’ve got to slow down when you get to him.”
Speaking of Orakpo and missed opportunities, he could have sealed a victory for the Redskins with an interception on third-and-10 on the Saints’ penultimate drive. He dropped brilliantly into coverage from the line of scrimmage. He located the receiver, realized he had help high and undercut the route. He simply has to catch that ball.