The Washington Times - September 25, 2012, 01:06PM

ANALYSIS/OPINION

A review of the best and worst performances by the Washington Redskins’ defense and some observations after re-watching the TV broadcast of their 38-31 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

SEE RELATED:


GAME BALLS

OLB ROB JACKSON: Jackson in his first career start proved he can be a multi-dimensional player. He impacted the game mostly as a run stopper and with a fantastic play in coverage, not as a pass rusher. In fact, Jackson subbed out of the game in many passing situations, replaced by Chris Wilson or Markus White.

Jackson intercepted Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton in the Bengals’ end zone after terrific reads of Dalton and the intended receiver, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Jackson lined up on the right and was responsible for dropping to cover a curl or buzzing to the flat to cover any passes there, he said. He saw Green-Ellis flare out to the flat “so I squeezed it a little bit more because I knew the ball was coming out quick,” he said. “That’s exactly what he did. It came out quick, and I made the play.” Jackson made an athletic play on the ball after OLB Ryan Kerrigan hit Dalton as he threw. Jackson slid to the ground and did well to get his arms under the ball to secure the catch. It was a cool moment for a role player who has made his mark almost exclusively on special teams through parts of four NFL seasons.

Jackson also set the edge on several running plays. He tackled RB Bernard Scott for a loss of 8 on first-and-10 in the first quarter. Jackson initially lined up on the right over Dennis Roland, an offensive lineman who lined up on this play as a tight end to the left of LT Andrew Whitworth. Jackson saw WR Marvin Jones coming down in motion toward him. That, plus Cincinnati’s extra tackle, indicated run, so Jackson widened his split by one step. That enabled him to get into the backfield before Jones cracked down on him and Whitworth could kick out to block him (Roland blocked down on RDE Kedric Golston). Whitworth tried to engage Jackson, but he wasn’t squared up because of Jackson’s penetration. Jackson shed the block with quick hands and made the tackle. Now he just needs to repeat this performance in 13 more games. That shouldn’t be too difficult, right?

ILB PERRY RILEY: Riley was aggressive going downhill against the run. He benefited from some stout defensive line play, and he tackled well. He also made some positive plays in pass coverage, even successfully covering slot WR Andrew Hawkins on one second-quarter pass. And he recorded the second sack of his career on a delayed pass rush.

One thing that makes Riley such a good run defender is his ability to sidestep or otherwise avoid blockers that get to the second level. That’s a product of quickness, understanding angles, good vision and anticipation.

As the Redskins made their comeback in the third quarter, Riley helped get the defense off the field on third-and-2 from Cincinnati’s 28. TE Jermaine Gresham, who did not block particularly well in this game, led RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis through the A gap between LG Clint Boling and C Jeff Faine. DL Stephen Bowen and Jarvis Jenkins controlled Boling and Faine one-on-one, respectively, leaving Riley to make the tackle if he could beat Gresham.

Riley scraped inside and played his run fit sharply off Jenkins’ right shoulder. Gresham, meanwhile, took a path further from Jenkins and Faine. Riley dipped between Jenkins and Gresham to make the tackle for a gain of only 1.

Riley’s quality run support also impacted the third-quarter play on which CB Richard Crawford stripped Green-Ellis. Faine and RG Kevin Zeitler attempted a combination block of Jenkins before Faine climbed to get Riley. Riley, however, was very aggressive filling the gap, and he plugged it before Faine got off Jenkins. That forced Green-Ellis to bounce his run outside, where Crawford wrapped him up and stripped him.

Riley drove on FB Brian Leonard’s slant route inside the red zone to break up that pass in the second half. Leonard lined up wide to the right, which was unfamiliar territory for Riley. Riley changed directions with quick feet to break up the short pass to Hawkins. Riley claimed Gresham pushed off on a 15-yard completion on third-and-8 early in the second quarter; unfortunately for our purposes, the telecast never showed it.

Riley was in coverage on TE Jermaine Gresham’s go-ahead 6-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Gresham had a step on Riley on a shallow cross, and QB Andy Dalton perfectly placed the throw out in front of Gresham.

DL JARVIS JENKINS: Jenkins is on this list to represent the run defense. Several players – DEs Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield and OLB Ryan Kerrigan, to name some – excelled stopping the run, but I won’t give out half a dozen game balls to the defense when Cincinnati scored 38. So Jenkins gets the nod in his first career start because he played more powerfully than at any time since he tore the ACL in his right knee in Aug. 2011.

Jenkins helped the Redskins get off the field on third-and-2 from the Bengals’ 28 in the second half. He controlled C Jeff Faine by exploding off the ball, staying low, and getting his hands into Faine before Faine could do the same to him. That opened a gap for ILB Perry Riley to fit through.

On first-and-10 from the Bengals’ 1 in the first quarter, Jenkins disrupted RB BenJarvus Green Ellis’ run by standing up RT Andre Smith at the line of scrimmage. Again, Jenkins controlled Smith with advantageous leverage and power. Green-Ellis gained only 1 yard, and the Redskins scored a touchdown on the next play.

A key for Jenkins going forward is generating a pass rush, especially on plays that aren’t obvious passing situations. Defensive linemen have to quickly diagnose whether the play is a run or pass, and Jenkins believes he has significant room for improvement in that regard.

“Just recognizing the play faster,” he said. “I tend to play the run a little bit too aggressively at times. I’ve just got to work on shedding the blocks, recognizing the play again. That comes back to film study. As I go into more and more games, I’ll start to pick up on that.”

LOLB RYAN KERRIGAN: Kerrigan made a significant positive impact in his first game without OLB Brian Orakpo on the other side. He was double-teamed while rushing the passer only occasionally.

Kerrigan forced an interception, which LB Rob Jackson caught for a touchdown, in the first quarter when he hit QB Andy Dalton after rushing unblocked. FB Chris Pressley inexplicably blocked SS DeJon Gomes on the outside instead of Kerrigan inside. Kerrigan suspended his disbelief long enough to hit Dalton as he threw.

Kerrigan frequently won blocks against TE Jermaine Gresham because he was stronger at the point of attack. Kerrigan helped the Redskins’ run defense control the line of scrimmage, and he also batted down a pass.

He shared a sack with OLB Chris Wilson in the first quarter. Kerrigan actually lined up inside RDE Stephen Bowen, over LG Clint Boling. From a 2-point stance, Kerrigan rushed at LT Andrew Whitworth so that Bowen could loop behind him. Kerrigan used his rip move to get inside Whitworth and get to Dalton.

GASSERS

CB DEANGELO HALL: Hall seemed a half-second late in coverage for most of the game. He got his hands on the ball on several of WR A.J. Green’s nine receptions, but Green maximized his 6-inch height advantage over Hall, and he also maintained possession because of his arm and hand strength. “I was around A.J. Green a lot,” Hall said, “and that [S.O.B.] made every single play. Any time you’re around the ball that many times and you’re just a half an inch from it, that seems to be our story so far this season.”

QB Andy Dalton and Green connected on several quick throws that gained bits of yardage when Hall was not tight in coverage. (More on the quick throws below.) And when Hall’s coverage was good, Dalton’s accuracy was better.

Hall was in coverage on the biggest play of Cincinnati’s go-ahead drive early in the fourth quarter. Green lined up wide right and turned Hall inside out on a slant-and-go. Hall was in man-to-man coverage up at the line of scrimmage. He opened his hips to the inside when Green took a hard step in. When Green stepped back out and continued downfield, Hall grabbed him and was flagged for a facemask penalty. Regardless of whether the call was correct, Green still got a step on Hall, and Dalton placed a perfect throw to Green in stride over Hall’s shoulder. The play netted 38 yards down to the Washington 6.

Hall got in on a couple tackles against he run. He also broke up a pass to slot WR Andrew Hawkins on first-and-20 in the first quarter. He got his hands on Hawkins and was patient as Hawkins got in and out of his break to the sideline on a quick out.

CB JOSH WILSON: Wilson is here for one play. He stumbled out of his break on WR Armon Binns’ 48-yard touchdown. Binns’ quick out was the hot read for QB Andy Dalton against Washington’s Cover-0 blitz on second-and-20. The blitz left Wilson without any safety help, so he could not afford to stumble.

It’s easy to see why coach Mike Shanahan or defensive coordinator Jim Haslett would like their chances putting their best cover corner against Armon Binns on second-and-20 when they know the ball is coming out quickly. But the gamble of the zero blitz backfired, and it was costly.

SS DEJON GOMES:WR A.J. Green ran past Gomes on his 73-yard touchdown catch on the Bengals’ first play from scrimmage. Gomes is mismatched against Green in coverage, of course. Also, when WR Mohamed Sanu lined up as the quarterback in shotgun, Gomes expected a run, as did the rest of his teammates and coaches. Gomes tried to backpedal and run with Green, but it wasn’t happening.

Otherwise, Gomes was quiet. The Bengals threw elsewhere, and the front seven did well stopping the run. Gomes blitzed Dalton a couple times with little impact. RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis blocked Gomes to the ground on a first-quarter blitz. Gomes wasn’t fast or explosive in his rush. WR Andrew Hawkins converted third-and-2 on the first play of the second quarter on an end around on which Gomes missed a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. On the series before that, the Bengals captured the left edge against Gomes on an 11-yard end around to Hawkins. I’m eager to see if Brandon Meriweather’s return results in a significant upgrade on the back end.

CB RICHARD CRAWFORD: Crawford, like Wilson, is here for one play: WR Andrew Hawkins’ 59-yard touchdown, which turned out to be the decisive score with 7:08 remaining. Out of the left slot, Hawkins got behind Crawford on a post route, which was lethal because the Redskins’ two safeties covered the outside quarters by design on the play, leaving the deep middle vacant.

Crawford played Hawkins with inside leverage, but he hesitated when Hawkins broke over top of him to the inside. Crawford said Hawkins double-moved him, but that’s not evident on the replay. Regardless, the hesitation cost Crawford because QB Andy Dalton made another perfect throw to the receiver in-stride over the defender’s shoulder.

“At first I didn’t think he was getting the ball,” Crawford said. “He did a really good job of being settled with his hands. When I seen his hands [rise] I kind of hesitated back a little bit, but I was too far behind. It was a good throw. I’ve got to give credit to Dalton on that.”

Crawford matched up against St. Louis slot WR Danny Amendola on a couple plays in the previous game, and he said covering Hawkins was a much tougher assignment.

“Way quicker, not even close,” Crawford said. “Faster, quicker stronger. Not even a comparison.”

On the plus side, Crawford made what should have been a game-changing play in the third quarter. He stripped the ball from RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Green-Ellis’ first fumble in 590 career touches. Crawford read run and quickly darted inside WR Armon Binns’ block. He wrapped up and then went for the strip. CB Josh Wilson recovered it, and he should have been allowed to return the ball because he wasn’t touched (he would scored a touchdown) but the officials blew the play day.

That’s another game-changing decision by the replacement refs. It wasn’t as climactic or final as the decision on the last play in Monday night’s Packers-Seahawks game, but for a Redskins team still looking to gain respectability in Mike Shanahan’s staff’s third year, it’s just as big. Jobs are at stake across the NFL as the league’s lockout of the referees continues and teams’ losses mount. What a shame.

OBSERVATIONS

After re-watching the game, I don’t feel the way I expected to, that Washington’s defense was overwhelmed. The Redskins gave up 38 points, 478 total yards and 6.8 yards per play, but Cincinnati did not dominate the line of scrimmage or sustain drives. The Bengals averaged only 3.2 yards per carry on 23 rushes, and Washington won the turnover battle, 2-1. The difference, at least when the Bengals had the ball, was big plays through the air and quick, accurate throws that gained bits of yardage and negated the Redskins’ pass rush.

In the last two games, St. Louis and Cincinnati have established at least part of a blueprint for beating the Redskins: quick throws that exploit the secondary and set up big-plays with double moves. The Redskins were very good against the run against New Orleans and Cincinnati, so teams are going to pass against them until they prove they can stop it. And those quick throws often are just an extension of the running game.

So the question is: do the Redskins have a talent problem in the secondary or is it something that can be solved schematically? The former would mean the Redskins are in trouble. SS Brandon Meriweather (sprained left knee) is expected to return soon, possibly this week, so we’ll see what impact he has.

***

One of the more intriguing elements of Cincinnati’s 73-yard touchdown strike on the first play from scrimmage is players’ belief they were not prepared for rookie WR Mohamed Sanu to pass the ball out of the wildcat formation. When the Bengals broke the huddle and lined up in that formation, the Redskins checked to a run defense. ILB London Fletcher waived FS Madieu Williams down into the box.

The Redskins apparently did not see on film Sanu throw as a member of the Bengals, but he was 8-of-18 passing for four touchdowns and 207 yards during his collegiate career at Rutgers. Six of those completions and three of the touchdowns occurred in 2010.

“We didn’t see anything from previous games, but obviously the way he threw the ball, he has experience throwing the ball from his days at Rutgers,” FS Madieu Williams said. “It’s something we’ve got to do a better job of identifying over the course of the week.”

Coach Mike Shanahan said coaches and scouts do go back to players’ college game videos to study tendencies. He was asked Monday whether players should have been aware of Sanu’s ability to throw out of that formation.

“Well, we work on the wildcat all of the time,” Shanahan said. “Normally, the wildcat, normally the people that run it aren’t very good at throwing the football. And if they can throw the football, it gives you, obviously, a little bit of an advantage. I think we went through that enough with Denver [and Tim Tebow] last year, the advantages of a guy being able to throw the football from the wildcat formation. But not too many guys that haven’t thrown the football in the past can throw a ball that well and right on the money. Good play, good catch, good throw.”

Williams said ultimately the onus is on the players to stop whatever the offense shows. “We had players in place, we just didn’t execute,” he said.

***

Bengals QB Andy Dalton repeatedly moved their offense with quick throws, which made Washington’s pass rush impotent even against Cincy’s shaky offensive line.

The 48-yard catch-and-run touchdown that beat a Cover-0 blitz: ball out in 1.4 seconds.

The decisive 59-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the fourth quarter: ball out in 2.4 seconds.

A 12-yard reception on second-and-8 from the Cincy 41: ball out in 1.6 seconds.

A 15-yard reception on third-and-8 from the Washington 45: ball out in 2.3 seconds.

An 8-yard reception on first-and-10 from the Cincy 20: ball out in 1.4 seconds.

On the 27-yard completion that Dalton perfectly placed on WR A.J. Green’s outside shoulder against CB DeAngelo Hall in the second half, the ball was out in 2.4 seconds.

“He did a good job of identifying where to go with the ball,” FS Madieu Williams said. “That’s one of the things you’ve got to give him credit for. He did a great job of finding where the hot reads were.”

The question going forward is: what can the Redskins do to tighten their coverage on quick throws that are gaining significant yardage?

***

On 30 dropbacks, Dalton was 19-of-27 passing for 328 yards, three touchdowns and one interception; a passer rating of 132.9. He was sacked twice and scrambled once.

The Redskins rushed four on 13 dropbacks. Dalton was 10-of-12 for 149 yards and two touchdowns; a near-perfect passer rating of 158.0. He also scrambled once for 17 yards, the Bengals’ longest run of the game.

The Redskins rushed five on 14 of Dalton’s dropbacks. Dalton was 7-of-14 for 119 yards, an interception and two sacks; a passer rating of 49.4.

Washington also rushed five on WR Mohamed Sanu’s 73-yard touchdown pass to WR A.J. Green on the opening play from scrimmage.

The Redskins blitzed seven out of a Cover-0 look (no safety help) against a six-man protection on WR Armon Binns’ 48-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.

Washington rushed three defenders on two dropbacks. Dalton as 1-of-2 for 12 yards.

***

With OLB Brian Orakpo out, Chris Wilson and Markus White played in many passing situations. Wilson split a sack with OLB Ryan Kerrigan in the first quarter. He got upfield against TE Jermaine Gresham, who lined up next to QB Andy Dalton in the shotgun, and then spun back toward the line of scrimmage after Dalton stepped up in the pocket. Wilson also drew a holding penalty using his spin move.

***

FS Madieu Williams was alert on Cincinnati’s fake field goal in the second quarter because of something special teams coach Danny Smith noticed against St. Louis in the previous game.

“Coach Smith kind of got on me a little bit last week in terms of making sure I don’t watch the ball being kicked and making sure I keep my eye on my man, which is the tight end in that situation,” Williams said. “This week I just keyed the tight end for as long as I can, and obviously it worked. They ended up trying to urn the fake, and I was in position to make the play.”

***

Credit P Sav Rocca with an assist on OLB Rob Jackson’s interception for a touchdown. His 58-yard punt rolled to a stop at the 1-yard line two plays before the pick-6. Rocca should have had another punt downed inside the 5-yard line, but gunner Crezdon Butler tried to finesse laying the ball off to Lorenzo Alexander instead of forcefully ensuring it was away from the goal line, and the ball dropped onto the line for a touchback.

…that’s it for the defense. Don’t hesitate to leave a comment, email me at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com or hit me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.