Redskins-Steelers Film Review: Defense

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Ryan Kerrigan deserves some leeway because he’s playing a new position, didn’t have the benefit of the offseason program and missed parts of 14 practices with a bone bruise in his knee. However, he needs to show more of the physical talent that prompted the Redskins to draft him 16th overall.

By contrast, we’ve seen DE Jarvis Jenkins‘ explosive power up front. We’ve seen how WR Leonard Hankerson’s length makes him an available target. Kerrigan, however, has been very quiet rushing the passer in practice. He applied some late pressure on a couple plays Friday with edge rushes and rip moves, but nothing he’ll be satisfied by.

He doesn’t turn the corner as fast as Brian Orakpo did early in his first preseason. Sorry, but the comparisons to Orakpo are inevitable. Kerrigan has a reputation for being a high-motor guy, so does that mean he usually chases quarterbacks into coverage sacks rather than cleanly and quickly getting home? I’m not sure. Perhaps his natural ability will surface as he gets more comfortable rushing from a standing position instead of a 3-point stance. We’ll see how steep his learning curve is now that he’s back practicing full time.

One positive for Kerrigan was his tackle for a loss on third-and-1 in the second quarter. Instincts led him to believe the Steelers would run in that situation, he said after the game. So he shot off the ball inside his blocker and made a key stop. It was an excellent response to a breakdown on the play before when he drifted too far inside, lost contain and gave up a 6-yard run around the right edge.

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CB DeAngelo Hall was beaten twice in man coverage. That isn’t his strong suit — he likes to play with vision in zone coverage — but they might as well let him work on his technique in preseason games. Hall surrendered a 19-yard completion to WR Antonio Brown on the first drive. On the next drive, Brown beat Hall on a go route that turned into a foot race. It would have been a big play if QB Byron Leftwich hadn’t overthrown it.

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Maybe ILB Keyaron Fox played so well because he has gone against Pittsburgh’s offense in practice for the last three years, but he shined despite signing with the Redskins less than a week before the game. I was impressed by how consistently he shed blockers.

Fox appeared sound in his run fits, although he did miss a tackle that resulted in a 5-yard gain on the Steelers‘ seventh drive. On the play before that, though, he shed a block and established outside contain. Fox also defended a pass underneath late in the second quarter. Suddenly the Redskins appear to have decent depth at inside linebacker with Fox and Perry Riley.

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Speaking of linebacker depth, Rob Jackson’s development as an outside linebacker becomes more important as Ryan Kerrigan battles his growing pains. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said on Wednesday that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Kerrigan doesn’t begin the season in the starting lineup. It stands to reason that Jackson would replace him; that’s who filled in while Kerrigan was out with a bone bruise.

Jackson didn’t make a huge impact rushing the passer on Friday, but we know he’s capable after how well he played against Jacksonville last December. Coaches might be encouraged, though, by Jackson’s tackle of RB Jonathan Dwyer late in the third quarter. He dove inside WR Terrence McCrae’s block to make the stop. More plays in space like that could complicate the decision whether to start Kerrigan in Week 1.

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In addition to S Chris Horton’s missed tackle on the Steelers‘ touchdown run, it appeared he played a key role in the 29-yard completion that began the touchdown drive. CB Josh Wilson allowed WR Antonio Brown an inside release with Horton positioned about 5 yards from the line of scrimmage and shaded to that side of the field. Wilson maintained outside leverage as Brown sprinted down the field, and it looked as though he expected Horton to help inside. Horton didn’t track back until it was too late, though, and QB Byron Leftwich perfectly dropped the throw in over Horton’s head. All that said, it’s often difficult to be sure of assignments in the secondary, so this one is worth following up on this week.

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