My observations, analysis and conclusions about the Redskins’ defense after rewatching the TV broadcast of Washington’s 16-7 preseason victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers:
The first-string front three of RDE Stephen Bowen, NT Barry Cofield and LDE Adam Carriker are a clear upgrade from last year’s group that included NT Ma'ake Kemoeatu and RDE Kedric Golston. The new trio should be better, of course, given the money the Redskins spent to bring in Cofield and Bowen, but that’s the most important point to take away from Friday’s game.
Cofield settled in after getting pushed back by a double team on the first play of the game, a run for 4 yards. Not only did he anchor OK, but he showed a couple of pass rushing moves — a swim move and a spin move — that Kemoeatu simply didn’t have in his repertoire. He helped push the pocket on the Steelers‘ second pass of the game, and QB Ben Roethlisberger checked down to the flat for only a 3-yard gain. Cofield also shed his blocker and helped LOLB Ryan Kerrigan stop the ball carrier for a loss on third-and-1 against Pittsburgh’s second string.
And for those of you wondering where Cofield’s Taser Dance was on Friday, don’t worry, you didn’t miss it. “I’m saving that for the regular season,” he said afterward. “It’ll be there, I promise.”
Bowen’s highlight was third-down sack of QB Byron Leftwich. That the Steelers, ahem, didn’t block him made his job just a tad easier. The center and running back both slid towards blitzing CB Kevin Barnes, which allowed Bowen to come free. Bowen stayed on the field in sub packages and slid inside, while Cofield came out of the game.
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Things were far from perfect up front, though. Take Pittsburgh RB Isaac Redman’s 22-yard touchdown run. LDE Adam Carriker initially was double-teamed, but he failed to sustain his block against C Doug Legursky, who released to the second level and blocked ILB Rocky McIntosh out of the play. Defensive linemen in this scheme have to occupy multiple blockers on running plays and allow the linebackers to flow to the ball. On the touchdown, it didn’t happen.
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While we’re on the subject of the line, second-round rookie DE Jarvis Jenkins flashed potential but also had his rookie moments. Coaches have harped on Jenkins‘ technique and leverage, and we saw both good and bad on consecutive plays during Pittsburgh’s second drive.
Second-and-6 from the Steelers‘ 24: Jenkins‘ first mistake was being slow off the snap. And when he finally went to engage RT Willie Colon, he practically stood straight up. Colon easily got underneath Jenkins‘ pads and pushed him back. Because Jenkins allowed himself to be blocked one-on-one, the tight end on that side released through and blocked ILB London Fletcher. Again, linemen have to keep the linebackers clean, and Jenkins broke down.
However, he was much better on the next play. He anchored at the point of attack, allowing OLB Brian Orakpo time to get around the right edge and chase RB Isaac Redman down from behind. The result: no gain.
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Back to the Steelers‘ only touchdown. Adam Carriker’s breakdown wasn’t the only one. The most glaring was S Chris Horton’s missed tackle near the line of scrimmage. If a defender gets both arms around the ball carrier’s legs, he has to make the stop. Period. Another problem, though was that LOLB Ryan Kerrigan was blocked inside by RT Kyle Jolly. Basically, the Steelers‘ third-string tackle pushed the Redskins' first-round pick from the left edge of the defense so far inside that RB Isaac Redman actually ran around Kerrigan to the right. That was a bad play all around.
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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CB Kevin Barnes sacked QB Ben Roethlisberger when the Redskins overloaded the left side of the offensive line. ILB London Fletcher and OLB Brian Orakpo occupied blockers, and Orakpo opened a lane for Barnes by taking a wide outside rush.
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Fifth-round rookie S DeJon Gomes flashed his physical abilities during the second half. He came off the left edge and dipped under the running back’s block to sack QB Dennis Dixon in the fourth quarter. It sure helped that the Steelers‘ right tackle didn’t block anyone on the play. Gomes also tackled RB Jonathan Dwyer for a 3-yard loss by darting under a block on the edge. Gomes’ quickness was clear on those plays. Coaches want his mental acumen in the defensive backfield to complement that.
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Newly-signed DL Doug Worthington intrigued me in limited action against Pittsburgh’s reserves. Good leverage allowed him to hold the point on DeJon Gomes‘ tackle-for-loss in the fourth quarter. Just something to file away as we move forward.
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Redskins’ kickers made it easy on the coverage unit by booting all five kickoffs for touchbacks. Punt coverage was fine — only one return for 9 yards. CB Byron Westbrook almost downed one punt inside the 5-yard line, but Pittsburgh’s gunner wisely shoved Westbrook into the end zone, effectively taking him out of the play.
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