- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

My observations, analysis and conclusions about the Washington Redskins‘ defense after re-watching their 16-3 preseason victory over the Indianapolis Colts using the TV broadcast:

NT Barry Cofield was a major reason the Redskins held Indianapolis to 41 yards in the first half. The Colts couldn’t move him out of the middle. Perhaps regular-season opponents will gameplan for Cofield and block him with more double teams, but so far he has anchored well inside against the run. He helped keep ILB Rocky McIntosh clean to make a tackle on a 3-yard run on the Colts‘ opening drive.

Again this week, Cofield showed a pass-rushing ability that was missing last season. He’s quick off the ball and very good with his hands. He batted down one pass and helped collapse the pocket on others. So far, so good on that free-agent signing.

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Rookie LOLB Ryan Kerrigan improved on his shaky debut. “I was more sure of myself this week,” he said. “I knew my assignments better, and I was able to see things before they happened.”

He took better angles rushing the quarterback and wasn’t so wide. He was more reliable in coverage, too. He ran into the flat and covered RB Donald Brown on one pass play. Later, he stayed with TE Dallas Clark near the right sideline.

Kerrigan’s sack supported his college reputation as a “high-motor guy.” He lined up on the left edge of the defense and put his hand on the ground just before the snap. He’s obviously most comfortable in a three-point stance. DL Stephen Bowen and Jarvis Jenkins collapsed the pocket inside, and Kerrigan’s outside pressure forced QB Curtis Painter to scramble. Kerrigan hardly was slowed by RB Joseph Addai’s chip, and he chased Painter down from behind.

Friday, we saw some of the basic tools that attracted Redskins‘ coaches to Kerrigan. That’s progress from the Pittsburgh game last week.

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I enjoy watching ILB Perry Riley track the ball. His closing speed is exceptional, and he’s a hard hitter when he gets there. His tackle on the Redskins‘ first kickoff was highlight-reel stuff. His run fit was great on RB Jarvarris James’ 2-yard carry in the second half. On the first play of the fourth quarter, he diagnosed the screen pass to RB Delone Carter and ran up from 10 yards away to stop him for a gain of 1.

It would be interesting to see Riley play more with the first string, as his future with the team seems more secure than Rocky McIntosh’s. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett indicated during training camp that Riley still needs more seasoning. But how’s this for an accountability-free prediction? Riley is in the starting lineup by November.

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Seventh-round rookie CB Brandyn Thompson helped his roster chances by making a couple of plays on the ball in expanded playing time. His athleticism shined on his interception. Playing press-man coverage, he turned and ran deep with WR Marshall Williams. He stayed on Williams’ hip, even using his hand to feel out Williams once he turned to find the ball. The diving catch was excellent. And thanks to everyone who tweeted me to point out his hands are better than Carlos Rogers’.

Thompson had a quiet training camp, so Friday night could be big for him. He outplayed CB Reggie Jones, who was beaten deep on an incompletion after giving up a 9-yard completion on a third-and-4.

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OLB Lorenzo Alexander reminded us not to forget about him as a pass rusher. He kept his right shoulder low in turning the corner and getting under the tackle for his third-quarter sack. We didn’t see such quickness often from Alexander last season.

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On an unrelated note, Alexander tweeted after the game his frustrations about how the new kickoff rules are limiting his value as one of the Redskins‘ best cover guys. I feel for him because coverage is how he has earned a living for the last few years.

The Redskins seem content just booting the ball through the end zone right now. Four of their five kickoffs were touchbacks on Friday, making it nine out of 10 on the preseason. But the one that Indianapolis ran out, the Redskins stopped at the Colts‘ 13. It’ll be interesting to see whether special teams coach Danny Smith mixes up his approach during the regular season and has the kicker hang balls high and drop them at the goal line, expecting the coverage team to pin the opponent inside the 20.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith has something cooking that he doesn’t want to show in the preseason.

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Reserve OLB Rob Jackson had another quiet game. I expected more of a pass-rush presence from the three-year veteran, but that hasn’t happened. He hasn’t shown the explosiveness he did against Jacksonville last December. I’m starting to wonder if that Jaguars game was an aberration, but there’s still time for him to get going.

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Seventh-round rookie NT Chris Neild gets an ‘A’ for effort for battling constant double teams in the second half. I’m not convinced, however, that he’s quick and strong enough to deserve a roster spot. He consistently was pushed back two or three yards, and as we saw last season, that causes the defense to fall apart. Colts backup C Jamey Richard pancaked Neild on one run. Perhaps the practice squad is the appropriate place for Neild to land in a couple of weeks.

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OLB Brian Orakpo got off a block to make tackles on separate plays Friday. This was one of his biggest weaknesses last season, and he has significantly improved. On a first-quarter screen, he was quick enough in space to slide inside and around rookie first-rounder LT Anthony Castonzo. Later, he disengaged from TE Dallas Clark to stop RB Joseph Addai for 3 yards.

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Rookie S DeJon Gomes thrived around the line of scrimmage for the second straight game. Redskins‘ coaches have simplified his responsibilities as he tries to grasp the mental requirements of playing safety, and near the line he can just go get the ball. Gomes hit QB Dan Orlovsky on CB Brandyn Thompson’s interception. Before that, he burst forward in run support and tackled RB Javarris James for a 2-yard gain.

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RDE Kedric Golston was active in the run defense playing against second stringers. He’s expected to be a back end rotational guy, and his performance on Friday shouldn’t hurt his stock.