My observations, analysis and conclusions about the Washington Redskins' defense after re-watching their 34-31 preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens using the TV broadcast:
If the first three preseason games are a good indication, ROLB Brian Orakpo's evolution has significantly advanced. He has been immeasurably better in the running game than he was last season. It used to be that one blocker could latch onto him and take him out of a play. Now he's shedding blocks and making tackles. He brushed FB Vonta Leach aside to stop RB Ricky Williams for a 3-yard gain on the last play of the first quarter.
Want more Orakpo? There's plenty. He set the edge on a 1-yard carry by RB Ray Rice. He later ran through Rice to hit QB Joe Flacco on a third-down incompletion.
Later on that drive, he sacked Flacco after stutter stepping inside off the snap, lulling LT Michael Oher to sleep. Oher either thought Orakpo was going to drop in coverage or stunt inside because he turned his attention to the right, allowing Orakpo to come free.
Coach Mike Shanahan would be wise to rest players such as Orakpo next week. He has showed enough.
Speaking of injury risks in meaningless preseason games, the loss of rookie DE Jarvis Jenkins is a big one. He was active again Thursday in collapsing the pocket before he got hurt. Jenkins' right knee gave out when he tried to plant and anchor against Ravens RT Jah Reid. There was no contact below the waist.
The impact of Jenkins' absence immediately was evident. DE Darrion Scott, who replaced Jenkins in the game, too often was slow off the ball. Offensive linemen were able to initiate contact against him and control him more easily than they could Jenkins.
Also, Jenkins no longer is an option to fill one of the two down lineman spots in the nickel package. NT Barry Cofield and DE Stephen Bowen filled that role with the first-string on Thursday. Those two are talented pass rushers, no doubt, but it's fair to wonder whether they'll wear down over the course of an entire season. Losing Jenkins from that rotation is huge.
Jenkins also had been working on the first-string kickoff return unit.
Say what you want about CB DeAngelo Hall, you can't deny he's exciting to watch. Big plays — good or bad —seem to find him. Let's review four plays he was involved in:
Hall surrendered a 14-yard completion to WR Lee Evans on the Ravens' second play. Hall sometimes will afford a big cushion to a receiver capable of running by him, and Evans has that ability. But another reason for the large cushion on this play: The Redskins blitzed eight — count 'em, eight — people, including all four linebackers. I don't remember ever seeing that last season. Hall had no safety help, so he played it safe with the cushion.
Two plays later, Hall was in the end zone. Either he saw something on film that prompted him to jump WR Anquan Boldin's curl route or he didn't respect Boldin's ability to beat him with a double move. Or both. Whatever the reason, that was Hall at his best. He did have help from FS Oshiomogho Atogwe, so he could afford to gamble. I'd like to know why Hall cut back on his return when it appeared he had a clear path to the end zone. Perhaps he thought Boldin might catch him from behind.
Fast forward to the second quarter. Playing with vision got Hall in trouble on third-and-7 from the Redskins' 44-yard line. He got sucked inside following a receiver that didn't appear to be his responsibility, and Flacco found Boldin over Hall's head for an 18-yard gain.
And finally the dagger, Evans' 35-yard touchdown catch. The play validated Hall's decision to afford Evans a cushion early in the game. Often when Hall gets beat deep, he is fooled by a double move or is otherwise caught looking into the backfield. On this one, however, Evans simply outran him down the sideline. Evans never separated from Hall by more than a yard or two, but all he needed was half a step because Flacco's throw was perfect. If Hall had turned his head and found the ball, he could have broken up the pass. Instead, touchdown Ravens.
The negative plays are something coaches are willing to accept with a playmaker like Hall, but he's got to minimize them.
There were some growing pains for FS Oshiomogho Atogwe, who made his Redskins debut after a hamstring injury sidelined him for two games. The Ravens converted third-and-15 from the Redskins' 31 after Atogwe, who appeared responsible for the deep right third of the field, ran to the middle with a Baltimore receiver slanting from the right sideline to the post.
It looked like Atogwe should have stayed where he was and passed the receiver off to ILB Keyaron Fox, who had dropped to the deep middle. Instead, WR Anquan Boldin found an opening just beyond LB Brian Orakpo, and QB Joe Flacco dropped in a perfect throw. Atogwe was late getting back over, and Boldin advanced to the 1-yard line.
Atogwe did make two tackles, including one run he chased down near the line of scrimmage from the backside.
Ravens RB Ray Rice cut backside for an 18-yard run after the Redskins got caught in an awkward situation. With WR Anquan Boldin in the slot, ROLB Brian Orakpo shifted out over him. Not only is Boldin vs. Orakpo a major mismatch in coverage, but it got Orakpo out of the box. The cutback lane for Rice was huge, and it didn't help that SS Reed Doughty missed the tackle.
Overall, I thought Doughty played OK. He later diagnosed an end-around and stopped it for a 7-yard loss. Doughty normally is a sure tackler, and the Redskins can get by with him in the game (instead of an injured LaRon Landry) as long as he's near the line of scrimmage and FS Oshiomogho Atogwe is deep.
NT Barry Cofield was pushed back or controlled at the point of attack more often than in the first two preseason games combined, and that's a bit shocking considering Baltimore was without its first-string center or right guard. "I know I was sloppy — it starts with me, so I take a lot of blame for it," he said. "I didn't play my best ball."
Second-string C Bryan Mattison beat Cofield off the ball on one run and threatened to get to the linebackers. Cofield had to hold Mattison with his left arm to keep ILB Keyaron Fox clean, and it worked because no penalty was called. Fox stopped RB Ricky Williams for a 1-yard gain.
Cofield was a pass-rushing threat, which we've come to expect. His two-handed swipe of Mattison's hands freed him on one pass rush before Williams planted him with a shoulder to the chest. Williams won the leverage battle on that one. As bad as it is for the defensive line losing DE Jarvis Jenkins, Cofield has already proven he is indispensable up front.
CB Kevin Barnes got home for a sack without being blocked after crossing underneath blitzing SS DeJon Gomes. Barnes has been an opportunistic blitzer during the preseason, and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has designed some plays to free him up. Overloading one side of the formation has been effective.
Overall, I wonder how much the Redskins showed on defense Thursday. ESPN analysts Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden, who know a thing or two about NFL schemes, were in awe of how Haslett was mixing up coverages and blitzes, etc. With no offseason program, I can understand the need to test more of the playbook during game situations this summer than in past years. Still, teams have to balance that with the danger of putting too much on film for opponents to see.
ILB Rocky McIntosh was beaten in coverage down the seam for a 33-yard gain. It was a great throw by QB Joe Flacco, but McIntosh never turned his head. McIntosh was in coverage on an earlier incompletion, but Flacco's throw was rushed because of pressure. It's still a hole in his game.
Rookie OLB Ryan Kerrigan jumped offsides twice. He's concentrating on being explosive from a two-point stance and getting his weight forward, and it can be difficult for a player to stay poised when he's thinking about so much. My guess is that those mistakes will dissipate as things become more natural for Kerrigan.
He recorded another high-motor sack by spinning off the running back's chip and redirecting inside toward QB Joe Flacco. Kerrigan still hasn't demonstrated any explosion off the edge, but the Redskins will take his persistence for now.
For the second straight week, OLB Lorenzo Alexander seemed faster and more explosive on the edge than he was last season. He pressured QB Joe Flacco into an incompletion with a quick inside step. He got off a cut block to help stop RB Ricky Williams for a 2-yard gain. He dropped in coverage and tipped a pass that WR Anquan Boldin ultimately caught; it would have been a much bigger gain if Alexander hadn't disrupted the timing of the catch.
As for Alexander's role on Boldin's second-half touchdown, I initially thought he should have re-routed Boldin's path to the post. Alexander stuck out his left arm as Boldin ran past but didn't make contact. But Boldin was more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage when Alexander reached for him, so any contact would have been illegal, anyway. It looked like a breakdown on the back end involving SS DeJon Gomes, but it's difficult to be sure.
DE Doug Worthington flashed promise again, and he has to be considered a beneficiary of Jarvis Jenkins' injury. Worthington showed sufficient upper body strength to push the pocket at times, and he was agile enough to dodge a cut-block attempt by T Michael Oher and hold RB Ray Rice to a 3-yard gain.
If rookie CBs Brandyn Thompson and Reggie Jones are battling for a roster spot—perhaps the one vacated by Phillip Buchanon's suspension — Thompson won that battle for the second straight week. Thompson ran stride for stride with WR Lee Evans on a deep incompletion. Jones, meanwhile, struggled. He whiffed on his attempt to jam Evans on a third-and-3 that Baltimore easily converted with a quick slant. Jones also committed two special teams penalties.
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