Redskins-Patriots film review: Defense

Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson (26) intercepts a pass intended for New England Patriots wide receiver Tiquan Underwood (10) in the end zone in the 4th quarter. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson (26) intercepts a pass intended for New England Patriots wide receiver Tiquan Underwood (10) in the end zone in the 4th quarter. (Andrew Harnik / The Washington Times)
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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 34-27 loss to the New England Patriots.

GAME BALLS

CB JOSH WILSON:Wilson, for the most part, played tight man coverage. He also made a game-saving leaping interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter.

In fairness, he had it much easier than CB DeAngelo Hall did. While Hall shadowed the ultra-shifty WR Wes Welker around the field, Wilson matched up mostly against WRs Deion Branch and Tiquan Underwood. Wilson covered Branch on 26 of New England’s 40 dropbacks and held him without a reception. Overall, Wilson surrendered a 15-yard reception to Chad Ochocinco on third-and-15 in the first half and a 7-yard catch to Underwood in the fourth quarter — that’s it. His receiver was targeted only six times. QB Tom Brady threw off target on three of those passes.

Wilson’s interception with 6:30 remaining gave the Redskins a chance to win on the final drive. Maybe RedskinsWR Santana Moss should have watched the replay of Wilson’s pick before blasting the officiating after the game. Underwood lined up wide left and got an inside release against Wilson. When he cut in about six yards deep in the end zone, Wilson pulled himself into position by grabbing a fistful of Underwood’s jersey. It should have been a defensive holding penalty that resulted in first-and-goal for New England. Instead, Wilson made a great play to keep his team in the game. Quite a fine line there.

RDE STEPHEN BOWEN:Bowen didn’t dominate, but he split a sack and helped make critical stop on third-and-1 early in the fourth quarter. Those were big plays against a Patriots game plan that tested the defensive line’s pass rush ability more than its run defense. New England called only 17 designed runs compared to 40 dropbacks, which kept the Redskins in their nickel defense for the majority of the game.

Bowen’s stop on third-and-1 in the fourth quarter was his biggest play. On a run to the left by RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bowen stayed low and drove LG Logan Mankins into the backfield. That opened a gap through which FS Reed Doughty surged. Bowen got off his block and helped Doughty stop the play for no gain. It got the Redskins the ball back trailing by 7 with 12:43 remaining.

And Bowen set up his third-and-1 stop by making the tackle on the preceding second-and-3. He shed Mankins to stop RB Danny Woodhead for two yards. Bowen also batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage on the first play of the third quarter.

Bowen joined NT Barry Cofield in sacking QB Tom Brady on the penultimate play of the first quarter after a stunt beat C Nick McDonald. Cofield got off the ball fast, swam past McDonald and engaged Mankins. Cofield’s formidable swim move got McDonald off balance, and Bowen looped around past him from the right. Bowen then ran over Woodhead to get to Brady.

GASSERS

CB DeANGELO HALL: Letdowns involving Hall’s effort and composure cost the Redskins. That can’t happen, especially against the Patriots and especially from a team captain. As a Pro Bowl veteran, his intangibles must impact the team in a positive way. It’s one thing to be beaten on the field in a football sense — that’s going to happen to everyone in the NFL — but players can control their attitude, effort and emotions.

Hall stood and watched while 6-foot-7 TE Rob Gronkowski dragged FS Reed Doughty and SS DeJon Gomes toward the sideline in the first quarter. He told reporters he thought Gronkowski had stepped out of bounds, but Gronkowski had not, and that should have been clear from Hall’s angle. Gronkowski shed Doughty and Gomes and ran an additional 29 yards before Hall chased him down. The Patriots scored a touchdown on the next play. Coach Mike Shanahan used the words “disappointing” and “embarrassed” in describing the play on Monday.

In the second half, Hall incurred a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for throwing an official’s penalty flag in protest of a holding call against him. Hall’s a veteran and a captain who knows such tantrums amount to 15-yard penalties. He has to control himself. The Patriots finished that drive with a touchdown, as well.

Hall had the unenviable task of covering WR Wes Welker for most of the game. On a couple of runs, Hall followed Welker back inside when Welker ran to block a safety or linebacker on a running play. That resulted in a soft edge that New England’s running backs exploited.

Welker caught a 24-yard touchdown against Hall in the third quarter, but Hall really could have used some help from the pass rush on the play. OLB Ryan Kerrigan appeared to have QB Tom Brady’s leg within his grasp, but Brady avoided the rush and extended the play. By the time Welker broke off his route, cut back inside and caught the improvised pass from Brady, it was 6.1 seconds after the snap. That’s too long to expect anyone to cover Welker, the NFL’s leading receiver, one-on-one. FS Reed Doughty helped Hall at first but finished the play by turning deep to help with coverage of TE Rob Gronkowski.

OLB RYAN KERRIGAN: Kerrigan was involved in two of the three touchdowns New England’s offense scored. As mentioned above, he had a chance to sack QB Tom Brady on the 24-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. Kerrigan bull-rushed rookie RT Nate Solder onto his backside. Solder appeared to drag Kerrigan down with him, which should have been a holding penalty, but Kerrigan landed at Brady’s feet. Brady stepped through his tackle attempt, though, and extended the play to burn the Redskins‘ secondary. A sack there would have been a great play by Kerrigan, so it’s tough to hold that against him, but it was one the Redskins needed from one of their best players.

Earlier in the quarter, Kerrigan surrendered a 37-yard touchdown reception to TE Rob Gronkowski. Kerrigan held Gronkowski off the line, so it was a negative play, regardless. But Kerrigan never turned to find the ball when Brady lobbed a perfect touch pass out in front of the 6-7, 265-pound tight end, and Kerrigan then failed to complete the tackle. On one hand, it was a great play by two of the NFL’s best at their positions. On the other, Kerrigan needs to prove he can excel in coverage in order to be a complete player. He’ll be judged over time, but that particular play affected the outcome.

Kerrigan’s overall impact rushing the passer was minimal, a disappointment considering he faced Solder, a rookie and New England’s backup right tackle. Quick, short throws contributed to that. Kerrigan rushed the passer on 36 of 40 dropbacks. The Patriots gave Solder help double-teaming Kerrigan on seven of those rushes.

ILB PERRY RILEY: This might be harsh because Riley again showed promising explosiveness at times, especially in some of his run fits, but in a game decided by big plays, he was beaten on a few. The Redskins hope to see improvement from Riley as he amasses playing experience, which is why it must be disappointing that he gave up another long gain because of an indecisive moment in coverage.

Three negative plays in coverage stand out. The most notable was TE Rob Gronkowski’s 50-yard catch and run with two minutes left in the first half. Riley lined up inside. When WR Wes Welker crossed in front of him on a pass route, Riley stepped to him before continuing to run out to his left to cover Gronkowski. That hesitation was enough for Gronkowski to separate and for QB Tom Brady to capitalize. That got the Patriots into field-goal range, and they added three points before halftime.

New England converted third-and-5 early in the second quarter when Welker ran away from Riley on a broken play. The pass rush forced Brady to reset as Welker sat down near the line-to-gain. Just when Riley ran over to Welker, Welker separated by cutting inside. Brady gathered himself and completed the pass for a first down.

And when Riley overran TE Aaron Hernandez in the left flat on a fourth-quarter reception, Hernandez gained an additional 12 yards on what finished as a 14-yard gain. Riley has to be under control as he closes on the ball. By contrast, he delivered an excellent hit on RB Kevin Faulk on a 1-yard reception the play before Gronkowski’s 50-yarder. He read the play well, closed fast and the technique of his tackle was sound.

OLB BRIAN ORAKPO: The Redskins needed a big game out of Orakpo to help disrupt New New England’s All-World quarterback, but he was too quiet. Granted, the Patriots often negated the pass rush with short and quick throws, but there were opportunities. Patriots three-time Pro Bowl LT Matt Light controlled him. Light has quick feet and keeps a strong base, which allowed him to stand up to Orakpo’s speed and bull rushes.

Orakpo rushed the passer on 33 of the 36 dropbacks for which he was in the game, but he had no sacks and was credited with only one hit on the quarterback. And the Patriots double-teamed him on the edge only once. He rushed from the edge and occasionally from the inside with similar results. His impact in run defense was minimal against only 17 designed running plays.

Orakpo has talked about diversifying his repertoire of pass-rush moves. He tried a spin move against Light once, and it didn’t work. It’ll be interesting to find out this week what Orakpo thought of the spin.

OBSERVATIONS

• Surrendering only 27 points to New England on defense is a success, but it could have been much worse. On the play before CB Josh Wilson‘s fourth-quarter interception, WR Wes Welker beat CB DeAngelo Hall only to drop an easy touchdown. TE Aaron Hernandez dropped a touchdown on third-and-2 from the 5 in the second quarter, and the Patriots settled for a field goal. They did so again at the end of the first half after Brady threw low and behind TE Rob Gronkowski in the end zone.

Brady was sloppy early in the game — he was only 8-of-19 passing in the first half. At times his footwork was poor and he didn’t step towards his target. That resulted in several errant throws. He overthrew one receiver screen when he hurried and didn’t grip the ball across the laces. Also, a few incompletions resulted from apparent miscommunications with his receivers. He got hot in the second half, though, completing 14 of his first 16 passes, as the Patriots went to short, quick throws and relied on yards after the catch.

• This is implied by the names on the gassers list, but the Redskins have to be disappointed that their best defensive players didn’t step up against a prolific offense such as New England’s. The Redskins were going to need some big plays on defense to match QB Tom Brady, WR Wes Welker and TE Rob Gronkowski, but they got too few. OLBs Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo never got home. No one forced a fumble. Reasons for it can be elusive, but it comes down to players losing individual matchups and New England executing better. So often this season we’ve talked about how the Redskins need playmakers on offense. On Sunday they needed them on defense, too.

• The Patriots averaged 4.29 yards per carry on their 17 designed runs, but 25 yards came on two carries. Take those away and the Redskins held New England to 3 yards per carry, so the defensive line was OK. Teams aren’t going to sell out against the run when they play the Patriots. Run defense against them is about rallying to the ball and getting off blocks, which the Redskins did well enough.

• Rookie SS DeJon Gomes had mixed results in his second career start. Getting dragged by TE Rob Gronkowski and failing to complete the tackle was embarrassing. Gronkowski beat Gomes for a touchdown on the next play, but the coverage wasn’t bad. Gronkowski got an inside release, but Gomes undercut the throw in time; QB Tom Brady just put it in a perfect spot to capitalize on Gronkowski’s 6-inch height advantage.

We were discussing in the press box on Sunday how Gomes had yet to demonstrate much power. Shortly thereafter, he blew up Gronkowski on a throw into the end zone. Gomes probably was lucky not to have been flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit, but he separated Gronkowski from the ball and sent him flying backward to the ground.

Another fine play was Gomes’ open-field tackle of Brady in the closing seconds of the first half. Brady would have scored if Gomes hadn’t sprinted forward, dove and tripped him up.

We never got clarification about why Oshiomogho Atogwe replaced him for the final two series. Endurance has been an issue for Gomes this season. The matter is worth pursuing this week.

• The Redskins rushed four or fewer defenders on 26 of 40 dropbacks. They rushed five defenders 12 times and six defenders twice.

Against four or fewer rushers, QB Tom Brady was 13-of-24 for 101 yards, a touchdown and an interception; a passer rating of 61.3.

Against five rushers, Brady was 7-of-11 for 170 yards, a touchdown and a sack; a passer rating of 137.5.

Against six rushers, Brady was 2-of-2 for 86 yards an a touchdown; a perfect rating of 158.3.

• By my count, ILB London Fletcher rushed the quarterback on 11 of 40 dropbacks. I don’t have data from other games, but that seems like a lot. Clearly the Redskins wanted to try to generate pressure by confusing New England’s line. They ran games up front with mixed success. Their only sack came on a stunt with DLs Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield, and Fletcher hit QB Tom Brady to force an incompletion on another. The Patriots‘ line picked them up more cleanly as the game progressed, though.

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