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Redskins-Vikings film review: Defense

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ANALYSIS/OPINION

A review of the best and worst performances by the Washington Redskins' defense and some observations after rewatching the TV broadcast of their 33-26 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

GAME BALLS

ILB LONDON FLETCHER: Fletcher was credited with 17 tackles and half a sack. The Vikings still rushed for 241 yards (6.3 yards per attempt), so his impact was limited, but he was tenacious and repeatedly got off blocks to make tackles.

He wasn't perfect by any stretch. On the decisive touchdown Minnesota scored with 10:06 left in the game, Fletcher bit when QB Joe Webb faked the inside handoff to RB Toby Gerhart going left. As a result, he trailed WR Percy Harvin when Harvin slid out into the right flat for an easy 8-yard catch-and-score.

But Fletcher got off TE Kyle Rudolph's block to stop RB Adrian Peterson for 2 yards on third-and-6 in the first quarter. Later on that drive, he shed LG Joe Berger on the second level to stop Peterson for 2 yards. At the end of that drive, he shot through a gap and stuffed Peterson at the goal line. (OLB Brian Orakpo created the opening by standing up and pushing back TE Visanthe Shiancoe.) Being relatively short (5-10) seems to help Fletcher in shedding blocks. He has a low center of gravity and rarely gets swallowed up by blockers with longer reach.

Fletcher also knocked Minnesota starting QB Christian Ponder out of the game with a violent hit early in the third quarter. As Ponder was going down, Fletcher made sure to keep his helmet to the left of Ponder's so as not to incur a penalty. Ponder's concussion ended up working against the Redskins because they couldn't stop Webb, but that's another story.

Fletcher deserves to be voted to the Pro Bowl. I also don't see why the Redskins would expect their defense to improve without him next season. The organization needs to pay him and keep intact a front seven that has proven – although not against Minnesota – to be the team's strongest area.

GASSERS

CB JOSH WILSON: Wilson, along with the rest of the Redskins' defense, had a terrible time matching up with WR Percy Harvin's speed. On third-and-10 with the score tied 23-23 in the fourth quarter, Harvin ran past Wilson in a one-on-one situation. The Redskins blitzed eight defenders, putting their corners in man-to-man with no help. Wilson lined up 5 yards from Harvin, giving Harvin a free release. Harvin simply ran by Wilson, and QB Joe Webb threw up a pass that Harvin could run underneath. Wilson stayed close enough to make a play on Harvin as soon as he caught it, but Harvin had enough separation to make a 36-yard catch that extended the decisive touchdown drive.

Harvin also ran away from Wilson on the decisive 8-yard touchdown catch. He lined up as an H-back and slid out the right side of the formation while play action misdirected the defense to the left. Wilson couldn't get to Harvin in time. Harvin also converted third-and-6 on Minnesota's first touchdown drive by separating from Wilson on a shallow cross. Two tight ends ran interference crossing from the other side, and that backed Wilson off.

Wilson gave up some plays in the run game, too. QB Christian Ponder ran 8 yards on a naked bootleg to Wilson's side after Wilson came down hard on the run fake. RB Toby Gerhart ran Wilson over on an 8-yard run in the fourth quarter. Wilson ducked his head and never wrapped Gerhart's legs up.

It wasn't all bad for Wilson, though. He got the Redskins off the field on Minnesota's first drive by shedding a block on a screen and stopping RB Adrian Peterson for 5 yards on third-and-9. Overall, though, Wilson became the latest in a long list of corners to struggle matching up with Harvin.

LOLB RYAN KERRIGAN: Minnesota dual-threat QB Joe Webb victimized the Redskins several times by running the counter option to Kerrigan's side of the field. Kerrigan has done quite well this season turning the corner and getting down the line of scrimmage to make run stops from behind, but Kerrigan's aggressiveness worked against him defending the option.

On second-and-goal from the Redskins' 9 in the third quarter, Webb took the snap, faked running left and then circled back to the right to run the option with RB Toby Gerhart. Kerrigan slanted hard to the inside when Webb started left, and that allowed TE Kyle Rudolph to seal him in. Kerrigan recovered in time only for Webb to drag him across the goal line.

The same thing happened on Webb's 16-yard run in the second quarter. Although Kerrigan didn't commit inside as aggressively as he did on the touchdown, Rudolph still sealed him and allowed Webb to turn the quarter at full speed. The Vikings ran at him on the next play and gained 7 yards. Rudolph and TE Visanthe Shiancoe combination-blocked him, and Kerrigan didn't disengage from Shiancoe in time to set the edge.

RDE STEPHEN BOWEN: Coach Mike Shanahan called Saturday's game, in which the Redskins surrendered 241 rushing yards, "the poorest game that we've played up front this year." All three starting linemen are on this list, then. It's not necessarily that they were consistently dominated, but each took turns being pushed around by the Vikings' quality offensive line.

On RB Toby Gerhart's 67-yard run in the third quarter, LT Charlie Johnson sealed Bowen to the inside. Gerhart countered to the right right in the backfield before taking the handoff back to the left behind Johnson. Bowen slanted inside on the counter fake, and Johnson sealed him easily. Also, even though Bowen slanted to his left, LG Joe Berger released unimpeded to ILB London Fletcher. I can't say for sure whether it's Bowen's responsibility to prevent Berger from getting to the second level, but in the Redskins' scheme it's the linemen's duty to keep offensive linemen off the inside linebackers.

Bowen also was turned inside on an 8-yard run by Gerhart on the next series. That time the Vikings positioned RT Phil Loadholt as a tight end on the left side of the formation. He blocked down on Bowen and turned Bowen in by getting his hands inside Bowen's.

Bowen, like each of the linemen, did make some positive contributions. For example, he fought inside Johnson on a late first-quarter run to stop RB Adrian Peterson for 2 yards.

NT BARRY COFIELD: Cofield couldn't stand his ground against LG Joe Berger and C John Sullivan's double team on RB Adrian Peterson's 1-yard touchdown plunge early in the second quarter. That's a difficult task, for sure, but the space that created helped Peterson score.

Just as Bowen was sealed inside on RB Toby Gerhart's 67-yard run, so was Cofield. Cofield engaged Sullivan and stepped to his left when the play's direction initially went that way, but when Gerhart countered back to the other side, Sullivan moved his feet and squared Cofield out of the play.

One of Cofield's best plays was the third-quarter sack of QB Christian Ponder. He stayed low and kept churning his legs, driving Sullivan backward. When Cofield got close enough to Ponder, he jumped and reached over Sullivan to grab Ponder's jersey. That completely disrupted the play and led to the sack. DE Adam Carriker and ILB London Fletcher got credit for splitting the sack, but Cofield has a claim to that one.

LDE ADAM CARRIKER: Carriker, like his teammates along the line, was inconsistent. RB Adrian Peterson had early carries of 5 and 4 yards running behind double teams of Carriker. The Vikings successfully ran the option to his side several times. On QB Joe Webb's 9-yard touchdown run, RT Phil Loadholt turned Carriker inside with a strong right-handed push, which helped Webb get to the right edge without trouble. Carriker also was pushed out by LT Charlie Johnson on RB Adrian Peterson's 1-yard touchdown. Peterson ran through the space vacated by Carriker.

On the positive side, Carriker was strong enough to fight Loadholt off and stop RB Lorenzo Booker for only 2 yards on a third-quarter carry. He also stopped RB Toby Gerhart for no gain in the fourth quarter by splitting the gap between the center and right guard.

SS DEJON GOMES: Gomes was one of many Redskins chasing after RB Toby Gerhart on the 67-yard run. Because the LG Joe Berger got to ILB London Fletcher and FB Ryan D'Imperio sealed OLB Brian Orakpo on the edge, the defense needed Gomes to fit and make a one-on-one tackle. Instead, Gomes ran up toward the line of scrimmage inside of Fletcher, which was too sharp an angle. Gerhart easily beat him to the point of attack and was off to the races. Gomes also took too sharp an angle on a first-quarter checkdown to RB Adrian Peterson. Peterson, as a result, got to the left corner and gained 9 yards.

Gomes also was beaten on play-action in the first quarter, although TE Visanthe Shiancoe dropped what would have been a gain of more than 30 yards. He sprinted forward to stop the run, and Shiancoe released passed him. Gomes has to see the play and react faster. Time will tell whether the rookie can correct these mistakes or whether he lacks the instincts regarding angles and reads.

OBSERVATIONS

ILB Perry Riley was beaten in coverage on TE Kyle Rudolph's 17-yard touchdown reception. The second-year linebacker has been beaten in coverage on other big plays this season, but this one didn't appear to be a missed assignment. Rudolph just ran a corner route away from Riley, who was playing with inside leverage and allowed Rudolph an unrestricted release. QB Joe Webb placed the pass where only Rudolph could catch it, and S Reed Doughty didn't get over to help in time. Earlier in the game, Riley broke up a pass to RB Adrian Peterson in the left flat by closing on the play quickly and jarring the ball loose with a quality hit.

***

CB Kevin Barnes didn't play on defense for the first time this season. The Vikings have only four receivers listed on their roster, so the Redskins' cornerbacks in sub packages weren't tested much.

The Redskins again gave Byron Westbrook a look as the nickel cornerback. Westbrook gave up a 14-yard completion to WR Greg Camarillo on third-and-15. Camarillo from the right slot ran an out route and separated from Westbrook with a convincing jab step to the inside at the top of the break. FS Oshiomogho Atogwe arrived in time to prevent the first down but too late to separate Camarillo from the ball.

***

ROLB Brian Orakpo made several quality run stops in the first half by getting inside the fullback or tight end on his side. Orakpo said after the game that he has improved against the run this season because he's staying in his gap and emphasizing the importance of run defense as much as getting to the quarterback.

"I was so big on trying to get to the quarterback before," he said. "This time I thought my game progressed as far as being gap sound. I was able to stand still in that 'C' gap and get down with the big dogs."

***

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said recently that coaches were searching for ways to get LB Lorenzo Alexander on the field on defense, and Alexander played on third-and-1 from the Minnesota 36 in the third quarter. Alexander's defensive duty this season has been limited to goal line situations.

On the play, the Redskins used three linemen and five linebackers. Alexander lined up in a two-point stance between LDE Adam Carriker and OLB Ryan Kerrigan. Alexander held his ground against TE Kyle Rudolph's block, but RB Toby Gerhart ran through ILB Perry Riley's tackle and gained 14 yards.

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