A review of the best and worst performances by the Washington Redskins' defense and some observations after re-watching the TV broadcast of their 20-9 loss to the Miami Dolphins:
NT BARRY COFIELD: Cofield was a big reason why the Redskins surrendered only 3.1 yards per carry, their best mark since Week 4. He consistently anchored inside against C Mike Pouncey and even penetrated on a few runs. ILBs London Fletcher and Perry Riley came downhill against the run all game partly because Cofield gave them the space to do so.
Cofield created CB Kevin Barnes' interception by beating a double team and hitting QB Matt Moore's right arm during the throw. He broke down Pouncey's hands with a quick slap and rip and penetrated between the center and the right guard. He almost had an interception of his own in the second quarter when he diagnosed a screen pass to RB Reggie Bush and dove in front of it.
LOLB RYAN KERRIGAN: Kerrigan forced a fumble that gave Washington's anemic offense the ball at Miami's 24-yard line in the third quarter. For me, that's enough to make up for 20 yards on two penalties and isolated negative plays allowed in coverage and in run defense.
Kerrigan in total had two sacks, forced two fumbles and in the process showed some explosiveness rushing off the edge. His first quarter sack resulted from an outside move around RT Marc Colombo. Kerrigan stayed low off the snap, ripped under Colombo's outside shoulder and stayed low to sharply turn the corner. Kerrigan didn't make that type of play when he first began practicing in July. He obviously has gotten more comfortable maintaining leverage and proper angles when rushing the passer from a two-point stance.
Credit him for being aware of the importance of hacking down on the ball when finishing a sack. Twice he stripped the ball from QB Matt Moore by swiping down. Compare that to OLB Brian Orakpo, who failed to get the ball free from Carolina QB Cam Newton on a free shot in Week 7. Orakpo says he is more concerned with tackling the quarterback than stripping him.
Kerrigan stayed fairly tight in coverage on a deep incompletion to TE Anthony Fasano down the middle on third-and-13 in the second quarter. He lined up over Fasano and forced him to take an outside release. Moore's throw, then, was too far in front of Fasano.
Kerrigan was OK, not great, in run defense. Fasano locked onto him and blocked him one-on-one on RB Reggie Bush's second touchdown run. The entire left side of the Redskins' line failed on that play, allowing three blockers to get to the second level.
ROLB BRIAN ORAKPO: Pro Bowlers can't be as quiet as Orakpo was. Dolphins LT Jake Long controlled him all game. Long has great feet for his enormous size (6-7, 317). He limited Orakpo's speed rush and never was overpowered by the bull rush.
Another reason for Orakpo's minimal impact: He dropped in pass coverage on almost half of the dropbacks (14 of 30) for which he was in the game. Compare that to OLB Ryan Kerrigan playing coverage on only a quarter of Miami's dropbacks (8 of 32).
One play stands out that's worth following up on this week. Keep on reading because I want to classify it with the third-down defense review.
Third-down defense was the Redskins' demise. The Dolphins entered the game last in the NFL converting only 26 percent of their third downs, but they were 8 of 14 (57 percent).
Various breakdowns kept the Redskins from getting off the field. First, let's go back to the play I alluded to in OLB Brian Orakpo's write-up above: Third-and-4 from the Washington 40-yard line. QB Matt Moore completed a 26-yard pass to WR Brandon Marshall down the middle.
Marshall lined up inside near the right tackle with CB DeAngelo Hall covering him. Orakpo, meanwhile, took his usual position on the right edge of the defense.
In an attempt to mix up looks, I guess, coaches called for Hall to blitz off the corner, giving Marshall a free run down the middle of the field. Vertical routes by receivers on the outside split the safeties. That left Orakpo dropping down the middle to try to prevent a completion to Marshall.
Orakpo gave a valiant effort — he jumped and the ball sailed just out of his reach — but that's asking a lot of him. You'd think the higher-percentage play there is to have your Pro Bowl cornerback run with the two-time Pro Bowl receiver instead of asking your outside linebacker, who doesn't excel in coverage, to drop 15 yards from across the formation. Again, I'm eager to follow up on that one this week.
Another third-down failure: Third-and-8 from the Miami 31; Redskins trailing 13-9 with 10:20 remaining. Washington desperately needed the ball back behind by only one score.
The Dolphins lined Marshall and WR Brian Hartline up wide left; CBs Byron Westbrook and Kevin Barnes covered them. TE Anthony Fasano had his hand down on the left side of the formation, as well. All three ran vertical routes. ILB London Fletcher showed blitz but dropped in coverage alongside Fasano. But when Fasano stopped near the yard-to-gain, Fletcher kept dropping. Barnes didn't come off Hartline in time to jump the throw to Fasano inside. The 11-yard completion was too easy.
• ILB Perry Riley was exciting to watch in his first start. He constantly was around the ball; he diagnosed two screens on which he darted behind the blockers out in front of the play.
Also, he plays faster than ILB Rocky McIntosh. He chased RB Reggie Bush down on a pitch to the left, strung the play out and didn't let Bush turn the corner. Bush gained only 1 yard. Riley later hit QB Matt Moore on a blitz up the middle after he faked Bush out with a jab step in the backfield.
Without being certain about Riley's assignments on each play, there appeared times when he either filled the wrong gap or ran with the wrong receiver. That's to be expected, though, for a player in his first start. As Mike Shanahan would say, Riley made his mistakes at 100 miles per hour. That the instincts and physical talent were evident is the main takeaway from his game. He'll sharpen his play if given a chance during the final seven games.
• It was an uneven collective performance by the Redskins' cornerbacks. CB DeAngelo Hall gave up at least two downfield completions after turning his hips the wrong way and having to circle his whole body around. He had two nice run fits, though.
CB Kevin Barnes had an interception, and he and Hall jumped a wide receiver screen to get the Redskins off the field on a third down in the second half. But WR Davone Bess beat him for a 23-yard gain out of the slot on third-and-10. Bess got an inside release with some quick footwork off the line, and Barnes' attempt to jam him was ineffective.
CB Josh Wilson broke up three passes. He drove on an early slant, dove to break up a drag route and used his body well to box out WR Brandon Marshall on a fade into the end zone in the first half.
• Dolphins QB Matt Moore dropped back to pass 32 times. The Redskins rushed four defenders 17 times; five defenders 13 times; and seven defenders twice.
Against four rushers, Moore was 12-of-16 for 109 yards, an interception and sack; a passer rating of 66.9.
Against five rushers, Moore was 7-of-11 for 85 yards and a sack; a passer rating of 87.3.
Against seven rushers, Moore was 1-of-2 for 15 yards.
• I'd love to know why Dolphins coaches thought it was a good idea to throw down the field on third-and-31 in the first quarter against a Redskins team that can't score points. That terrible call turned into CB Kevin Barnes' interception. Then again, maybe Dolphins coaches figured the Redskins wouldn't cross the goal line as long as they tackled whoever intercepted the pass.
• On RB Reggie Bush's game-clinching 18-yard touchdown run, three blockers got to the second level. Backup DLs Chris Neild and Kentwan Balmer and LOLB Ryan Kerrigan didn't stop C Mike Pouncey from blocking ILB Perry Riley, H-back Charles Clay from getting to ILB London Fletcher and RB Daniel Thomas from blocking CB DeAngelo Hall. Hall's tackle attempt is open to criticism, but that play was doomed as soon as three Dolphins got into the defensive backfield.
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