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Redskins-Bills 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 re-watching the TV broadcast of their 23-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

GAME BALLS

ILB LONDON FLETCHER: Fletcher was all over the field and gave everything he had to hold together a defense that had no margin for error. After being listed as questionable with a hamstring injury, all he did was make 20 tackles (12 solo), intercept a pass in the end zone, split a sack and hit QB Ryan Fitzpatrick twice. He forcefully took on blockers and shed several to make tackles.

A few plays stood out: On his interception in the end zone, he held his ground when WR Stevie Johnson cut in. Fletcher is entitled to his own vertical space, so it was a good no-call when Johnson ran into him more than 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Fletcher drove hard on the ball and saved the Redskins points by catching it. On the next series, he stopped a screen pass for only 2 yards after shedding RG Kraig Urbik.

Fletcher can't have a monster game unless the linemen in front of him keep him clean, so players such as Adam Carriker and Kedric Golston deserve some credit for allowing Fletcher to make plays. But under the most frustrating circumstances, Fletcher showed the heart that has fueled his entire career. I don't blame him for losing his cool on the sideline after SS LaRon Landry missed an assignment on the Bills' second touchdown. He expects others to play to the standard he sets, and rightfully so.

OLB RYAN KERRIGAN: Washington's inept offense limited the potential impact of any defensive player, but Kerrigan had a solid game against the run. He stopped three runs for minimal gains by rushing unblocked, sharply turning the corner and pursuing laterally. He also had two tackles for loss by staying low and penetrating on the edge.

Kerrigan also helped force both of the Redskins' sacks. On the first one, he stayed low out of his two-point stance and bull rushed RT Erik Pears backwards. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick felt the pressure and stepped up into DE Kedric Golston. On the second, he took advantage of what appeared to be a blown protection. Pears blocked down on LDE Adam Carriker instead of blocking Kerrigan. RG Kraig Urbik kicked out to Kerrigan too late. Again, Fitzpatrick stepped up into pressure up the middle.

Kerrigan whiffed on a sack later in the fourth quarter after rushing unblocked. You could tell by his reaction on the field that he was salty about it.

DE KEDRIC GOLSTON: Golston is quietly having a solid season in a reserve role, and this was his best game of the year. As a full-time starter last season, he was pushed back too frequently. He's anchoring much more effectively this year, though, in a reduced number of snaps. That's a development worth pursuing this week.

Golston occupied two blockers on a first-down run in the second quarter, which allowed the linebackers to stop the play for a 3-yard gain. On a first down later in that series, he anchored against RG Kraig Urbik and shed him with a quick little swim move to stop RB Fred Jackson for 1 yard.

Later in the quarter, he hustled after an underneath wide receiver screen and made the tackle from behind. And he recorded a sack in the second half when QB Ryan Fitzpatrick stepped up to avoid OLBs Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan coming off the edges. Golston kept his feet moving and pushed former Redskin LG Chad Rinehart back enough to position himself to clean up the play.

P SAV ROCCA: Four of his six punts grossed at least 50 yards. The other two were downed at Buffalo's 20- and 13-yard lines. He gave the defense a fighting chance.

GASSERS

SS LARON LANDRY: Landry admittedly blew his assignment on Buffalo's second touchdown. On third-and-1 from the Redskins' 15-yard line, he read a run key that led him astray. That exposed ILB London Fletcher to TE Scott Chandler's corner route, which was an easy pitch and catch. Props to Landry, though, for owning up to the error; and he's justified in pointing out that he at least makes his mistakes at full speed. He plays hard and has the right attitude.

This goes beyond that breakdown, though. Landry isn't impacting games the way he's capable of. My guess is that he's not fully healthy. How else to explain zero interceptions or forced fumbles and only half a sack in four games since he made his season debut on Monday night against Dallas? Landry could've forced 10 fumbles in this game and the Redskins wouldn't have won, but the point is Landry has not played at as high a level as he did last season. The production isn't there, and it's hurting a defense that has no margin for error these days. Don't forget he's playing for a new contract.

CB JOSH WILSON: I'm curious why Wilson didn't sell out to defend the goal line on TE Scott Chandler's first touchdown catch. With ILB London Fletcher pursuing the play from behind, Wilson initially appeared intent on beating Chandler to the pylon. But when Chandler dove, Wilson seemed to pull up. It was in stark contrast to how Fletcher launched himself at Carolina QB Cam Newton two games ago when Newton dove for the goal line.

Wilson committed a pass interference penalty in the second quarter that cost the Redskins 34 yards and set up Buffalo's first field goal. His coverage of RB C.J. Spiller's go route was OK, but he didn't turn his head to find the ball. When a corner faceguards a receiver and makes contact, it's an easy call for the referee.

Wilson in the fourth quarter missed tackling WR Brad Smith out of the Wildcat formation. It would have been a really nice tackle if he had finished the play after getting around Smith's lead blocker, but Smith ran through Wilson's attempt to wrap up.

Overall, I thought Wilson and CB DeAngelo Hall benefited from playing tighter to the line of scrimmage. Wilson, for example, gave up a 10-yard completion on third-and-12 on Buffalo's first series, but he was tight enough on WR Stevie Johnson to make the tackle short of the sticks. Perhaps that limits the corners' ability to intercept passes by playing with vision, but they had struggled in coverage recently, and this technique helped.

ILB ROCKY MCINTOSH: Some of McIntosh's past problems with missed tackles and over pursuit reappeared. The most glaring was his whiff on RB Fred Jackson with less than a minute remaining in the first half. Buffalo was able to salvage a field goal before halftime after McIntosh failed to wrap Jackson up after a catch near the left sideline. Jackson gained 38 yards after the missed tackle, running to the Redskins' 23-yard line.

McIntosh also fanned on Jackson at the line of scrimmage after he filled a gap on a fourth-quarter run. McIntosh was unblocked in his run fit; he just didn't finish the play. Jackson gained 9 yards for a first down.

It's possible that McIntosh was affected by an injury. He rotated in and out with Keyaron Fox, and he noticeably limped after ILB London Fletcher's second-half interception.

OBSERVATIONS

Big plays and isolated breakdowns undid some otherwise solid work by the defense. ILB Rocky McIntosh's missed tackle of RB Fred Jackson and CB Josh Wilson's pass interference penalty are two examples.

Jackson also ran for 43 yards on the first play of the second half. I can't be sure of the Redskins' run fits on that play, but ILB London Fletcher ended up running into backup ILB Keyaron Fox, who didn't start to flow toward Jackson until it was too late.

Most notably, the Redskins blew coverages on both of Buffalo's touchdowns. SS LaRon Landry took responsibility for the error on the second score. The first touchdown is more difficult to figure out. Fletcher and FS Oshiomogho Atogwe followed RB Fred Jackson into the left flat immediately after the snap. When TE Scott Chandler ran a corner route, Fletcher was too flat to recover. He confronted Atogwe after the play, so the mix-up might have been between those two.

Again, it's a reminder that the Redskins' defense has no margin for error because of how bad the offense is right now. The Redskins held the Bills to 8 points less than Buffalo's season average and their second-lowest point total of the season, but Washington still had no chance to win because the offense couldn't sustain any positive production.

***

Including the second-quarter pass on which CB Josh Wilson committed interference, the Bills dropped back to pass 31 times. The Redskins rushed four or fewer defenders on 22.

Against four or fewer rushers, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was 16-of-21 for 176 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and a 34-yard pass interference penalty. His passer rating was 112.4.

Against five or more rushers, Fitzpatrick was 5-of-6 for 86 yards and two sacks. His rating was 118.8.

As advertised, Fitzpatrick relied on quick throws to move the offense. He made fast decisions and got the ball out on time, which limited the Redskins' pass rush. And when the Redskins' coverage broke down, he made them pay with accurate throws that exploited the weakness.

***

NT Barry Cofield dropped in coverage on ILB London Fletcher's interception. He lined up in his normal down position as if he was going to rush the passer, but he dropped into coverage after the snap. I don't remember seeing this ever before. Something to ask about this week.

***

Hey, what do you know? The Redskins actually recovered a fumble. After QB Ryan Fitzpatrick lost the exchange from center in the first half, RB Fred Jackson dropped the ball when he tried to scoop it and run. It rolled to OLB Brian Orakpo, who wisely fell on it. It was only the defense's fourth fumble recovery in 16 chances this season.

***

ILB Keyaron Fox was uneven in rotating with Rocky McIntosh. His open-field tackle of RB Fred Jackson on a second-quarter screen saved a first down and maybe a touchdown. It was an exceptional form tackle. He also shed C Eric Wood and stopped a running play at 4 yards late in the first quarter. On the flip side, he was involved in Jackson's 43-yard run to start the second half.

Fox impressed during the preseason, and I'd be interested to see him play more because he's a good tackler. McIntosh, however, has played rather well overall this season, according to what defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said last week.

***

FS Oshiomogho Atogwe noticeably limped in pursuit of RB Fred Jackson on a second half reception. Atogwe showed no explosiveness when Jackson forced him to quickly change directions. Atogwe was quiet again on Sunday during his Canadian homecoming.

***

The defensive line was inconsistent overall. DE Stephen Bowen was moved out too frequently early in the game but was better in the second half. NT Barry Cofield was fairly quiet, as well. DE Adam Carriker occupied two offensive linemen on at least three running plays that I counted. Golston had a very good game.

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