Redskins-Cowboys film review: Defense
ILB LONDON FLETCHER: This was one of those games in which you simply appreciate the opportunity to watch firsthand Fletcher’s exceptional talent and burning passion. He’s a special player who was worth the price of admission on Sunday. He was credited with a game-high 16 tackles (nine solo), a sack, a forced fumble and two tackles for loss.
His list of positive plays is long, but the one that stood out most was his tackle of RB DeMarco Murray for a 1-yard gain on a simple pitch to the right on first-and-10 in the second quarter. CB DeAngelo Hallcame up and took on pulling RG Kyle Kosier by going low. The TV camera angle was bad, but Hall appeared to disrupt Murray’s footing a bit as Murray tried to turn the right corner. Fletcher, meanwhile, chased the play toward the sideline to his left. Lead blocker FB John Phillips was in Fletcher’s path, so Fletcher dove through Phillips‘ legs and into Murray to finish the play. Basically, Fletcher took out two guys with one surge. He was a human bowling ball.
Overall, he was aggressive and precise reading running plays and filling his gap. On a couple of runs, he eluded LG Montrae Holland on the second level and made the tackle. He diagnosed a swing pass to Murray on the first play of Dallas’ fifth series and closed in time to run Murray out of bounds for a loss of 2.
He jarred the ball loose from TE Jason Witten in the second half by closing fast and punching the ball with his left hand. QB Tony Romo’s spin out to his left worked several times in this game, but not on Fletcher’s third-quarter sack. Fletcher also helped the Redskins get the ball back for their game-trying drive in the fourth quarter by running side-by-side with WR Laurent Robinson on a third-down incompletion down the right seam.
Fletcher missed a couple of tackles, but that’s going to happen when a player is around the ball as much as he was. For him to produce at this level at age 36 leaves me in awe.
SS DEJON GOMES: Gomes played a quality game on its own merit. Then when you consider it was his first NFL start, it truly was exceptional. He was extremely active in run support; the 13 tackles with which he was credited were second only to ILB London Fletcher. Those two and ILB Perry Rileyare the main reasons why the Redskins limited RB DeMarco Murray to 2.9 yards per carry on 25 attempts. Overall, Gomes’ reads and run fits appeared sound, and his speed helped him make plays around the line of scrimmage and in coverage.
He read the draw from a deep safety position on Dallas’ first drive and sprinted up to stop Murray for no gain. He tackled RB Felix Jones for 2-yard gain in the fourth quarter after charging from a safety position at least 10 yards from the line of scrimmage.
Gomes helped forced DE Stephen Bowen‘s sack early in the third quarter by beating Murray on a blitz. He lined up in the box and engaged with Murray four yards behind the line of scrimmage. He got his hands inside Murray’s and got through to Murray’s inside shoulder. That disrupted QB Tony Romo enough to flush him from the pocket, and Bowen finished the play after 6.2 seconds — an eternity.
As you’d expect from a rookie making his first start, he had some plays that need work. He should have fallen on TE Jason Witten’s fumble in the third quarter instead of trying to scoop it and run. That gave Witten the opportunity to regain possession, which he did. I’m interested in learning more about Gomes’ role on Witten’s 59-yard touchdown. Witten broke off his route and ran in front of Gomes on a slant, but Gomes appeared to be in Cover-2 and responsible for the other half of the field instead of Witten. Overall, it was a promising debut.
CB DEANGELO HALL: Hall said after the game that he would cut himself if he were in the front office. That’s not going to happen, but he’ll at least top this list. He excoriated himself for failing to stop a 26-yard completion to WR Dez Bryant on third-and-15. Hall slipped when Bryant cut back to the left sideline, and Bryant extended the Cowboys‘ game-winning drive.
It wasn’t just Hall’s slip, though. He appeared beaten on the play even if he kept his balance. When Bryant planted and broke out to the sideline, Hall tried to stay with him by turning his back to the line of scrimmage instead of opening his hips. Because QB Tony Romo timed his throw so well to Bryant coming out of his break, Hall was beaten as soon as turned.
Several times in the last two games, in fact, Hall has gotten turned around by receivers who break to sideline while he’s playing them with outside leverage. Dallas WR Jesse Holley beat him like that for a 17-yard completion on third-and-12 in the first half. It extended a drive that ended in a field goal. I think Hall would be the first to tell you he shouldn’t be beaten in single coverage by Jesse Holley.
Those negative plays overshadowed what Hall did well. He effectively supported the run defense. His backside contain helped limit RB DeMarco Murray to 2 yards on a fourth-quarter run. He also tackled Murray for a loss of 2 on a second-quarter screen pass and helped the Redskins get off the field on a second-quarter third-and-6 by cutting off WR Kevin Ogletree’s slant route.
He admittedly played with “bad technique” on the Cowboys‘ first touchdown. He was a step and a half late getting to WR Dez Bryant at the right sideline in the end zone. QB Tony Romo appeared to freeze Atogwe with his eyes. Atogwe was moving toward the sideline but hesitated when Romo stared him down. That created enough time for Romo’s 22-yard touchdown pass.
Atogwe also was in double coverage against Bryant when Bryant caught a 26-yard pass on third-and-15 to extend the Cowboys‘ game-winning field goal drive in overtime. Atogwe showed blitz before dropping to help CB DeAngelo Hall cover Bryant inside and underneath, but Atogwe didn’t change directions to match Bryant when he stopped and broke back out to the sideline.
Atogwe said after the game that he felt relatively healthy, and he did move much better than in the Buffalo game. He protected the deep middle on a first-half throw to WR Dez Bryant that landed incomplete. Atogwe recovered into a good position after playing a different receiver to start the play, and he made a diving attempt on the ball.
No game balls this week for the defensive line because the consistency and impact plays weren’t there, but there was a lot to like, as evidenced by RB DeMarco Murray’s 2.9-yard rushing average. Each lineman made positive contributions.
NT Barry Cofield kept Dallas’ guards off the inside linebackers on runs of 0 and 3 yards on Dallas’ first series. He also forced Murray to bounce a first-quarter draw outside because he clubbed C Phil Costa to the ground with his right arm. That was an awesome display of strength. Costa got a measure of revenge by blocking Cofield to seal the running lanes on consecutive fourth-quarter rushes that totaled 11 yards.
RDE Stephen Bowen did his best Ryan Kerrigan impersonation and finished a high-motor sack in the third quarter. SS DeJon Gomes disrupted the pocket with his blitz, and QB Tony Romo lost his poise. At one point during the play, Bowen was three yards further behind the line of scrimmage than Romo was, but he outlasted LT Doug Free and sacked Romo from behind. Bowen hit Romo 6.2 seconds after the snap, which is an incredibly long time. Romo should have checked down to TE Martellus Bennett or thrown it away.
LDE Adam Carriker beat RG Kyle Kosier to the outside for a second-quarter half-sack by disengaging with a strong swipe of his arms. That forced Romo to step up into NT Chris Neild’s grasp. Carriker helped finish the sack from behind. Carriker and Neild also anchored on a first-quarter run that went for no gain. They stood up Costa and RT Tyron Smith, respectively, with superior leverage. Gomes came forward and made the stop.
• ROLB Brian Orakpo did not have a sack for the 15th time in 16 career games against NFC East opponents. However, he positively impacted the run defense and effectively pressured QB Tony Romo at times.
Orakpo bull-rushed LT Doug Free close enough to Romo to alter Romo’s swing pass to RB DeMarco Murray in the fourth quarter. Romo didn’t step into the throw and it was low. He also stopped Murray for no gain on a third-and-1 in the fourth quarter by getting his hands into TE Jason Witten’s chest and getting inside Witten.
Ultimately, though, one of the lasting images from this game is Romo spinning away from Orakpo’s pressure and buying time to complete a 59-yard touchdown to Witten. The Cowboys doubled or chipped Orakpo only four times out of 31 pass rushes, which means Free beat him one-on-one too many times. Losing to Miami’s Jake Long last week was one thing — he’s an All-Pro and a three-time Pro Bowler. Doug Free is not Jake Long.
• For comparison’s sake, the Cowboys doubled or chipped LOLB Ryan Kerriganfour times out of 30 pass rushes. Without having recorded how each opponent has handled Kerrigan and Orakpo, this at least indicates a similar level of attention to both.
• The Redskins had another poor showing on third down, especially in the second half. Dallas converted 8 of 17 attempts in the game, including 5 of their final 6. Dallas’ 47-percent conversion rate was Washington’s second-worst this season behind last week’s game against Miami (57 percent).
A common trend, especially late in the game, was QB Tony Romo’s ability to escape the rush and buy time. He did that on the 7-yard touchdown to WR Laurent Robinson on third-and-goal, the 59-yard touchdown to TE Jason Witten on third-and-8 and the 7-yard completion to RB DeMarco Murray on third-and-6. The Redskins failed to containing Romo and get him on the ground in those situations.
• ILB Perry Riley had another promising performance pocked by some costly mistakes. The biggest question is his role on TE Jason Witten’s 59-yard touchdown. Riley appeared to be in no man’s land on his drop, and CB DeAngelo Hall‘s postgame assessment implied Riley was to blame.
“It was Cover-2 zone, and somebody dropped him,” Hall said. “Somebody should have been running with him through the whole course of the play. It’s probably one of the one plays Fletch [ILB London Fletcher] missed because he was cramping up a little bit, but the next guy that comes in has got to make that play.”
But Riley obviously is a talent worth developing. He stood up RB DeMarco Murray on several rushes, and his speed helped him avoid offensive linemen on the second level. He had to read and react more this week than he did in his attacking role last week against Miami, and he finished with 10 tackles.
• CB Josh Wilson covered well except for the 7-yard touchdown to WR Laurent Robinson. That’s quite the exception, I know. Robinson froze Wilson with a hard step up the field, which allowed him to separate on a drag route from right to left. It didn’t help that CB Kevin Barnes picked Wilson while running to the right flat to cover a receiver.
Wilson also was flagged for pass interference. He briefly held onto one of Robinson’s arms on a crossing route. I agreed with the Fox broadcasters that it was a ticky-tack call. Wilson has established himself as the Redskins‘ best cover corner.
• CB Byron Westbrook showed well after Wilson left the game with a hamstring strain. He drove on an intermediate crossing route and broke that up on second-and-8 in the fourth quarter. He also ran up to set the edge on a run that went for no gain.
Against four or fewer rushers, Romo was 16-of-25 for 213, 3 touchdowns and a sack; a passer rating of 130.5.
Against five rushers, Romo was 5-of-8 for 43 yards and three sacks; a passer rating of 76.6.
Against six or more rushers, Romo was 2-of-4 for 36 yards.
In these teams’ first meeting back in September, the Redskins rushed four or fewer on 48.6 percent (18 of 37) of Dallas’ dropbacks compared to 63.4 of dropbacks in this game. Romo’s rating against four or fewer in the September game was 85.0.
• On third-and-13 from the Redskins‘ 29-yard line in the second quarter, Washington showed a four-man line but rushed seven in a Cover-0 blitz. That’s the reverse of what the Redskins more frequently do: show a Zero blitz but drop out of it. Dallas completed a pass for 10 yards and settled for a field goal.
• Washington had safeties Reed Doughty, Oshiomogho Atogwe and DeJon Gomes on the field at the same time for two plays on separate series in the second quarter. One resulted in an incomplete pass on third-and-6, and the other was a 9-yard completion. Gomes provides some versatility because he often played in the box as a linebacker at Nebraska.
• OLB Rob Jackson made a rare play in pass coverage in the third quarter. He jammed WR Laurent Robinson — or perhaps Robinson ran into Jackson — at four yards. That disrupted the timing of Robinson’s crossing pattern, and QB Tony Romo’s throw was beyond his reach.
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