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Redskins-49ers film review: Defense

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2011

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 19-11 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

GAME BALLS

CB DEANGELO HALL: This might be a bit of a reach, but Hall's strip of TE Vernon Davis in the fourth quarter highlighted a good-but-not-great performance by the Redskins' defense. Washington desperately needed the ball back trailing by two scores with 7 minutes remaining, and Hall got it for them by overpowering Davis and ripping the ball out of his hands. It was the type of play he hasn't made enough of this season.

Hall was in on a team-high 12 tackles and appeared to execute his run fits well. He stopped RB Kendall Hunter for a 1-yard gain in the second quarter. He was unblocked on the left side of the defense a few yards off the line of scrimmage. When LOLB Ryan Kerrigan set the edge against Davis, Hall charged forward to make the stop.

Hall was far from perfect, though, just like the rest of the defense, which didn't make enough plays to win. He surrendered some short, quick completions while playing off coverage. It's tough to blame him for those, though, because he's playing the coverage that's called. On the first play of San Francisco's second series, WR Michael Crabtree caught a pass near the right sideline and gained 21 yards after Hall was late getting wide because he was looking into the backfield. Later, Crabtree's downfield block of Hall helped spring RB Frank Gore for 27 yards.

GASSERS

ILB ROCKY MCINTOSH: McIntosh had a key role in two important negative plays. FB Bruce Miller beat him for a 30-yard touchdown catch before halftime. When Miller ran out of the backfield, McIntosh ran too sharply to the left flat underneath WR Braylon Edwards instead of getting outside over top of him and gaining depth. McIntosh was caught too close to the line of scrimmage running in the wrong direction, and Miller easily sprinted past him. By the time Miller caught QB Alex Smith's throw, he was five yards beyond a trailing McIntosh.

McIntosh also delivered a benign hit against Edwards on a big third-and-4 in the fourth quarter with the Redskins trailing 16-3 and more than 10 minutes remaining. Edwards beat CB Josh Wilson on a slant from the left. Smith found Edwards in a small window between Wilson and McIntosh. Not only did McIntosh fail close on Edwards in time to break up the pass, his hit barely even staggered Edwards, who ran for 17 yards after contact.

McIntosh also missed a tackle on a first-quarter reception by WR Michael Crabtree, who gained a first down after contact.

RDE STEPHEN BOWEN: Without being certain about Bowen's run fits and responsibilities, I noted he was blocked one-on-one on six runs. Defensive linemen in the Redskins' front generally have to occupy blockers to keep the linebackers clean. That's not happening enough, though – this was the fourth straight game that the Redskins gave up at least 4.2 yards per carry.

LG Mike Iupati and LT Joe Staley controlled him at times, allowing fellow offensive linemen to get to the Redskins' linebackers. RB Frank Gore gained nine yards on the last play of the first quarter when Staley got off the ball lower than Bowen, turned him inside and sealed the edge. Meanwhile, Iupati released to LB Rocky McIntosh.

It wasn't all bad for Bowen. On OLB Ryan Kerrigan's first-quarter sack, he pushed the pocket when Iupati was slow to recover from thinking McIntosh was going to blitz up the middle. Bowen drove Gore back and helped flush QB Alex Smith out of the pocket, where Kerrigan eventually ran him down.

FS REED DOUGHTY: I feel like I'm one of few Redskins observers who believe Doughty is under appreciated by most fans. His limitations in pass coverage seem to overshadow his quality in run support. He's not a free safety, and he's too frequently miscast there because the Redskins haven't solved the hole that has existed at that position since late 2007, but he can stop the run.

However, Doughty didn't help his case by missing an uncontested tackle of RB Frank Gore one yard behind the line of scrimmage on Gore's 27-yard run in the second quarter. He usually is reliable in those situations.

Doughty also didn't get over in time to help ILB Rocky McIntosh when McIntosh was beaten on the 30-yard touchdown pass to FB Bruce Miller before halftime.

OBSERVATIONS

You see Alex Smith as the 49ers' quarterback and wonder how they're winning games and producing on offense. Then you see their offensive line, and it's clear why new coach Jim Harbaugh has centered their offensive identity on running the ball. Their line was exceptional executing blocks, especially pull blocks and blocks on the run out on the edge. They have the big bodies to execute a power blocking scheme and an elusive runner with some speed.

The Redskins, meanwhile, are still searching for an identity because their offensive line doesn't consistently excel. They can block weak front-sevens like St. Louis', but they struggle against quality fronts such as the ones possessed by all three of their division rivals. Even though Mike Shanahan brought in four of the five first-stringers that began the season, I find it hard to believe that the line is a finished product in terms of personnel. When Washington's line can control games – and by that I mean establish the run – like San Francisco's does, that will unlock the entire offense.

***

San Francisco QB Alex Smith dropped back to pass 28 times. The Redskins rushed four defenders 19 times; five defenders six times; and six defenders three times.

Against a four-man rush, Smith was 11-of-16 for 143 yards, a touchdown, two sacks and a 3-yard scramble; a passer rating of 117.4.

Against a five-man rush, Smith was a perfect 5-of-5 for 49 yards and an 8-yard scramble; a passer rating of 107.5.

Against a six-man rush, Smith was 1-of-3 for 5 yards; a passer rating of 42.4.

***

CB Josh Wilson had an exceptional game in coverage. He would've earned a game ball if it weren't for the 24-yard completion he surrendered on a critical third-and-4 with 10:36 remaining. But WR Braylon Edwards beat Wilson on a slant by giving Wilson a hard step with his left foot at the top of his break. That was enough to keep Wilson on his heels and get to the inside to catch QB Alex Smith's on-time, accurate throw.

Otherwise, Wilson was much better than the last two games. He generally stayed tight in one-on-one situations, and he probably benefited from Smith's unwillingness to take risks down the field. His tight man-to-man coverage even drew an offensive pass interference penalty in the second half.

Wilson also stopped RB Kendall Hunter for a 1-yard gain on a second-quarter run. When SS LaRon Landry set the right edge, Wilson charged unblocked around the corner and made the stop.

***

Several other Redskins played fairly well with some isolated negative plays that watered down their overall impact on the game.

ILB London Fletcher flashed, as usual, and had 10 tackles. However, he was victimized on a third-and-6 conversion when the Redskins desperately needed to get off the field down two scores with about 12 minutes remaining. After showing blitz, Fletcher got turned around the wrong way at the top of TE Vernon Davis' route, and QB Alex Smith's on-time throw arrived before Fletcher could recover.

SS LaRon Landry recovered Davis' fourth-quarter fumble after he rallied to the ball from the backfield where he pressured Smith. I marked him down for six blitzes. He never got home, but he did cause Smith to rush and overthrow an open RB Frank Gore in the right flat on third-and-1 late in the first half. On the downside, Landry trailed in coverage on three completions, including a 10-yard catch by Davis on which he bluffed a blitz and was late getting out to Davis near the right sideline.

LOLB Ryan Kerrigan had another good game; what else is new? He earned his third sack of the season with typical tenacity, chasing down QB Alex Smith near the left sideline. He never gives up on a play, and it's a major reason he's a difference maker. For me, though, he didn't make enough plays in this one to earn a game ball.

Same with ROLB Brian Orakpo, who bull-rushed his way to a sack that increased his season total to 5.5. When LT Joe Staley set narrowly in the pocket expecting Orakpo's speed rush, Orakpo powered his way through him to get to Smith. He was relatively quiet, otherwise.

***

That the Redskins have given up at least 4.2 yards per carry in each of the last four games is an indictment of the defensive line, as I mentioned in RDE Stephen Bowen's write-up above. NT Barry Cofield should take it personally, as well. The interior of San Francisco's line, especially LG Mike Iupati and RG Adam Snyder, executed several combination blocks off of him and got to the second level. By contrast, San Francisco's front was much better in that area. Without being certain of Cofield's run-stopping responsibilities, it's a bit difficult to pin down the problem. But stopping combination blocks is a big part of the line's job in Washington's defense. They're happening too frequently.

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