A review of the best and worst performances by the Washington Redskins' defense and some observations after re-watching the TV broadcast of their 33-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
DE ADAM CARRIKER: Carriker's starting role appeared to be in jeopardy during the preseason because rookie Jarvis Jenkins was so impressive, but he has thrived in his second year in the 3-4 scheme. After Jenkins tore his ACL during the preseason, Carriker has become an indispensable member of the defense. Most notably, his 4½ sacks are tied with OLB Brian Orakpo for the team lead.
On the sack he split with SS LaRon Landry in the first quarter, he got his hands into RG Geoff Hangartner's chest and drove him back all the way to QB Cam Newton. Carriker is one of the strongest players on the team, so he's able to control most linemen if his technique is sound. Carriker was unblocked on his second-quarter sack. How generous of Panthers RT Byron Bell.
Carriker also played relatively well in run defense. He occupied two offensive lineman on a third-quarter run by RB DeAngelo Williams, allowing FS Reed Doughty to make the tackle for only a 1-yard gain. He later helped keep LB London Fletcher clean in a nickel formation, and Fletcher stopped RB Jonathan Stewart's carry at three yards.
CB JOSH WILSON: Wilson had extreme difficultly stopping Panthers WR Steve Smith. And even when his coverage was OK, QB Cam Newton's exceptional accuracy left him at a loss.
Smith turned Wilson around on a 33-yard catch near the left sideline in the third quarter. Smith threatened Wilson vertically, and when Wilson turned to run with him, Smith broke his route toward the sideline. Wilson recovered to make a play on the ball, but Smith's hands were too strong in the air.
On the next drive, Smith converted second-and-17 twice against Wilson. On the first play, Smith got an inside release against Wilson's press coverage and proceeded to run away from him on a dig route. Wilson was on Smith's heels, but Newton made a perfect throw out in front of Smith. Seven plays later, Smith ran by Wilson on a go route, and Newton again put the ball in a perfect spot. FS Reed Doughty didn't get over in time to help.
Wilson struggled on some running plays, too. He got sucked inside and lost the edge on RB Jonathan Stewart's 29-yard run in the first half. He later missed a tackle on RB DeAngelo Williams' 8-yard run that set up first-and-goal in the third quarter.
CB KEVIN BARNES: Barnes had a rough day in the secondary, too. Man, the Redskins really could have used Carlos Rogers' cover skills on Sunday. Too often Panthers receivers released freely. WR Brandon LaFell caught an easy 2-yard touchdown against Barnes by quickly sprinting out against his inside leverage in the left slot. Given Barnes' technique, he had no chance against QB Cam Newton's timing and accuracy. All of the defensive backs played that inside leverage on the play, though, and I'm curious to know what Redskins coaches like about that considering how easily Newton connected with LaFell.
Barnes was caught in an awkward spot on first-and-10 from Carolina's 47 in the third quarter. Before the snap, he dropped from the left slot to the safety position and played what appeared to be Cover 2. When LaFell stemmed his route to the sideline and went deep against OLB Brian Orakpo, the Redskins were at a major speed disadvantage. Barnes was late getting over after freezing when WR Legedu Naanee broke in on a post. It looked like the Panthers had a great play called for the look the Redskins threw at them.
Barnes also missed tackling Newton for a short gain on his 25-yard scramble on third-and-9 on the third play of the game. After CB Phillip Buchanon got back on the field on Sunday, I wonder if the Redskins will consider playing Josh Wilson in the slot.
LB LONDON FLETCHER: None of the Redskins' linebackers played particularly well for the second straight game. But Fletcher stood out to me, probably because he has set the bar so high for himself. When he doesn't dominate, something seems off. It's impossible to know everyone's responsibilities, but the entire group seemed disjointed, just a step or two slow, against Carolina's read-option running game.
On QB Cam Newton's 16-yard touchdown run, he beat Fletcher to the point of attack after Fletcher froze on the fake inside handoff to RB Jonathan Stewart. ROLB Brian Orakpo crashed down on the play, and he later said his responsibility was the running back. Regardless of Fletcher's responsibility, Newton beat him to the end zone. LT Jordan Gross keyed a 12-yard screen-and-run to the Redskins' 11 yard-line by sustaining his block against Fletcher in space. I had Fletcher down for a few missed tackles, including one on Newton's early 25-yard scramble.
On the plus side, Fletcher helped keep Newton out of the end zone by knocking him out of midair when he tried to leap over CB DeAngelo Hall in the first quarter.
NT CHRIS NEILD: Neild has gotten a game ball for playing his limited role well in previous games, so he has to end up here when he plays poorly, even if the impact on the game is minor. Two-time Pro Bowl C Ryan Kalil always was going to be a challenging matchup the seventh-round rookie. Kalil's superior hand placement and leverage frequently resulted in Neild being pushed back when he was in the game. There's no shame in that. Learn and move on.
The play that stood out to me the most was ROLB Brian Orakpo's sack of QB Cam Newton and his failure to strip the ball despite a free blindside run. Because Orakpo was unblocked, he had time to measure his hit and really attack the ball. But he never hacked down on it or tried to strip it. He simply wrapped Newton up. It was the difference between a potential game-changing play and a mere 7-yard loss. Two plays later, Carolina still got its three points.
The Panthers ran six read-option running plays out of the shotgun. They gained 14, -1, 0, 16, 7 and 2 yards. The 16- and 2-yarders were touchdowns. The uncertainty about the quarterback's option significantly slowed the Redskins' linebackers at times.
CB DeAngelo Hall avoided the gassers list because of his touchdown-saving tackle in the first quarter. When QB Cam Newton decided to run for the right pylon, Hall switched into run-stopping mode, shed WR Brandon LaFell's block and made sure Newton didn't jump over him.
Hall, however, missed a chance to make a big play on third-and-13 from the Carolina 17 late in the first half. He read Newton's intent to throw short to TE Greg Olsen in the right flat, so he left his receiver and tried to jump the route. Newton's high throw was in a difficult place to intercept, but intercepting those passes is why Hall is a Pro Bowler. It's why he's a team captain. The Redskins needed their playmakers to change the game on Sunday, and they came up empty.
Hall also surrendered several completions while playing off coverage. Again, Carolina's receivers got off the line easily all game. Coaches are OK with that depending on certain calls, which we can't be sure of. But we can be sure that the Redskins don't want to give up completions and yardage, which is what Newton and WR Steve Smith consistently piled up.
Despite everything that went wrong for the Redskins in this game, they would have been in OK shape if they had recovered RB Jonathan Stewart's fumble at the 1-yard line trailing 23-13 with 9:15 remaining in the fourth quarter. FS Reed Doughty forced it, and the ball rolled free directly in front of SS LaRon Landry. It's still rather shocking that he didn't fall on it. But NT Barry Cofield, who was on the ground, swung his left arm as he turned to the find the ball. His arm hit Landry and stifled him just enough to give Panthers TE Ben Hartstock an opening to dive and fall on it.
The Redskins' 15 forced fumbles are the second-most in the NFL, but they have recovered only three. That's a stat you'll get to know intimately this week.
QB Cam Newton dropped back 29 times. The Redskins rushed four defenders on 16 of those.
Against four rushers, Newton was a perfect 13-of-13 for 187 yards and two sacks. His passer rating was 118.8.
Against five or more rushers, Newton was 5-of-10 for 69 yards, a touchdown and two sacks. His passer rating was 105.8.
Given Newton's numbers against four rushers, maybe the Redskins should have blitzed more. They ran a seven-man, Cover-Zero blitz on the 2-yard touchdown Newton threw to WR Brandon LaFell in the fourth quarter. Washington showed the 8-man line once but rushed only four out of that look.
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