A review of the best and worst performances by the Washington Redskins' defense and some observations after re-watching the TV broadcast of their 28-14 win over the New York Giants.
LOB Ryan Kerrigan: The rookie gets top billing because he scored the decisive touchdown. What an athletic play it was. When QB Eli Manning began his throwing motion, Kerrigan was still bent over fending off RT Kareem McKenzie's attempted cut block.
Let Kerrigan explain how he beat it: "It's just vision, just seeing where the guy who's going to block you is going," he said Monday morning. "If he's going to your legs, you want to protect yourself and keep him off you and make sure you get your hands on him to keep him away from you. It's pure reaction."
Kerrigan has steadily improved since debuting at linebacker in the Pittsburgh preseason game, and that's a testament to his intelligence and work ethic. He still had his rookie moments on Sunday – he whiffed once when he tried to jam the tight end; another time he took a wasted step toward the sideline on a run and ended up wrong-footed; in the third quarter he missed a tackle in the backfield after shedding the fullback's block – but they're decreasing in frequency and impact.
Kerrigan's perseverance netted the Redskins an intentional grounding penalty against New York. He fought through RG Chris Snee and FB Henry Hynoski to get to Manning. It took him 4.6 seconds to get to the quarterback – quite a long time in the pocket – but he ultimately pressured Manning into committing a foul. He's clearly on the right course.
CB DeAngelo Hall: It's ironic – Hall didn't make one of his prime time plays, but this was one of the best games I've seen him play as a Redskin. Overall, Washington's pass coverage was exceptional. (68 of New York's 240 passing yards came on one play; the other 172 came on 35 dropbacks.) Hall was a big part of that. His reads were good, and so was his technique. He allowed WRs Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham the usual cushion at times, but that never really hurt the Redskins. Hall never got caught looking into the backfield and never gave up the big play, as he did in last season's finale against New York.
Furthermore, his tackling was superb. On third-and-18 from New York's 2-yard line in the fourth quarter, Hall read the screen pass, came off his receiver behind the blockers and dove to wrap up RB D.J. Ware for a gain of 3. On third-and-1 from the Redskins' 18 on the next series, he threw himself into traffic to help set the edge against RB Ahmad Bradshaw, and that helped NT Barry Cofield make the tackle from behind. Hall also pressured Manning on a cornerback blitz in the first half.
NT Barry Cofield: Cofield didn't play well for the entirety of his Redskins debut, which makes the defense's success even more impressive because he's the key to the operation. However, the two plays he did make were so critical that they earned him a spot on this list.
He wasn't as stout against the run as he was in the preseason. Sometimes Giants C David Baas blocked him one-on-one, which created problems for the Redskins' linebackers. Cofield failed to stay square on a couple of running plays, as well, which allows linemen to get to the linebackers. Cofield also wasn't the pass-rushing force we got accustomed to during the preseason.
So why the game ball? The two plays he made in short yardage situations in the second half.
On fourth-and-1 from the Redskins' 44, he got off the ball faster than the Giants' offensive linemen and penetrated the gap between the center and left guard. That allowed ILB Rocky McIntosh to shoot that gap freely and make the tackle that gave the Redskins the ball back.
In the fourth quarter, the athleticism he displayed on third-and-1 from the Redskins' 18 rivaled that of OLB Ryan Kerrigan's interception. Again, Cofield penetrated the backfield by getting off the ball quickly. And when RB Ahmad Bradshaw tried to run around the right edge, Cofield chased him down from behind and hurled his body at him to make the tackle. The Redskins blocked the Giants' field goal attempt on the next play.
ILB Rocky McIntosh: London Fletcher probably deserves a game ball, too, but Rocky doesn't often represent the inside linebackers here, so Fletcher can wait for another day. McIntosh had one of his best games in coverage. On one first-quarter play, he shadowed the tight end to the right sideline, which contributed to the intentional grounding penalty against the Giants. His run fit was perfect when it had to be on fourth-and-1 in the second half. He shot the gap NT Barry Cofield created with his penetration. McIntosh also hit QB Eli Manning and forced an incompletion on the Giants' penultimate drive.
NT Chris Neild: Neild shined in limited snaps, and to get two sacks out of a rotational player is gravy. His first sack actually resulted from a mistake. He admitted after the game that he rushed through the wrong gap after the Redskins adjusted their blitz call. He bumped into DE Kedric Golston and slipped, and his blocker appeared to turn his attention away at that moment. Neild simply got up and kept after QB Eli Manning. It helped that ROLB Brian Orakpo got around LT Will Beatty untouched on a speed rush. That forced Manning to step up into Neild.
Neild's quick hands and a hesitation move helped him get past C David Baas for his second sack. He also played low with power against the run, which is key to a nose tackle's success. On the first play of the Giants' fourth series, he anchored in the middle and forced RB Ahmad Bradshaw to change his course to the outside.
P Sav Rocca: He was a major reason why the Giants started only one of their 10 drives after the first quarter beyond their own 20-yard line. He pinned four punts inside the 20. When he has the chance to back a team up, he uses that effective end-over-end style that's popular among punters with Australian rules football backgrounds. The ball seems more likely to spin back when it's kicked like that.
SS Reed Doughty: Doughty is on this list because he stood out on two big negative plays, but overall he played a decent game. He had a game-high 10 tackles because he was active in run support. On second-and-20 late in the first quarter, he was 10 yards off the line of scrimmage when the ball was snapped, but his run fit was perfect and he brought RB Brandon Jacobs down for a 2-yard gain. He helped CB DeAngelo Hall double team WR Hakeem Nicks on the play that resulted in the intentional grounding penalty. He also helped set the edge on the third-and-1 stop of RB Ahmad Bradshaw in the fourth quarter.
Doughty made one of the defensive plays of the game when he tackled FB Henry Hynoski 1 yard short of the first-down marker on second-and-five from the Redskins' 22 in the fourth quarter. The Giants threw to Hynoski in the flat, and Doughty took the perfect angle and dove to cut Hynoski's legs out from under him. It was essential because Hynoski had lots of room to run beyond that. That set up the third-down stop, which preceded the blocked field goal.
But if Barry Cofield gets a game ball for two big plays, Doughty has to land here. He was victimized by WR Hakeem Nicks' double move on a 68-yard pass play that set up New York's first touchdown.
"I have the 'dig,' and I have the 'dig-and-up,'" Doughty said Monday morning. "It's really about following him with my eyes through the break. If you watch it, he runs the dig. He runs two steps and looks back at the quarterback. At that point the ball hasn't been thrown. I probably should have [kept] my eyes on him one more step.
"If it was a dig, I would've [intercepted] the ball and I would've looked great. That's not what it was. Really it's the technique of that situation."
Doughty also was too far outside and faked out by RB Ahmad Bradshaw on Bradshaw's 6-yard touchdown run.
"They kept throwing what we call a 'smoke' out there," he said. "So I kind of jumped out for that smoke route, and it was a run. You've got to come inside-out in that situation. You'd rather the ball bounce [outside] than cut up inside. That's no excuse. You have to make a play."
On the play before that touchdown run, RB Brandon Jacobs rushed for 14 yards. At first glance, ILB Rocky McIntosh appeared to overpursue on the play, but Doughty explained that it's his job to funnel Jacobs to the inside. He said that in his five years playing the Giants, the tight end releases to McIntosh on that play, leaving him free for the tackle. But this time the tight end came to him. Doughty engaged the tight end straight on instead of maintaining outside leverage and giving McIntosh a chance to make the play.
Coaches can live with mistakes when players make them at full speed and correct them, and that's what Doughty does. He's not the athlete LaRon Landry is, but he's a serviceable reserve stopping the run, as evidenced by his 10 tackles.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett increased the frequency of his blitzes after the Redskins took the lead on OLB Ryan Kerrigan's interception return. He rushed more than four defenders on only 5 of New York's first 15 dropbacks (33 percent). After going up 21-14 in the third quarter, though, he blitzed on 9 of the remaining 20 dropbacks (45 percent).
Against four pass rushers, QB Eli Manning was 12 of 19 for 185 yards and two sacks. Against more than four, he was 6 of 13 for 83 yards, two sacks and an interception.
The blitzes were effective in the second half partly because the Redskins were sound in coverage.
Washington struggled to generate a pass rush with only four rushers until DEs Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker took turns beating LG David Diehl in the final minutes. Both Bowen and Carriker had better leverage than Diehl, and they were easily able to get him off balance and go around him.
Bowen held his ground in the run game exceptionally well.
ILB London Fletcher missed a few tackles, but again, those are mistakes made at full speed. They result from him constantly being around the ball. His energy and effort are entertaining. He helped NT Chris Neild clean up his second sack on a delayed blitz, and he almost created a turnover by jarring the ball loose.
Fletcher also made a great tackle in run defense by diving under LG David Diehl, who was pulling on the play. He stopped RB Ahmad Bradshaw for a 1-yard gain, which put the Giants in third-and-10. That allowed for defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to blitz seven, and OLB Ryan Kerrigan came up with the game-changing interception.
ROLB Brian Orakpo rushed from a four-point stance in several obvious passing situations. I didn't see LOLB Ryan Kerrigan do that, though. Rushing from the two-point stance is necessary to disguise coverages, but clearly there were times when Orakpo wasn't required to do that. Kerrigan probably would be more explosive if he put his hand down on occasion because he's used to generating power that way.
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