Redskins–Cardinals: Game Balls, Gassers and Observations — 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 22-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

GAME BALLS

ILB London Fletcher: The captain made plays all over the field. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett must have seen something on film that persuaded him to unleash Fletcher on Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb. Fletcher blitzed on 10 of 33 dropbacks, and he came from all angles – both edges, up the middle and twisting on separate plays with ILB Rocky McIntosh and OLB Brian Orakpo. He forced an intentional grounding penalty in the third quarter by running through RB Beanie Wells’ outside shoulder from the left edge of the defense. Wells didn’t square up to block him, and that’s an easy win for a player as talented as Fletcher.

Fletcher made a tumbling interception in the third quarter that stopped an Arizona drive that had entered field goal range. He dove to haul in a pass that OLB Ryan Kerrigan tipped up in the air. Fletcher also saved a touchdown — well, he delayed it one snap — in the third quarter by shedding C Lyle Sendlein’s block on a draw play and bringing Wells down. He is back to his explosive self, showing no signs of the groin/hamstring injury that sidelined him in the preseason.

OLB Brian Orakpo: We’re approaching the point where it’s more surprising if Orakpo doesn’t impact the game as significantly as he did on Sunday. It’s a bit shocking that Arizona believed it was a good idea to block him one-on-one with a tight end on a second quarter pass. Orakpo stayed low off the ball out of his two-point stance and exploded into TE Jeff King. From there he easily broke King down with his hands and got around the edge to destroy QB Kevin Kolb. Kolb is lucky his head is still attached to his body, and the Cardinals are lucky the Redskins didn’t recover the fumble on the play.

Orakpo helped ILB London Fletcher‘s second-half interception by flushing Kolb from the pocket and disrupting the play. He beat RB Beanie Wells one-on-one to the inside. Again, Orakpo is too strong and fast to lose that matchup.

Orakpo batted down a screen pass after he diagnosed it off the snap. He set the edge in the run game on several plays, something he has done much better this season. Jim Haslett got creative with him on one play, lining him up behind the nose tackle and stunting him with Fletcher.

I know Orakpo won’t directly play against Dallas’ OLB DeMarcus Ware on Monday, but it’ll be fun to watch them share the stage. Ware is the standard right now, and he’ll serve as a measuring stick.

OLB Ryan Kerrigan: Kerrigan was explosive in ways we haven’t seen before, and that’s the most important thing with him — he continues to improve.

He bulled RT Brandon Keith back into QB Kevin Kolb to record a sack in the first half. Keith set too high, and Kerrigan stayed low out of the two-point stance. Kerrigan got his hands inside Keith’s and into his chest. He drove Keith back, arriving at Kolb 3.2 seconds after the snap. Kerrigan set up ILB Rocky McIntosh’s sack with an outside rip past Keith. To that point, his sacks and pressures were more the result of effort than power or speed.

Kerrigan also got the Redskins off the field on third-down late in the game by batting down a pass on a seven-man blitz. He read the pass and reacted accordingly, similar to his interception in Week 1. And he was close enough in coverage to deflect Kolb’s third-quarter pass that ILB London Fletcher intercepted. The throw was behind the intended receiver, but Kerrigan was in the right place to make a play. You have to ask: If he’s making this big of an impact in his first two regular season games at outside linebacker, what will he be doing by Week 5, by Week 10 and by Week 1 of next season?

CB Byron Westbrook: For a role player such as Westbrook to force the victory-clinching fumble is an indication of the Redskins‘ improving depth and a testament to Westbrook’s work ethic. (His career began with two seasons on the practice squad.) He jarred the ball loose from WR Chansi Stuckey with a perfect form tackle. He wrapped up and got his hand on the ball. Westbrook also had a key block on Brandon Banks’ 35-yard punt return.

GASSERS

NT Barry Cofield: Cofield didn’t have a terrible game — no Redskins did — and I seriously debated whether he truly deserves to be here. After all, he did some good things. He got outside the pocket and pressured QB Kevin Kolb into throwing the pass ILB London Fletcher intercepted. He also batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage.

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