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Redskins–Cowboys: 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 rewatching the TV broadcast of their 18-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

GAME BALLS

CB Josh Wilson: Wilson finally showed why the Redskins were compelled to sign him to a three-year, $13.5 million free-agent contract. He was exceptional in coverage and was credited with four pass breakups. He attributed the breakout game to his expanded knowledge of the defense. He said this was the first game in which he was capable of making some of the defensive calls. Wilson also was more confident challenging routes in front of the safety tandem of LaRon Landry and Oshiomogho Atogwe, he said.

He broke up two passes intended for TE Jason Witten. On the first, he read that Dallas QB Tony Romo was throwing short to his side, so he came off his receiver, who was running deep, and drove on the route in the flat. Wilson in the second half also broke up a low fade intended for TE Martellus Bennett in the end zone. The next step for Wilson is turning some of those pass breakups into interceptions, but this was a big step forward.

DE Stephen Bowen: Against his former team, Bowen stood out on a defensive line that played well as a whole. When the starting inside linebackers are Washington's two leading tacklers, as they were Monday night, it's an indication the entire line did its job of keeping offensive linemen off them.

Bowen consistently anchored at the line of scrimmage and even penetrated the backfield on a few runs. He ignited the Redskins' goal-line stand in the fourth quarter by getting off the ball lower than LG Bill Nagy on first down from the 2-yard line. He pushed Nagy into the backfield and stopped a draw for a 3-yard loss. On Dallas' next series, he got to LT Doug Free's play-side shoulder on a run to the right, chased the play from behind and limited RB Tashard Choice to 1 yard. On the down side, Bowen didn't consistently generate significant pressure when he rushed the passer during nickel situations.

SS LaRon Landry: Landry positively impacted several plays, which is typical for him. But considering he hadn't fully participated in a practice since November, his game was extremely impressive. His wipeout hit of WR Laurent Robinson in the first half will be on his retirement highlight reel. Landry has elite closing speed, and his read of the play's direction was spot on. He also deserves credit for making a legal hit. He led with his shoulder, driving it into Robinson's chest. There was no chance for a personal foul.

Landry gave the Redskins' offense a golden scoring opportunity by forcing a fumble in the first quarter. His speed and power made the play. He rallied to the ball out of his blitz and, after CB Kevin Barnes missed tackling WR Kevin Ogletree, jarred the ball loose with a strong form tackle.

Landry did OK helping to cover TE Jason Witten, although he did surrender an 18-yard gain to Witten on an intermediate in route. Landry's conditioning was a negative in the second half, and he had to receive intravenous fluids at one point, but that will improve as he returns to football shape.

NT Chris Neild: More props here to the defensive line. Neild didn't dramtically change the game, but he played his role very well. His tireless effort is undeniable. One first-quarter play stood out. Dallas ran a screen pass to TE Martellus Bennett on the left. Cowboys C Phil Costa blocked Neild to the ground 4 yards in the backfield, but Neild got up and sprinted 10 yards back into the play and made the tackle. Later, on first-and-10 early in the third quarter, Neild stood up LG Bill Nagy at the line of scrimmage, and RB DeMarco Murray ran directly into Nagy's back. The result: no gain. Neild continues to improve his technique and leverage, and that is allowing NT Barry Cofield to sit out some first- and second-down snaps and stay fresh for nickel situations.

GASSERS

CB DeAngelo Hall: For the second straight week, one gigantic negative play taints what otherwise was a good game by Hall. Redskins coaches put him in a challenging position by isolating him on WR Dez Bryant on third-and-21 late in the game, and the Pro Bowler did not make the necessary play. Hall on Wednesday admitted that he misplayed the improvised route that Bryant ran after Dallas picked up the Redskins' eight-man blitz and QB Tony Romo waived Bryant downfield. Hall turned the wrong way to the sideline, and Bryant worked to the open middle of the field. If the Redskins had gotten off the field there, they would have won the game.

OBSERVATIONS

Speaking of the eight-man front/Cover Zero defense, I wrote about that for Wednesday's paper. Click here for that breakdown.

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My thoughts on the third-and-21 play: I disagree with the decision to blitz eight, but I understand why the Redskins called it. That defense was successful in forcing quick throws to that point. However, it's a gamble that was unnecessary with 21 yards needed for a first down. The Redskins didn't need to force a turnover there. They needed simply to get off the field. Hall isn't a distinguished man-to-man cover corner, and the play call didn't put him in the best position to succeed. If the play had worked, perhaps I'd praise their aggressive approach. But it didn't, so I won't.

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Cowboys QB Tony Romo dropped back 37 times. The Redskins blitzed (rushed five or more defenders) on 18 of those. His splits were remarkably even.

Romo vs. four or fewer rushers: 11 for 18, 138 yards, one sack, no touchdowns or interceptions.

Romo vs. the blitz: 11 for 18, 117 yards, one interception, no touchdowns or sacks.

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There were many positives on defense overall, which you'd expected from a unit that did not surrender a touchdown. As I mentioned, the line was quite good. DE Adam Carriker got the defense off the field on third-and-1 early in the second quarter by staying low and driving rookie RT Tyron Smtih into the backfield with his left shoulder. Carriker got inside Smith's block, allowing LBs London Fletcher and Brian Orakpo to make the stop. Orakpo also penetrated on his own.

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CB Kevin Barnes was active — some good, some bad. His third-quarter interception was a gimmie. The Redskins' eight-man blitz prompted QB Tony Romo to throw the ball up for grabs down the middle. The receiver never got inside Barnes, so the throw had no chance of being completed. Barnes also made an athletic play to keep a fumble in bounds for CB Josh Wilson to recover in the first quarter. He was able to make that play, however, because he missed the tackle seconds earlier.

Barnes extended Dallas' first field-goal drive by committing a 27-yard pass interference penalty on third-and-9. His coverage on TE Jason Witten over the middle was tight end, but his break on the ball was poorly timed and spacing was problematic. He hit Witten too early.

This would be the time to remind you that No. 3 CB Phillip Buchanon's four-game suspension is complete after this Sunday's game. If the Redskins want to add him to the active 53-man roster, they would have to make a corresponding move.

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TE Jason Witten caught six passes for 60 yards and no touchdowns. That's a favorable stat line for the Redskins, if you ask me. Washington covered him a variety of ways. SS LaRon Landry, CB Josh Wilson, ILBs London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh, and LOLB Ryan Kerrigan each took turns against him in man-to-man. The Redskins also played some zone coverage, against which Witten caught some short passes. Something to keep in mind for the rematch.

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FS Oshiomogho Atogwe made his best play on the ball to date. Atogwe, who was advertised as a ball hawk that forces turnovers, still hasn't forced one, but he did break up a potential touchdown by closing on WR Laurent Robinson in the end zone near the right sideline. Atogwe never turned his head, but he did help dislodge the ball from Robinson's tenuous grasp. Perhaps Miles Austin makes that catch if he's playing, but Atogwe gets credit here.

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RB Felix Jones broke off a 40-yard run early in the fourth quarter after a curious play by OLB Rob Jackson, who was in for a cramping Brian Orakpo. On second-and-4 from Dallas' 25, Jones ran a counter, cutting back to the left behind FB Tony Fiammetta. Both Jackson and SS LaRon Landry came off the right edge of the defense into the backfield. Fiammetta initially moved to block Jackson but ultimately changed course and blocked down on Landry.

Jackson, however, appeared to lock in on Fiammetta instead of play the ball carrier. Jackson followed through by lowering his shoulder and hitting the fullback. The result was that Fiammetta blocked both Landry and Jackson. Jones turned the corner untouched. It's impossible to be sure of Jackson's responsibility on that play without asking him about it, but there clearly was a breakdown of some kind.

That's it for the defense. Let me know what I missed. Leave a comment, email me at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com, or hit me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.

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