- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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After watching the 30-7 win over Buffalo again, here are some thoughts on the Redskins' defense:
Saw this during the game, but wanted to see how often they ran the front with Brandon Jenkins, Ryan Kerrigan, Darryl Tapp and Brian Orakpo as their front four. Turns out they used that look three times with mixed success. Jenkins recorded a sack the first time, getting pushed to the ground but showing athleticism by reaching out to grab a panicked Kevin Kolb. Seriously, Kolb escaped as if he faced imminent danger; he did not. He put his head down and tried to run wide and Jenkins got him. I can’t believe anyone ever traded a player and a second-round pick for him. The second time they used that front was a third and 12 and David Amerson extended the drive with a facemask penalty. The front applied no pressure. They used it on a third-and-3, which is usually a passing down but against that front you could justify some sort of run. Did it work this time? Well, yes and no. The Bills kept in seven to block and there were four blockers against Kerrigan and Orakpo, both on the right side. Kolb ran for a first down after leaving the pocket. So the rush occupied blockers; the coverage prevented a pass but the Bills still managed a first down.
That look works because Kerrigan and Tapp are comfortable playing inside, both having converted from defensive end. Both are strong enough and play with good leverage. But this is obviously designed for pass rushes and provides the Redskins more creative looks -- without blitzing. Jenkins, though, was easily blocked by the right tackle.
How much did the fast pace hurt Washington? It really didn’t. The Redskins were quick with subs; on one play, Tapp ran from the sidelines to the huddle less than six seconds after the whistle blew. The fastest the Bills got off a snap after the whistle blew was 18.8 seconds. The Redskins weren’t fooled: Orakpo took two steps up then dropped into coverage and broke up a second-down pass. The next snap came 31.4 seconds later and the Redskins were able to switch from their base front to the fast nickel with Jenkins and Tapp entering. The Redskins’ first defense changed their front on eight different occasions and never looked lost. Tapp has been one of the more pleasant surprises this summer.
The one time where I thought the fast pace hurt was at the end of Buffalo’s scoring drive. They had to keep the same front in the game – a big nickel with Kerrigan, Kedric Golston, Stephen Bowen and Orakpo – for four consecutive plays. They got the next play off in 20.3, 26.1 and 20.6 seconds, respectively. The final one was a touchdown of course against a tiring front.
The Bills also ran a set of their own run-pass option plays in this sequence, showing a bubble screen to one side and a run option the other way. They opted for the run on C.J. Spiller’s 19-yard gain – the numbers dictated the outside would be blocked and it was. All Spiller had to do was beat David Amerson and he did. On Spiller’s touchdown, they called for a bubble right. But, knowing he had six blockers to take on six defenders in the box, Kolb handed it to Spiller for an easy score.
The Redskins used their base front seven times, with Chris Neild handling nose duties for injured Barry Cofield. Neild was fine. Helped make a play with good leverage, getting under the blocker’s pads and helping make a tackle. On four runs versus Washington’s base coverage, the Bills managed nine yards.
I like the subtleties of the pass rush because they make a huge difference. And here’s how players, and scheme, can free defenders up even in a four-man rush. When Bowen and Orakpo are on the same side if Bowen rushes inside the guard then the guard can chip him and slide back out to help the tackle if Orakpo shoots inside. That’s what happened on the game’s first play, though Orakpo still had a hand in Kolb’s face. But later Bowen started rushing at the outside shoulder of the guard. This guaranteed Orakpo one-on-one with the tackle and the center looking to help. It did not result in a sack, but it did lead to a quick dump-off over the middle. Just something to look for at times.
The Bills rarely threw anything downfield against the starters, except for two shots versus Josh Wilson – one of which he was beaten on and drew a pass interference penalty and the other he had played perfectly and was interfered with. Their longest completion against the starters was for 11 yards on third and 15. Every other pass against the starters was for six yards or less. That’s the result of having Jeff Tuel enter the game in the first quarter because of Kolb’s concussion. That, of course, makes it tough to measure just how good the defense was but the Bills played starters at every other spot into the third quarter.
It’s really hard to tell about coverage off a TV feed; actually, it’s almost impossible unless they give you a full-field shot. So it’s hard to say how the young guys played in most of their coverages. David Amerson clearly got beat off a double move in the second quarter; he was lulled by Tuel wanting to throw a quick out the other way, but corner E.J. Biggers’ coverage changed that plan. So Tuel went back to the other side at receiver T.J. Graham, who had raced past Amerson and drew a 42-yard pass interference penalty. The Bills had mostly been throwing short all game, but Amerson still needed better eye discipline on that one.
Amerson continued to show a willingness to tackle, but he did miss Spiller on a 19-yard run, allowing him to get wide. That’s a no-no for the corner. He also missed a tackle on a play in which Bryan Kehl forced a fumble. But earlier on that same drive Amerson had made two tackles. There’s still a lot of learning going on here; it’s good that Josh Wilson returned. It allows Amerson to grow without the pressures of having to start. Plus, it would be difficult to have two rookies starting in the secondary, at least initially. The secondary remains a work in progress; some good signs and some not so good.
Safety Bacarri Rambo had a better tackling game, as I wrote about in my observations. It wasn’t the same looks that he faced in the first two games in terms of a dangerous back in the open field. It could have been had he not made a good, quick read on Spiller and forced an incompletion with his hit. He was decisive and drove at his inside hip, a good angle. The good news for the Redskins is that Rambo didn’t miss any tackles. He just needs to be reliable back there. I don’t know whether this means his tackling issues are resolved -- I’m guessing there are more lessons to be learned – but it was a good game for him to gain confidence. In coverage, the one play that stood out was the near interception. I did not see Rambo after the game to ask him this but I wonder if he didn’t quite trust his eyes on this play. He saw Tuel looking at Stevie Johnson and hesitated. When he broke he was just a little late. But he showed his playmaker mentality by going for the ball.
Linebacker Brandon Jenkins’ pass rushes were mixed. He had a sack, though it wasn’t as if he beat the tackle on the play. He’s clearly still trying to figure out what works best for him at this level; even saw him throw in a hesitation move similar to one you’d see in basketball, with an exaggerated step. It failed. But he did have a couple good rushes, including one in which he lowered his right shoulder into the tackle, then controlled him to the inside for a pressure. Two plays later he learned a lesson on awareness. As he tried to get wide of the tackle, Spiller knocked him to the ground with a block. But I really liked some of what I saw of Jenkins on special teams. He was the first one down on a kick return, shooting through an opening and nearly making a great play, though he was nudged a little off his path at the end. On the next kickoff, he blew up the blocker and the returner, Marquise Goodwin ended up tripping over him. This is where I really like Jenkins early in the season.
Said it last week, but will say it again: I really like linebacker Will Compton, a rookie undrafted free agent. He’s worth keeping on the practice squad; decisive reads and showed quickness to the hole, beating the blockers. He and Bryan Kehl did a good job with the second unit. So, too, did Rob Jackson against starting offensive tackle Cordy Glenn. Jackson had two nice pass rushes and set the edge well; he did lose backside contain on one Spiller run in which he reversed field. And Darryl Tapp continues to play well. He’s just a strong dude, especially in the lower half. When tight end Lee Smith would try to engage him, Tapp did a great job keeping his lower half bent enough to slightly explode into Smith’s pads and not lose any ground.
Corner Chase Minnifield continues to improve and play physical. Even before Richard Crawford’s injury it was real tough to see Minnifield being cut. Because of his aggressive hands, Minnifield plays receiver’s blocks with good leverage. He came up aggressively on a pass to the fullback (though he was the one knocked down on his hit). And Minnifield played the “robber” play well, coming off the outside receiver to the inside one but dropping a poorly-thrown ball.