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Friday, August 9, 2013
What we learned: Redskins defense

By John Keim

After rewatching the Redskins' 22-21 win over Tennessee, a few opinions were solidified, some shifted a little and a few discoveries were made:

1. Bacarri Rambo was put in a terrible spot by his front seven on Chris Johnson’s 58-yard touchdown run and, considering it was his first game, he had no chance. There was too much open field, though had he made the play it would have said a lot about Rambo. The fact that he did not just lumps him in with many other safeties. But the Titans' other touchdown run, by Shonn Greene, was a result, in part, of a poor angle by Rambo coming from deep middle. Rambo started too much inside, was a little too slow and any chance he had at making a touchdown-saving tackle was lost. Poor angles have doomed many a safety, and it’s a big reason why I was surprised Rambo opened as the starter from the first camp.

Chris Johnson and Bacarri Rambo
Redskins safety Bacarri Rambo (right) couldn't keep Chris Johnson out of the end zone Thursday, but it was another Titans touchdown that showed Rambo taking a bad angle for a tackle.
2. Keep in mind the Redskins do not do any live hitting or any sort of drills that simulate what Rambo witnessed last night – certainly nothing at that level of speed. A key will be how he develops in this area throughout the preseason. In the end, these plays could be beneficial to the Redskins. Same with the 15-yard late-hit penalty he received at the end of the second touchdown run. He has to play with more discipline. If the Redskins have to start multiple rookies, there will be many lessons learned.

3. Phillip Thomas did a good job on the first play of the game, ducking under the tight end to race across the line and help on a tackle. But he got sucked too far inside on Johnson’s long touchdown run, helping to create the huge opening. Technically Johnson broke a tackle at the line, a shoestring attempt by Brian Orakpo. But in reality nobody had a shot at him because Thomas covered inside, then was blocked; Stephen Bowen and Chris Neild were blocked inside and Orakpo came upfield too far.

4. It wasn’t just the rookies who struggled with angles. Even linebacker Perry Riley took a poor one on a pass completion, leading to a 13-yard gain when Riley went too wide to the inside, allowing Greene to get wide.

5. The difference with Orakpo on the field? On the Ryan Kerrigan sack, the guard blocked Bowen, then allowed the center to take over while he slid to his left in case Orakpo cut inside vs. the tackle. This left Bowen in a one-on-one situation with the center. When the outside rushers Orakpo and Brandon Jenkins pinched the pocket, Titans quarterback Jake Locker could not step up because Bowen had collapsed the middle. Too often last year Bowen received double teams and could not be as effective.

6. Another point on Kerrigan’s sack: It came when he was aligned in a four-point stance vs. the guard. But the real point is that it allowed him to use his favored rip move. One difficulty doing it outside is that tackles can keep a distance and negate this move. Much tougher to do that inside, and sure enough it worked for Kerrigan. It'll be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Jim Haslett works his linebacker group in pass-rush situations.

7. I also forgot to note in the Ten Observations another play that stood out with Orakpo: Ducking under the left shoulder of the tackle en route to a sack. It was an impressive display of balance and explosion, one that Michael Roos could not handle. The Redskins had rushers go by linemen last season; not like this.

8. This wasn’t exactly Ken Houston stopping Walt Garrison, but it was a good job by David Amerson to stop Kenny Britt on a third-and-4 pass, leaving the Titans a yard short. Amerson played more physical than he had showed at N.C. State last season. He won’t look pretty in this role at times, but he just needs to be willing. He did allow himself to be cut by a blocker on one run; he’ll learn how to avoid those situations.

9. Brandon Jenkins did a nice job on some rushes, but his spin move will need refining. It did work one time when he dipped his right shoulder into the right tackle and spun back inside. It worked this time. But the next time he tried it, Jenkins appeared to start his spin a bit early and the right tackle had no trouble adjusting. He’s going to be at his best when paired alongside Kerrigan and/or Orakpo. I also think Jenkins will be a nice addition on special teams.

10. Seemed like Bryan Kehl was a step slow to the ball Thursday night, or a step slower than I expected at least. He didn’t really make any plays. Undrafted free agent Will Compton, playing alongside him, was decisive, but he has a ways to go. Roddrick Muckelroy did not distinguish himself, missing a couple tackles. He also got sucked up on a play-action pass on Tennessee’s second-half touchdown in which the flat on his side was wide open.

11. If you saw any of Chase Minnifield’s jams, you understand why the coaches consider him the most aggressive corner in this area. He practically jumps at the receiver and I worry sometimes about him getting off-balance. But I haven’t seen that happen yet. And I like how willing he is to hit.

12. One reason I like Richard Crawford is because he’s a smart player. In talking to him last year, it’s easy to see him becoming a coach someday. So it wasn’t a surprise that he knows how to play as a small corner. On his near-interception, Crawford forced the quarterback into a tough throw by being in good position in terms of his depth. When you’re shorter, you have to understand how to play and Crawford doesn’t have Amerson’s length. So he must be in even better position, and on this play he was.

13. Phillip Merling did what a veteran should do against backups: play well. He’s held his own against the No. 2 linemen in camp and he played with power Thursday. Chris Baker also showed a little bit at times; his best rush came when he remained low – that’s a lot of heft driving a lineman back. Baker did make a play by beating the tackle. There was one time in which he appeared to get upfield too fast and vacated his gap, leading to a hole and solid run.