Redskins-Colts Defensive Review: A Player Short

Washington Redskins' coronerback Carlos Rogers intercepts a pass as the Redskins play the Houston Texans during the first quarter at FedEx Field in Washington on September 19, 2010. The Texans defeated the Redskins 30-27.  UPI/Kevin Dietsch Photo via Newscom

Albert Haynesworth may have played his last down as a Washington Redskin.  That’s probably not the case.  But who really knows?  With the trade deadline approaching this afternoon, you have to at least allow for the fact that someone is going to meet the Redskins asking price of a second round pick.

But who?

The Redskins are a piece short on defense, and it’s become clear over his three games in the lineup that Albert Haynesworth isn’t the missing piece the team needs to compete.  They’ll explore offers for him, but they’re not going to settle for below market value, and so if Haynesworth remains on the team, they will have to increase his role to receive that value.  But the Redskins, a defense full of movable pieces, need to add another piece in the secondary in order to compete with the big dogs in the NFC East.  That includes pretty much any team that isn’t Dallas right now.

Pass Defense

Not such a bad game from the perspective of the pass defense.  The Colts threw for 8.0 yards per attempt in this game.  That’s a good day for any quarterback, but it’s right around Peyton Manning’s career average.  For this season, Manning is around 7.5 yards per attempt.  In essence, Manning got most of his yardage on the day on one coverage-splitting play in the first quarter.  He made a number of throws that could have been crushing mistakes if the Redskins would have just caught the ball.

Still, I left the tape feeling like the Redskins had possibly allocated too many resources to the passing game.  Let’s take the example of how the Redskins linebackers and one lineman always stand up and walk around in the dime package.  This is useful because with subtle, hard to follow movements, the Redskins can walk around and more or less throw off the blocking schemes.

To combat this, Peyton Manning went no huddle.  Actually, the Colts always go no huddle.  On about three or four drives in this game, the Colts went legitimate all-out offensive hurry up.  Three or four snaps per game minute for an offense that never wants to see the football hit the ground.  This exposed a flaw in the Redskins defensive gameplan.

The Redskins found themselves playing a lot of base defense looks, running what would essentially be a four man front.  But the four lineman, Holliday or Golston at the nose tackle, and then Lorenzo Alexander as a stand-up three technique, and Brian Orakpo with Andre Carter at the dual ends.  It was a four-two nickel look with dime personnel: Reed Doughty played linebacker most of the day.  He did fine, but he wasn’t confusing anyone by looking like a full time linebacker.

The Redskins could have stopped the run with that personnel, but really struggled with leverage against Colts offensive linemen (particularly Alexander).  They just couldn’t anchor against players who had their hands in the dirt, and on a majority of the hurry up plays, it was a struggle just to get lined up and run the same four man rush.  There wasn’t any time between plays with the Colts not making any substitutions, and so any plan about running creative pressures against Manning went by the wayside early.  If you think that wasn’t by design, you’re not familar with Manning’s work.  Manning was well aware his offense wasn’t going to be able to handle an onslaught of blitzes, so this is something he could do to protect them from that.

With that said, the Redskins got a lot of pressure on Manning in this game, which kept him from systematically carving the pass defense to shreads.  Manning missed a bunch of open receivers in this game because the Redskins were able to get a lot of limbs around him with just a four man rush.  By my count, the Redskins had 13 hits or hurries on 12 plays.  Manning’s stats on these plays would be good for a mortal, but are well below expectation for Manning: 6 for 12 for 5 passing first downs and 75 yards, just 6.25 yards per attempt.

Manning took advantage of a couple of match-ups in this game.  His number one key was anytime we put Reed Doughty on Dallas Clark, which would have been our match-up in any man coverage situation.  He lived off that match-up whenever he got it.  Secondly, he looked for Reggie Wayne against Phillip Buchanon.  That would have been a match-up you’d expect the Colts to win, but in a mixed bag of results, it was probably won narrowly by Buchanon and decisively so on the last passing play of the game by the Colts.  Early on, the Colts thought they might be able to hit Austin Collie in the seam behind Carlos Rogers, but that one was a decisive win for Rogers who continues his streak of hot play — and of games with a dropped interception, now at four.  The final match-up the Colts went with was anyone-with-a-pulse (Pierre Garcon or Blair White) against DeAngelo Hall.  The Colts had great success throwing against the “even” coverages of the Redskins (cover 2, quarters), significantly less success against the coverages that had Kareem Moore in the middle of the field.

A big problem with the dime coverages was that zone or man was easily definable by the positioning of the three safeties.  We did what we could to disguise our zones earlier in the game, but on the Garcon 57 yard TD, we fooled no one.  The problem was that Manning’s read against what we tried to show (cover three) would have been identical to what we actually ran (quarters).  When we rotated the coverage, dropping Landry, all Garcon had to do was alter the depth that he ran that skinny post at in order to run at an angle that puts any zone coverage in a bind.  DeAngelo Hall’s only job on that play is to stay over the top of the route.  Landry needs to be in a position to play on that ball.  Landry was out of position at the snap, of course, which is his excuse.  Hall just got run past.

Run Defense

Here is where the dime package really hurt us, because without the lineman putting their hands on the ground, they can be driven off the ball by anybody (and were).  Without the flexibility to substitute, the Redskins were in dime most of the game.  HB Blades started for Rocky McIntosh at linebacker.  I believe that he played just four plays in the game: the first two, and two of the last three.  I know on the third drive of the game, Perry Riley got a snap at linebacker and made a very violent tackle.  He and Blades had a tackle each in this game.  For 94% of this game, London Fletcher was a lone linebacker.  He played well.

Still the Redskins’ desire to force Manning to put the ball on the ground and take the game out of his hands was systematic in nature.  We weren’t looking for all time great run prevention numbers in this game.  We were just looking to keep their rushing stats to not look like passing stats.  Even at that standard, they failed.

You can blame shoddy tackling for the difference between tempting Manning to run the ball, and losing a game in the process.  Joseph Addai and Mike Hart were going to have an endless string of 6 yard carries, but a 14 yarder to the right side and a 46 yarder to the left side included missed tackles by DeAngelo Hall and Kareem Moore respectively.  A 13 yard TD run occured because Reed Doughty (at linebacker) whiffed in the hole, and because neither of the aforementioned “football players” made any semblance of a tackle attempt on Addai.  Moore might have actually assisted him in staying on his feet.  Moore’s footing was terrible the whole game, slipping to the ground more or less any time he made a cut.

A solution

There are no moral victories against the Colts, which is the frusterating thing about playing them.  We may have learned some life lessons, but no team out there is emulating the Colts approach to things.  No film from this game is going to improve us in the future.

However, I believe that we need a solution to our defensive issues, personnel wise, and that we need that player in our secondary.  In my assessment, we have in DeAngelo Hall and Kareem Moore two identical secondary players who have similar skill sets and can back up one another.  We do not have a cover corner in either of them.  If Hall and Moore split time as free safeties, we would need another corner to field a nickle unit (Philip Buchanon is currently playing a the level of a starter).

Going bold, I would try to secure CB Nnamdi Asomugha from Oakland, who could be had from them before the trade deadline (Tuesday) for the right price.  That’s a team that would welcome Albert Haynesworth with open arms, problem being that they don’t exactly have a need at defensive tackle with Richard Seymour in the lineup.  But Seymour is an impending free agent and Haynesworth has a team-friendly contract, mostly to the cost of Dan Snyder.  That could be an attractive long-term move for the Raiders.

And what a move it would for the Redskins to bring in one of the game’s best cover corners to complement Carlos Rogers and Phillip Buchanon.  This would probably cost future draft pick (2012?) considerations, perhaps in the first round.  But Asomugha would be a big pickup for the Redskins, has a contract option for the 2011 season, and could tilt the balance of power in the NFC East in favor of Mike Shanahan’s team.

More subtle solutions would include using Adam Carriker, our best down lineman, more often in passing situations as an interior rusher alongside Haynesworth (so long as Haynesworth is a Redskin).  We can push Lorenzo Alexnader to the edge, and bring LaRon Landry up and get to Jay Cutler in creative ways next week.  London Fletcher showed great versatility this week in moving from primarily the strong side to the weak side with Rocky sidelined, and we might find that playing more HB Blades or Perry Riley is an excellent short and long term move that improves us as a defensive team.

But I believe right now the biggest need for additional personnel is in the secondary, where the Redskins just don’t match-up well on the offensive right side, where Hall’s short coverage gets little deep help from Landry or Kareem Moore.  Teams are really going to keep pressing us there until we show we can stop it.  Right now, I’m not certain the Redskins can stop anyone, through the air.

Conclusions

What needs to be said about this past match-ups: we still think of the Colts of an offensive juggernaut, but that’s really not the case anymore.  The Colts are no longer a great football team.  They are a still quite good football team that wins battles relative to it’s opponents strengths and weaknesses, and makes sure to have the game in the hands of Peyton Manning when it matters most.  They never trailed in this game.  That’s not a good sign, because the Colts made many of mistakes and gave the Redskins every chance to seize control of this one.

The Redskins defense lost it’s battles to an offense that is more talented than it is, understandably.  However, it’s minor wins in the passing game were combined by inexcusable lapses in concentation against a running game that no team considers to be a threat.  That’s not really excusable for a proud unit like the Redskins.  The Colts netted under 300 passing yards.  If given that fact at the beginning of the game, Redskins fans need to be confident that their team could have pulled out a close one.

We’ll look into some of the offensive reasons why the Redskins came up just short, but it’s not inaccurate to look at this game as another close home loss to an AFC South team that simply got away.

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