Redskins vs. Bears Defensive Review: Figuring out if Pressure Causes Interceptions

CHICAGO - OCTOBER 24: Ma'ake Kemoeatu  of the Washington Redskins rushes towards Jay Cutler  of the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on October 24, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Redskins defeated the Bears 17-14. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

This review could easily examine nothing more than the ineptitude of the Bears offensive line, which doesn’t execute nearly well enough to play at most successful D-I colleges.  For the Bears though, the bigger problem is that it may be too late to fix the problem: when they did pick up the Redskins rush to give Cutler a clean pocket, they were playing with a quarterback who was unable to complete passes to wide open receivers in the Redskins zone secondary.  As Redskins fans have seen over the last 21 games, what Bears fans are seeing with Cutler could be a function of the perception of pressure and the breakdown of passing fundamentals, even when pressure isn’t really there.  The Bears OL lost the battle with the Redskins pass rush, but they played above expectation in this game: it was expected that the Redskins would get to Cutler early and often, and they were there often if not early, but not often enough to explain the Bears’ passing game woes.

Pass Pressure on Jay Cutler

The Redskins had 11 pressures on the quarterback, plus three sacks in addition to these pressures (the Rocky McIntosh sack was the result of a pressure).  They knocked him to the ground a number of times.  However, this amount of pressure was not out of line for the Redskins facing even a good pass protection unit and quarterback combo, so it should be argued that the Bears OL raised it’s level of play, particularly J’Marcus Webb (2 sacks allowed, 1 holding penalty) and Olin Kreutz (0 sacks, 1 pressure allowed).  The Redskins were obviously going to win any match-up with Orakpo in it, and if you had told Bears OL coach Mike Tice that Albert Haynesworth was going to make a mockery of the pass blocking abilities of LG Chris Williams in this game, Tice would have pulled out whatever remains of his hair.  But the Bears won the rest of their matchups.  All the rest of the Redskins pass rushing success came against blocking TE Brandon Manumaleuna, who has been a disappointment since signing a big money contract (for a TE) with the Bears.

Cutler had decent protection all day, especially in the second half when halftime adjustments made by Mike Martz kept the Redskins rush completely off balance.  The Redskins responded by blitzing against most empty or offset sets employed by Martz.  On a play by play basis, this matchup was won by the Bears passing game, getting the open receivers and protection they desired.  Nearly any time Cutler was pressured in this second half, he made a bad decision.  The thing was, Cutler played most of the second half proactively, attacking the Redskins defense.  This mindset may have hurt him when he was trying to wait out his receivers on a blitz, as Cutler was painfully inaccurate and never had a clear picture of the defense.

Is our run defense declining?

I don’t have a clear, direct answer to this question.  With the Bears, there was no reason to prepare during the week to defend the run, as any success the Bears enjoyed with the rushing game would have been academic.  The Bears are going to live and die with the pass.

Still, the Bears were able to create chunks of yardage with cutback runs.  The Redskins didn’t have a backside contain defender, they used an edge rusher to take away Cutler’s ability to use the bootleg to move the pocket.  This opened up the backside edge for the Bears’ running backs, and Chester Taylor used this seam a lot better than Matt Forte did.  Forte is the best back in the league outside of the backfield, but he’s a below average back inside of it.  Many of the interceptions in this game were created by a reliance of the Bears on empty backfield formations, just using their personnel to the best of it’s ability.  I don’t think our run defense is declining, as Albert Haynesworth and Ma’ake Kemoeatu both showed up on film like they haven’t all year.  But the Bears were able to get their running backs outside of our front six defenders and into the secondary when they wanted to.  Fletcher had a couple of tackle attempts that could have been stuffs in the hole, but instead ended up being drag and hold on situations where the runner turns mediocre blocking into a successful gain.

The Lions don’t really run it either, so perhaps the Redskins will revisit this at the bye.

DeAngelo Hall

These are Hall’s coverage numbers for the first half: 3 targets, 3 completions, 3 first downs allowed, 34 passing yards allowed, 11 YPT.  That’s more or less Hall’s year to date in coverage.  When we talk about what a great game he had (and he did have a great game, by all standards), we’re essentially just talking about one half.  At the half, Hall’s season long coverage statistics were horrible.  Hall had nearly given up 70% successful completions and had given up 9.3 yards per attempt.  Small sample, sure, but no quarterback in NFL history had done that well over any significant length of time.  Throwing against Hall, QBs were doing that well.

The crazy thing about small samples is that one half of football can change everything.  Hall dropped a yard in YPA for the season in his 7 second half attempts, and dropped more than 6% in terms of allowing successful completions (2/7 in the half and there’s no bonus included for interceptions).

More importantly, Hall also provided the offense the Redskins needed to win the game.  Two of Halls interceptions were among the difficult variety that I often get on him for not making when I talk about playmaking corners, because the ball wasn’t in the air very long.  One time, he got inside of Devin Hester on a curl.  The other, he got inside of Johnny Knox on a slant.  Those are skilled plays by Hall, who also showed up in run support in this half for the first time since week two.  He got into the game in a multitude of ways, adding tackles on runners to his interception total.  While two of the four interceptions were gifts from Cutler, one of the gifts would have put the Redskins in poor field position…except that Hall took it back 92 yards for the score, the only score of the second half by either team.

That was all the offense the Redskins would need to overcome the Bears in this one, and makes it the second game of seven possible where Hall has tied or led the Redskins in scoring.

Redskins Pass Defense

While pass defense is still the overall weakness of the Redskins, I think it’s now safe to say that this 2010 Redskins pass defense is an improved unit compared to our pass defense units of the pass.  You do have to consider who they have played: the Bears were an easy draw compared to such a difficult slate of opponents to begin the season.  But considering who they played, and then realizing that the Redskins now are in the top half of the league in creating turnovers (more thanks to fumbles than interceptions), that their yards allowed per game is on the decline, and the defense is out there winning ball games against the Packers and the Bears, and keeping them in the game against the Colts, it’s critical we don’t look at this side of the ball as a liability.

We have a better pass defense than the Jets, Patriots, and Cowboys, per DVOA.  Ranking 22nd in anything might not be something to write home about, but those AFC East teams are winning games with similar efforts to how our secondary is playing.  They both rank in the top quarter of the league in Total DVOA.  We’re giving up far fewer points than the Jets or the Patriots or the Cowboys.

We’re lacking a little bit in special teams (though our special teams are our one advantage in trying to beat out the Eagles and the Giants for this division).  Those teams create points through special teams and points through offense.  We prevent points by the opponent through special teams and prevent points through offense.  Right now, we’re scoring up to league expectation on the defensive side.  It’s time for the offense, led by Donovan McNabb, and special teams, led by Brandon Banks, to meet up with the defense, led by DeAngelo Hall, in the end zone for much-needed dance choerography.

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