The nicest thing about NFL Game Rewind is that on certain plays during the game, we’re getting a look at the coaches tape from the NFL games, something that the NFL doesn’t give away without a fight. And so after watching numerous defensive plays from the second half of the Cowboys-Redskins game, I’ve come to the realization that all of the problem we had as a team last season in terms of defending the run are still very much a major problem for this team. The Redskins are still one of the easier teams in football to run on.
Does that mean the defense is not improved? No, not in the slightest. The pass defense is night and day different from last season. The coaches tape will confirm: Ryan Kerrigan is the real deal on the left side. Brian Orakpo’s been a bit quiet this seasom with a bum ankle, but he had his best game of the season against Dallas. This is a much better defense than last season and LaRon Landry’s health is critical going forward. We’ll have to monitor this group going foward.
Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield were both signed to bring stability to the defensive line, but it just hasn’t happened. Both are being asked to change what they are doing from their previous defensive schemes. Bowen has taken to the change better than Cofield has. Adam Carriker is not the physical player he was at the end of last year, and because of Jarvis Jenkins’ injury, that means Kedric Golston is playing a lot of snaps and I don’t need to remind you how horrible Kedric Golston is playing this defenisve scheme. Our defensive front three remains a major weakness.
Luckily, it is just three players to account for, and as I’ve said, Bowen’s done alright. He’s not quite the same high impact player he was in Dallas, but he is the best player on our defensive line. I also wouldn’t worry about the Cofield contract. If things don’t turn around this year and we have to switch our defensive scheme, we’ll end up moving in a direction that will make Cofield a useful player. I think the Redskins are set on the defensive line for the forseeable future, it’s just that: this year could get very long if the front three doesn’t start getting some penetration against the run. Dallas whipped Washington up front in the second half.
The Redskins secondary has strung together a couple of good games now. Josh Wilson played great against Dallas, and on virtually every snap. LaRon Landry was an instant impact player who was maybe a step slow on some easier reads vs. the run and in coverage, but clearly, Landry is one of the best players on the entire defense. I’m not as excited about DeAngelo Hall and O.J. Atogwe as both still have reputations that exceed their ability. But I also wouldn’t describe either as a poor player. The clear weakness though, on the film, is Kevin Barnes. Barnes has some time to get up to NFL speed, but next year is the last year of his contract, and the way he’s playing right now, he’s not going to get a second opportunity.
Rocky McIntosh’s weaknesses against the run remain a big problem with the players in front of him, but this is a good group against the pass. Orakpo, Fletcher, and Kerrigan can all rush the passer and drop into coverage, and you can throw Rob Jackson and Lorenzo Alexander into that group as well. McIntosh has played much better in coverage this year than last, and on the one play in the first quarter he totally blew coverage, Fletcher put in him a really bad position by coming on a delay. Still, with a team that is struggling to handle even the worst rushing teams in football, it’s painful to watch McIntosh fail to understand the concept of a gap defense, and that he needs to be in control of his body in order to play run d.
I don’t have a lot of offensive notes to add. I was surprised after looking at the tape how poor of a game Rex Grossman really played. The Redskins rarely sent more than three players into a single route, and when they did send four, they were typically near the end of a half and Grossman didn’t handle the pressure very well. The Dallas secondary was scared to death of being beat deep all day, playing hilariously deep off the ball and the Dallas corners were predictably terrible, but Grossman never had a feel for the coverage he was playing against or the amount of pressure the defense was sending. He really never had a good picture of the defense. His decisions were not good, before or after the snaps.
Kyle Shanahan again called a much better game off his script than he did later on in the game and including the second half, which is a trend with the younger Shanahan.
I think Tim Hightower, who had his best blocking game of the season, may be more of a liability than an asset at this point. Roy Helu looks like weapon X out there. At some point, we have to swallow the fact that Helu isn’t good in pass protection and get him on the field.
Dallas was too worried about the edges to defend our passes over the middle and to the intermediate levels most of the game, which is the best defense I can think of for Rex Grossman’s INT. It was a bad read and a horribily underthrown ball as well as a good play by Sean Lee to pick it off. But the pass had no chance, even though Davis had beaten his coverage down the seam. Obviously, Rex was trying to sit Davis down in front of the cover two safety, but even so, the throw did not get within five yards of where it needed to be thrown.
The Redskins went max protect most of this game, which proved to be a poor strategy. The max protect strategy did not allow for deeper developing routes down the field with multiple moves, although it succeeded in keeping Grossman upright most of the game. With the advantage of not being knocked down every play, Grossman needs to be able to pay his offensive coordinator back by making some aggressive throws into the open windows. By not even getting a good read on Dallas’ coverages, Grossman was deep sixing the protection strategy from the start.
It is not that Grossman was worried about the rush and that caused him to stop paying attention to the game being played downfield, it’s that Grossman has not been instructed in this system to use coverage reads, and so the problem with that is Dallas was mostly in man free this game trying to prevent the Redskins from attacking the middle all day, and mostly failing. But on the plays where the coverage would have told Grossman to go to professional Dallas killer Santana Moss, you know, conservative stuff like cover two, Grossman never even recognized the coverage.
I am not optimistic that the Redskins will beat the Cowboys when the play in Landover later this year. I think the talent to do so is on the roster, but I think the defensive scheme that Rob Ryan used is going to be good enough to defend against Grossman whenever they play. Now if Roy Helu heads into the second Dallas game on a streak of two consecutive 125 yard rushing days, I reserve the right to change my mind. The Redskins probably should have been able to run the ball against this front and in the first half, they had a lot of lanes created that fell victim to Tim Hightower slipping down and not always seeing the cutback lane. In the second half, Dallas did a better job of attacking, and Grossman wasn’t able to make them pay for it.
DeMarcus Ware really dictated the Redskins strategy throughout the week. You could make the argument that he’s the best defensive player the Redskins will see this year. I’ll take just two players ahead of him: Trent Cole and Darrelle Revis. But Ware is a complete player in the prime of his career, and a potential hall of famer down the road. And our old nemesis Jay Ratliff quietly had a nice game and is enjoying the beginnings of a rebound season. So the Dallas defense could be for real. But if the Redskins can’t find a way to run the football on this group, they’ll be tough to score on the next time the teams play as well.