…Lots of players made big plays and helped. Actually, most of the starters did as the Redskins played a solid game defensively, aside from the usual big play allowed when corner D.J. Johnson was suckered by a double move. But as a group they played well, stopping the run and causing confusion by quarterback Brandon Weeden.
…The Redskins fooled the Browns with multiple looks and were able to somehow get defensive end Stephen Bowen free on a three-man rush. They did that on the first series when Bowen was aligned outside the tight end. Three Redskins were between Bowen and nose tackle Barry Cofield; clearly the Browns left side of the line anticipated one of them rushing. Typically, one of them has rushed as the Redskins almost always sent at least four. Not on this play. Left tackle Joe Thomas was left setting up for inside pressure and a running back was left to scramble to try and block Bowen. He did not sack quarterback Brandon Weeden, but he did pressure him into running on a third and 15.
…Ryan Kerrigan had a good rush on that play as well against rookie tackle Mitchell Schwartz and nearly grabbed Weeden before he fled the pocket. So a well-designed rush on one side and a strong effort on the other produced pressure and forced a punt.
…Josh Wilson did a solid job all day in coverage, but Weeden did miss Josh Gordon on the first series. Gordon had gained a step on Wilson with the Redskins in a cover-3 look. Weeden first looked to his right; not sure if he was just trying to draw Madieu Williams out of the middle – as a lot of QBs have done this season – or if he wanted to go that way first. Regardless, Williams wasn’t moved much by Weeden’s eyes. Not that he would have prevented a completion. But Weeden’s throw was five yards too long.
… Wilson was physical vs. Gordon, as evidenced on the first pass of the second quarter. Gordon wanted to run a slant, but Wilson jammed him off the line and Gordon didn’t know how to respond. Wilson stayed physical with him on the route and maintained inside leverage. Two plays later Wilson jammed him hard off the line again, forcing Weeden to look elsewhere. He had nothing else open, dumped it down and the Browns had to punt.
…The Redskins used eight-man fronts approximately 20 times. Considering how often the Browns were in second- or third-and long, that’s a decent number. Safety Reed Doughty played in the box much of the time he was in the game and did a good job helping vs. the run.
…The Redskins defense on first and second downs was a huge difference. It forced Cleveland into numerous third and longs. Of the Browns’ 12 third downs, they needed at least nine yards seven times and five yards nine times. That’s why they converted only four into first downs.
Cleveland averaged 6.9 yards on first down, but that’s a little misleading and was largely built on six plays that gained 118 yards. Their other 17 first-down plays gained a total of 40 yards. And their six runs gained 24 yards, but 16 came on one carry (Josh Cribbs’ run out of the wildcat formation).
…On Rob Jackson’s interception, he did a good job of being in the right spot at the right time. It was also a case of a quarterback not anticipating soon enough his receiver getting open. Combine those elements and you have a pick.
I don’t know why Weeden never saw him; he was way too casual on the throw as if he didn’t think anyone would be there. Jackson never even faked as if he were going to rush. So Weeden waited an extra split second to make sure receiver Greg Little was open behind linebacker Perry Riley and in front of safety DeJon Gomes. Little was open for a brief moment, but because the throw was a touch late, not only did Jackson pick it off, but Gomes might have had a chance to deflect it as well.
…Kerrigan does a good job with his anticipation of throws, as he again showed on his deflected pass. Had he not batted down the bubble screen on the third play of the game, Riley might have dropped the receiver for a loss as his instincts were sound on the play, too. It’s tough to always tell how a play would have unfolded, but Riley either would have made a tackle for a loss or been blocked and Cleveland would have had a long gain. The Browns had numbers to that side. One thing that’s been evident this year is that Robert Griffin III has done a good job on these types of throws by changing his arm slot; he’s able to do it at the last moment, too, which helps him avoid these sorts of deflections.
…Lorenzo Alexander had another strong day on special teams. Honestly don’t know how the race shapes up for the Pro Bowl because it’s tough to pay attention to other special teams players. But last year’s NFC special teams Pro Bowler Corey Graham is now with Baltimore. That leaves it open and Alexander is making as strong a case as anyone.
…I’ll give one play that shows what Alexander can do: After Leonard Hankerson’s first TD catch, Alexander drilled returner Josh Cribbs. As Alexander ran down, two Browns blockers were waiting. Alexander juked inside to get them flowing one way, then he ran through the outside blocker (a tight end) and right to the ball. The blocker tried to slow him, to no avail. That wasn’t the only example, but it was one of them. And it’s nice to have access to the All-22 film because it allows one to better see special teams play. The broadcast version fails to provide a true appreciation for a guy like Alexander; you see the end of the play but it’s nice to see how he put himself in position to make that play.
…Alexander had a pressure on another play in which the Redskins fooled the Browns’ linemen. On third and 10 in the second quarter, the Redskins showed seven at the line. I don’t know what right tackle Mitchell Schwartz was doing because the two defenders over him had dropped back before the snap. That left Alexander on his side. Yet Schwartz stayed inside and no one blocked Alexander until he was too deep – running back Montario Hardesty nudged him enough to prevent a hit. Weeden was able to reset and throw, but the Redskins forced a punt. Alexander had a good game overall, on D and on special teams.
…I have no idea why the Browns didn’t run more bootlegs. I really don’t. One of the few times they ran a bootleg, they created an opening for a 30-yard pass to receiver Greg Little. The Redskins just lost him running through the zones. But London Fletcher’s came off a good play fake. If Weeden had thrown it higher, it’s a completion. But he didn’t so it wasn’t. Didn’t like how much Fletcher pointed to the name on his back after the play, but I also know how emotional it was for him to play in his hometown. It’s the first time all season I’ve seen him do that.
…They also didn’t do a good job creating space for Trent Richardson against the eight-man fronts. The one time they did resulted in a 14-yard run. They ran a receiver on a fake end around freezing the backside pursuit. That allowed Richardson to have the most room he had all day.
…On his next carry, the Browns tried to spread the field a little, but the Redskins still went with seven in the box. The D-line did it’s job, too, as Cofield, slanting to the right, occupied two defenders. In fact, the Browns used four blockers against three defenders on the Redskins’ right side. That enabled linebackers Perry Riley and London Fletcher to stay patient against Richardson’s cutback. I wondered if Richardson did not press the hole well enough because he never got Riley to drift over. But it wasn’t a bad press; I think Riley and Fletcher stayed disciplined. It helped, too, that Jarvis Jenkins, moving right, shed his block and helped with the stop.
…Cofield and Jenkins helped create a one-yard loss by Richardson in the second quarter too. Cofield, moving to his left, burst into the backfield. Jenkins beat a double team, showing excellent leverage, and both forced Richardson to cut back – right into Jackson’s arms.
…The Redskins on a third and 15 once more showed eight at the line and rushed only three. They took away every available throw downfield, though Weeden still took a shot at receiver Mohammed Massaquoi. But safety Jordan Pugh was in front and had sunk deep enough that it required a perfect pass. I thought Weeden should have dumped it down to the tight end, who would have gained 10 yards. It wouldn’t have been a first down, but it would have left them in a better spot. It’s the sort of play Griffin has made all season because if Weeden’s pass is a little off it’s an interception. As it was, this defensive scheme preceded a 34-yard punt to the 46, followed by the Hankerson touchdown catch.
…The Redskins did a good job tackling and preventing yards after the catch on several occasions. Both Wilson and DeAngelo Hall had key stops. Hall tackled tight end Alex Smith on a third and 9 for seven yards. If he doesn’t tackle him, Smith likely gets the first down. Three plays earlier Wilson had a shoestring tackle on Josh Gordon on a third and 9. It was still a 10-yard gain, but it would have been another 10 yards – at least – minus the tackle.
…Weeden did not help himself by holding onto the ball too long – forced often by the Redskins’ coverage. He did that one time, enabling Doug Worthington to get a strong push and eventually bat down the pass. Another time Weeden opted to hold onto the ball, ignoring a potential eight-yard pass gain on first down. Instead, he held the ball, dumped it to the left and gained a yard.
…The two sacks were the result of execution and effort. The first one, Jackson’s sack, worked because of a stunt he ran with Jenkins (that, or Jackson improvised and did so nicely). Jackson started upfield and left tackle Joe Thomas clearly set for an edge rush. Jackson took five steps – often times a stunt is run after two steps– then cut around Jenkins. By this time, the guard had no chance to possibly see let alone recover to block Jackson, who had a clear path. On the second sack, Cofield just shot around the center’s right side and made his own path – followed by the taser dance.
…OK, last one. And this goes back to using a different look. The Redskins aligned Bowen at left end next to Kerrigan on one third quarter rush. Bowen froze Schwartz with two steps forward, before running an inside, around Jenkins. Richardson, aligned to that side, went out on a rush. By the time Schwartz realized Bowen wasn’t coming, Kerrigan had turned the corner and deflected the pass.