Redskins vs. Cowboys: Studs and Duds (defense)

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Redskins Confidential,Sports,John Keim

Studs

LB London Fletcher. I went back and forth on this one many times and it’s why doing this can be difficult. You take into account every play as much as possible (without knowing the responsibility, mind you) and somehow deduce if they played well or not. Fletcher took a bad angle on Dwayne Harris’ 36-yard catch and run after dropping deep middle. He (and Madieu Williams) failed to tackle Felix Jones on a 10-yard catch and run for a touchdown. But Fletcher made two huge plays. He separated Miles Austin from the ball in the back of the end zone; it’s debatable whether or not Austin would have gotten both feet in-bounds, but Fletcher made sure it wasn’t an issue (helping Madieu Williams, whose reaction was not as quick as Fletcher’s). Fletcher read QB Tony Romo well on the play. Later, Fletcher fooled Romo into an interception. On the play, he covered Jason Witten off the line and shaded him inside. Meanwhile, Cole Beasley, aligned on the same side as Witten, appeared to be covered by DeAngelo Hall. But Hall then let him work to the middle and Fletcher spun off Witten and underneath Beasley. What once appeared to be an open throw was not and Fletcher intercepted the pass, dulling the Cowboys’ momentum for at least one series. Fletcher also covered well; he limited Witten on anything after the catch and read a number of passes well. He forced incompletions on two throws with good coverage underneath. Fletcher was not perfect, but he was playing on a sprained ankle, too. This defense does not excel unless it makes big plays and Fletcher made a couple.

CB DeAngelo Hall. OK, he wasn’t covering Dallas’ primary receiver and instead was left in the slot vs. Beasley. But I really liked how Hall played vs. Beasley on the interception. He had inside leverage and stayed patient at the line as Beasley tried to shake him, with a semi-hard plant outside and some shuffling. But Hall didn’t bite and got right on his left hip as Beasley cut inside. Romo had to make a perfect pass over the top because Hall had him played underneath. But Romo tried to lead him and it failed. Hall also tipped a pass on a slot blitz.

And, yes, I know Hall could have scored on the onsides kick. Said it after the game and I’ll say it again: I can’t ding him for making what he considered an unselfish move. Now, could it hurt in terms of playoff tiebreakers? Point differential is one of them, but it’s the seventh tiebreaker. Hall could have cost the Redskins early in the second half when he hit/slapped Dez Bryant on his helmet after a play while the two were jawing (surprise, surprise), but no penalty was called. Maybe one should have been called on both or perhaps Bryant started the issue, but Hall too often is involved in something.

PK Kai Forbath. Yeah, his 48-yard field goal late in the game was just about nailed down the middle. If Forbath doesn’t make that kick, then Dallas, with all the momentum, has a shot to tie the game. But Forbath, now 10-for-10, came through. But it wasn’t just his placekicks. Forbath’s six kickoffs were good. He had a 4.1-second hang-time on three of his kickoffs and here’s where Dallas started after those kicks: the 16-, the 20- (after a touchback) and the 12-yard lines. He also had two other touchbacks and his last kick, which hung in the air for 4.0 seconds and was pinned to the left, enabled the coverage to stop Dallas at the 21. The Cowboys’ best field position following a kickoff was its own 24.

Duds

CB Josh Wilson. He contributed to the second-half outburst with a terrific hit on the ball to cause a fumble. But he contributed to the second-half woes first by going for a ball that he would have had a hard time catching. And then by missing a tackle leading to a 33-yard gain by Felix Jones. On the first – the 85-yarder to Dez Bryant — QB Tony Romo was forced from the pocket and extended the play for 5.1 seconds. It then becomes tough on any corner to cover so there’s no issue with him giving up a catch. But he gambled and it cost the Redskins in the form of a touchdown. It’s also worth noting that Bryant caught the ball at the Dallas 34 and nobody else had a shot at him. Wilson also was victimized by a perfect back-shoulder toss from Romo to Bryant in the fourth quarter. The coverage was excellent and the ball missed Wilson’s fingertips by inches. If it hadn’t been thrown low and outside, Wilson tips the ball away. Wilson gave up a 15-yarder to Bryant in zone coverage early in the fourth and was called for a pass interference on the first play. On the forced fumble, Wilson initially slipped and allowed the catch, but recovered with a good hit. Wilson is not a bad corner at all and most people I talk to consider him a solid No. 2. But he’s been placed in a situation where, as the best cover corner, he must defend the top guys quite often.

 

NOTES

There weren’t a lot of other Duds because it wasn’t as if other Redskins kept surrendering big plays. The pass rush needed to be better considering how often Romo dropped back to throw and the deficit he faced. Isn’t that when the sacks come in bunches? They managed three. Ryan Kerrigan was too quiet, though he had a sack late. He had a couple rushes in which he drove right tackle Doug Free back, but out of 62 pass attempts, I’d have thought he’d make a little more noise. Madieu Williams saved himself by recovering on the deep ball to Dez Bryant, but otherwise he was rather ordinary at best.  Wilson played a role in a couple big plays, but received zero help on the 85-yarder in part because Williams was on the backside in a cover-2 and DeJon Gomes, on the playside, plastered onto a receiver in his area (as he should do). Williams’ big mistake was taking the wrong angle, but it’s hard to know if a better angle would have made a difference because of where he had started.  Regardless, the issues that were relevant with this D a couple weeks ago still remain. Still concerned about safeties from week to week and the pass rush hasn’t produced vs. stable lines. The Redskins have held one team (Philadelphia) under 21 points this season and that was largely because it had a rookie QB making his first start and playing behind a makeshift line.

…I really liked how Perry Riley played, too, but when you surrender 31 points there can’t be more than 1-2 Studs, right? So guys who made big plays get the mention. But Riley deserves a lot of credit for how he played. Against the run (what few there were), Riley was excellent with stops for gains of one and two yards, respectively. He also had three or four pressures and, though he was not credited for a sack at first he deserved one on the play in which Stephen Bowen sacked Romo. They arrived at the same time. Sure enough, according to NFL.com, they both had a half a sack in the game.

…I debated putting NT Barry Cofield as a Stud because after the initial re-watching he jumped out a little. But there were so many pass rushes that, against this front, all of them should jump out – and should have done so even more. Still, I like how economical he is with his feet on stunts; does not waste steps and that leads to good rushes. He set up Stephen Bowen’s sack by rushing inside and occupying two blockers. Cofield also hit Romo once after he released the ball and applied pressure on several other occasions. And there aren’t many nose tackles that could start on the left side and loop all the way around the right end for a pressure, which Cofield did. Still, there were so many chances to rush the passer that I’d like to have seen him make one big play to warrant Stud status. Somehow, I think Cofield will recover knowing he was solid.

…Safety Madieu Williams made a good hit in the end zone against Bryant, though he nearly ran himself out of position on the play. Romo looked deep to the left, causing Williams to run that way, only to throw back to the middle. The ball hung up just a little bit, but it was enough time for Williams to recover and make a nice hit.

…Did Dallas QB Tony Romo miss an opportunity for a touchdown in the first quarter? Sure looked that way, but I’m not sure it’s that simple. On a first and 10 from the 23-yard line, he quickly looked right at the snap where Beasley and Bryant were aligned. Bryant was lined up outside of Beasley. After his initial glance, Romo looked back to the left and, with Hall blitzing and in his face, turned to the middle to dump off a pass to Bryant. It looks like Romo has Beasley in his line of vision before he threw the ball, but he’s also in the pocket and finding a 5-foot-7 receiver downfield might be difficult. Don’t know. But had Romo processed the play a little different, he would have seen Beasley breaking wide open on a deep out. It would have been an easy touchdown. Instead, Dallas settled for a field goal.

…Speaking of Beasley, it’s tough to find receivers his size over the middle. It requires a QB to make an absolutely pinpoint throw over a defender’s head to a guy who is smaller. That’s tough. And that’s what landed Romo in trouble when Fletcher intercepted him (though the Redskins also conned Romo into that throw as mentioned above).

…The Redskins sent a corner blitz like the one they used last week with Josh Wilson. They sent him because they had Brandon Meriweather on that side and Wilson was leaving the speedy DeSean Jackson. They needed speed to cover him. Last week, they sent Cedric Griffin, who was on Bryant and outside the numbers. They rotated Madieu Williams over to cover him, but Bryant only took a couple steps and stopped (looking for a throw) and Romo went to Jason Witten over the middle instead. They did this later, too, but it was to Beasley’s side. He’s not a burner.

…I liked the first blitz of the third quarter, a slot blitz by Cedric Griffin that the Cowboys nearly didn’t pick up as FB Lawrence Vickers did not anticipate him coming. It led to a hurried throw from Romo and an incompletion. On the play, Williams was deep middle as it looked like the Redskins were in a cover-3. But Williams rotated to his left to deep outside half and corner DeAngelo Hall sprinted to a curl-flat area to stop a quick strike to Witten, who had been covered by Griffin. Had the blitz not worked, Romo could have hit the receiver on the outside (Harris), but he could not step into the throw.

…It’s not always difficult to tell when Hall is going to blitz, though I have to say he’s improved at not always looking into the backfield a long time before coming. However, one of the first times he blitzed from the slot Thursday, Romo spotted his intention and motioned that way and Vickers came over and picked him up with no problem. (Hall actually blitzed on the third pass of the game from the slot and nobody saw him coming; Romo looked his way before the snap and Hall had not yet tipped his intentions). Well, Hall fooled them once in the third quarter when he was in the slot and took a couple steps inside before the snap. Romo motioned to Felix Jones who, when the ball was snapped, prepared for Hall’s blitz as Romo eyed Hall’s man (Beasley). Except that Hall dropped into coverage and took Beasley away. That is, until nobody else pressured Romo and Beasley snuck behind Lorenzo Alexander in zone coverage on the other side for 20 yards. But this play, for me at least, was more about Hall fooling the offense.

…Two plays later, Hall showed a similar look causing Romo and Jones to point at him. At the snap, Romo looked his way but Hall once more dropped into coverage. Of course, it had no impact on the play again as Romo connected with Harris for a 14-yard gain.

…On the 85-yard touchdown pass, one thing that hurt was nose tackle Chris Baker was unable to push the pocket on his side and Kerrigan got upfield, leaving a gap for Romo to escape pressure.

…The one play in which Hall could have been burned ended up in an incompletion. The Redskins pressured Romo on a third and 15 early in the third quarter. A spin move vs. left tackle Jermey Parnell by Rob Jackson resulted in pressure and Ryan Kerrigan pinched the pocket from the other side (though I’m not sure how Doug Free wasn’t called for holding on this play). Romo ran to his left, then back to the middle extending the play for 7.9 seconds. Meanwhile, Beasley ran a deep crossing route vs. Hall to the defense’s right. When Romo ran back to the middle, Beasley did as well – Hall kept going the other way and Beasley was open by about 10 yards. Romo never saw him. Again, the problems of being 5-foot-7. Instead, Romo threw to Harris at the goal line for an incompletion.

…Of Dallas’ 10 longest plays, nine occurred in the second half. Those nine plays totaled 245 yards. That’s how you rally from a 25-point deficit. On the Cowboys’ 66 other plays in the game, they gained 213 yards.

…The Redskins rushed five defenders on 13 of 21 first-half pass drops; they rushed four the other eight times. In the second half, they rushed four defenders on 30 snaps compared to nine times where they sent five rushers and three times where they used six. There were three times in the second half where they showed seven or eight at the line and rushed four.

…Fletcher also could have been flagged for a hit on a defenseless receiver early in the game. It was close. He took nearly three steps after Miles Austin missed a ball and then popped him. Perhaps what saved Fletcher? He immediately threw his arms up as if to say it was an accident. But

…Dallas threw on every play of the second half but one. And the one time they ran they did so because the Cowboys thought it was third and 1 and ran a sneak (they had actually picked up the first down, but did not realize it; based on where the runner went out of bounds – you could not see where the ball was – he looked a few feet short).

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Author:

John Keim

Staff Reporter - Washington Redskins
The Washington Examiner