Washington Redskins Analysis of Defensive Game Film from the Week 2 Loss at St. Louis Rams
There has been a rumor floating around that Jim Haslett completely went away from the man-coverage scheme that was so successful against the New Orleans Saints and switched into an entirely different zone-coverage scheme against the St. Louis Rams. This is not entirely correct. While yes, the Redskins ran zone-coverage more often against the Rams, both games featured a mix of both zone and man. In fact, the primary thorn in the Redskins’ side this past week, Danny Amendola, caught 7 of his 15 receptions against man-coverage (including four of this first six catches and his touchdown). He wasn’t just picking apart the zone; Amendola and Bradford were picking apart everything the Redskins threw at them.
The truth of the matter is that Brian Schottenheimer and Sam Bradford were one step ahead of Jim Haslett the entire game. It was clear that Jim Haslett felt his front-7 could get pressure with primarily only four rushers against the depleted Rams offensive-line; Shcottenheimer countered this by dialing up a series of 3-step drops and quick passes from the shotgun to get rid of the ball before the Redskins’ rushers even had a chance. When Haslett adjusted by throwing out an exotic blitz, Bradford had the perfect outlet in queue to give the Rams positive yards and negate the Redskins’ waning aggressiveness. It wasn’t a case of Schottenheimer adjusting to Haslett’s defense over the course of the game; Schottenheimer had his number from the start. Even as the Redskins had built up a 21-6 lead, the defense was still being picked apart; they just happened to be saved by a forced fumble (on a reception that would have been a first down), a missed touchdown call by the referees on Brandon Gibson’s fade during the Rams’ second series, and a missed touchdown call by the referees on Steven Jackson’s goal line carry during their fourth offensive series. The Redskins defense wasn’t stifling Bradford’s offense to start the game; they were hanging on by a thread as Bradford moved the ball at will.
Brian Schottenheimer’s game plan was to attack the Redskins’ defense by spreading four and five wide receivers and forcing the Redskins’ hand in coverage. Of Sam Bradford’s 36 drop-backs, 20 of them came in 4 or 5 WR sets. Another nine drops came in 3 WRs, usually with a TE and RB as receiving threats as well. Only seven times did Sam Bradford drop back to pass out of a two-WR set (and most of those were playactions).
Here’s the main issue with the Redskins: London Fletcher, Perry Riley, and Ryan Kerrigan played all 71 snaps against St. Louis. Brian Orkapo got injured midway through the first quarter; as a result, he played only 18 snaps. His replacements, however, combined for 53 snaps (40 for Rob Jackson, 13 for Chris Wilson). Lorenzo Alexander and Keenan Robinson each had three snaps apiece as well. That means Jim Haslett played at least four linebackers on every single defensive snap of the ball (though to be fair, Kerrigan and Orakpo/Jackson/Wilson spend their fair share of time as down linemen in obvious pass-rushing situations). That isn’t necessarily because Haslett wants to always have four LBs at his disposal schematically; it’s because that’s what allows him to get his 11 best players on the field at the same time. The depth on the secondary is so thin at the moment that Haslett feels like he has to play these guys every down (particularly when Josh Wilson got injured). And when a team consistently spreads 4 and 5 WRs wide, Haslett is forced to come up with creative coverages in order to keep his LBs out of precarious situations. If Haslett stuck with man-coverage the whole game, then Schottenheimer could’ve moved things around to isolate one of his speedy wideouts on Perry Riley, and then force Riley to keep up as he stretched the field.
Now, if Haslett is insisting on keeping 4 LBs on the field at all times, then two things must happen: that team must be able to generate pressure early on so that the QB cannot pick apart the coverage (which did not happen), and the defense must be able to stop the run in order to force the offense into third-and-longer situations…which brings me to my next point.
Danny Amendola will go down as the hero of the game for St. Louis (deservedly so), but if I was going to pick the unsung heroes of the game for that franchise, they would have been RG Harvey Dahl and RT Barry Richardson. The word “dominate” does not begin to describe what those two did in the rushing game. Their primary target? Kedrick Golston.
In non-goal line, short-yardage situations, the St. Louis Rams rushed the ball 19 times (not including QB scrambles or kneel-downs). Here is the summary of those rushes:
- The Rams ran the ball at Stephen Bowen six times. In those six rushes, the Rams gained 13 yards for an average of 2.17 YPC.
- The Rams ran the ball once directly up the middle at Barry Cofield. That run went for 1 yard.
- The Rams ran the ball at Jarvis Jenkins when he was lined up at LDE three times. Those three rushes netted 0 yards.
- The Rams ran the ball at Kedrick Golston when he was lined up at LDE nine times. Those nine rushes went for 117 yards, or 13.0 YPC. That included a 53-yarder, a 20-yarder, and a 14-yarder.
Now, it’s not fair to completely pin all of those yards on Golston. During the 53-yarder, Perry Riley got cut down by the FB as he pursued Richardson toward the edge. Riley hitting the turf created an obstacle for London Fletcher to hurdle, which threw off his angle of pursuit. Dejon Gomes took an absolutely atrocious angle of pursuit from the secondary as Richardson hit the second level (as did Ryan Kerrigan), and Deangelo Hall was unable to shed his block and make a play. Nearly half the defense screwed up on that play, allowing what should have been a 5-10 yard gain turn into a 53-yard gain. It was reminiscent of Rob Gronkowski breaking 67 arm-tackles and carrying three defenders on his back as he single-handedly marched into the endzone during the 2011 game against the Patriots.
Still, the Rams clearly targeted Kedrick Golston with great success all game long. That’s not to say Jarvis Jenkins (who also played LDE after Carriker went down) was flawless in the running game; he was lined up at NT during two of Golston’s runs and failed to get any push to provide Golston with assistance. Ryan Kerrigan was also primarily lined up off of Golston’s shoulder and did not do much to alleviate the success the Rams were having on that side. Even London Fletcher allowed a big run to Golston’s side when he went after Bradford on what he thought was a playfake instead of containing the runner.
No defense can be successful when they are gashed on the ground as severely as the Redskins were. Overall, the two Rams running backs (Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson) averaged 5.9 YPC against this defense. That isn’t nearly good enough.
Having said all of that, the Redskins were actually very good in stopping the run in short-yardage and red zone situations, Golston included. Although you could argue (as I did earlier) that Steven Jackson should have had a touchdown rush from the 1-yard line that the referees simply missed. At the end of the day, the Redskins goal line rushing defense did its job according to the scoreboard.
I said earlier that Brian Schottenheimer and Sam Bradford were one step ahead of Jim Haslett and the defensive personnel of the Redskins all game long. Three plays illustrate this perfectly:
- On St. Louis’ first drive of the third quarter, Bradford lined up in a 3-WR set. He had Brandon Gibson split wide to his right, Steve Smith wide left, and then motioned Amendola into the slot to his left. The Redskins were in a cover-2 look, showing four rushers. All game long, Bradford had been taking 3-step drops and releasing the ball quickly to his WRs, frustrating the softer coverage with easy completions. At the snap, the Redskins continued to rush four and drop seven into coverage. Cedric Griffin and DeJon Gomes dropped into robber-2 coverage to Gibson’s side (meaning Griffin was responsible for coverage over the top and Gomes was responsible for the underneath throws in the flat). As Bradford took the third step in his drop, Gibson made the cut for a slant while Bradford threw a slight pump fake at the defense. Expecting another 3-step drop and quick release, both Cedric Griffin and DeJon Gomes jumped the slant in an attempt to catch Bradford with a mistake. The only problem was that Gibson was running a slant-and-go, a double-move specifically designed to catch overaggressive defenses reacting to something they shouldn’t. Gibson easily sped past both Griffin and Gomes as they helplessly tried to turn and chase; the play resulted in a 34-yard TD reception. The Redskins had a coverage specifically designed to prevent deep passes over the top (in addition to providing double-coverage on a single WR in this case), but it didn’t matter. The Rams set this play up from the start of the game with their quick drops short routes, making the Redskins think they knew what was coming as the play developed. The Rams were one step ahead.
- On the last play of the third quarter, St. Louis lined up in the shotgun with trip WRs to Bradford’s left, a single WR split wide-right, and one RB in the backfield. The Redskins showed three down-linemen, the ROLB (Rob Jackson) hinting at a pass-rush in a 2-point stance from the trip WR-side, and everyone else in man-coverage. Just two series before, Bradford abandoned his three step drop, baited the Redskins into jumping a quick route, and burned them by going over the top for Gibson’s TD. Bradford was able to accomplish this because of the time afforded to him in the pocket, which allowed him to execute the pump fake necessary to sell the double-move. On this play Haslett decided to forgo the four-man rush and bring the heat. The Redskins rushed all 3 DL and brought 3 blitzers from the play side of the formation (where the 3 WRs are lined up) while rotating coverage to the vacated zones that the blitzers just came from. The idea was to force Bradford into a mistake by thinking his WRs were open to the blitzer’s side. Instead, RB Daryl Richardson leaked out into the flat on the opposite side of the field, Bradford hit him in stride, and Richardson turned upfield for an easy 18-yard gain down to the Redskins’ 1-yard line. Richardson’s route was away from the blitz, so there was no chance of the pass being batted, and the rotating coverage to the play side meant that the Redskins sacrificed numbers on Richardson’s side of the field. He went untouched for 17 yards on the play. It was the perfect call against a blitz that the Redskins had not shown that day, which was called because Bradford had been afforded too much time in the pocket on a previous drive from a similar spot on the field. The Rams were one step ahead.
- On the very next play of the game, the Rams lined up in the exact same heavy formation that they used on their first quarter goal line series. In the first series, the Rams ran the ball three straight times behind their right guard and tackle. On this play, the Rams executed a perfect playfake to the same side of the formation…and the Redskins defense bit hard. TE Matthew Mulligan leaked out behind the Redskins’ linebackers that fired upfield at the fake, ran across the formation at the back of the endzone, and was sitting wide-open for Bradford to toss his third TD of the day. The Rams used the Redskins’ aggressiveness as well as the Redskins’ concerns about being gashed on the ground to that side of the ball to force an undisciplined approach to the play’s development. The Rams hit the Redskins with something they were not prepared for on this play.
In the end, there really was not much to positively single out with regards to the Redskins defense. Stephen Bowen had the best game of anybody on that side of the ball and London Fletcher still managed to make plays when the defense needed it most (intercepting Bradford in the end zone and forcing a fumble to give the Redskins offense the chance to tie or win the game in the fourth quarter). The entire unit must turn this performance around if this team is going to contend for the playoffs. And with the way the offense looks, this Redskins team should have a chance to do that, but only if the defense reverts to its play against New Orleans (or at least approaches it).