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Broaddus: Defense Has Improved During Redskins’ Win Streak
All season long it has come down to matchups for this Cowboys squad. Some they have been able to handle and others have been struggles. I thought defensively last week against the Saints was going to be a real problem and it was. This Redskins offense does present their possibilities of problems but not like the Saints with their personnel. Where the Redskins cause you problems is with their scheme and having to defend it. It’s an attack that makes you defend the entire field and not just one side of it.
Robert Griffin III has been outstanding this season and a great deal of that success is due to Kyle Shanahan coming up with plays that Griffin III is comfortable executing. So much of coaching is about finding ways to make you players play their best and Shanahan has done that. Griffin III is very athletic and you can see that on tape but in the Eagles game, the knee injury has slowed him down some. You didn’t see the mobility that you had in previous weeks. Despite the fact that his leg is bothering him, his arm is not. He has outstanding arm strength and can make the majority of the throws. If he has a weakness to his game, he tends to stare down the first receiver, not getting to the second before he takes off running. He doesn’t force many balls is why you see so few interceptions. Before his knee injury, his strength was his ability to keep plays alive. He does show the ability to make throws on the move. Where this Cowboys defense has to be careful when playing Griffin III is not get fooled by his ball handling. He has a real feel for how to put pressure on you this way. I usually don’t write about the opponents backup quarterback in these breakdowns but because of the health of Griffin III, I thought I would take a moment to mention Kirk Cousins. This will end up being a nice pick for the Redskins in the future. He is a smart quarterback that will make quick decisions. He plays with good arm strength and unlike Griffin III you can see him fit the ball into some tight windows. He doesn’t have the mobility of Griffin III nor does he throw the ball as well on the move.
It looks like that Mike Shanahan has once again hit a home run with a sixth round running back. Rookie Alfred Morris has been a steal for the Redskins with his physical, downhill running style. Morris is not one of those backs that can take it the distance but you do see a back that runs with good vision and pad level. Does a really nice job of pushing the pile when tacklers get in position to make plays. Shows really nice patience as a runner. Allows blocks to develop then makes his move. Would not call him a huge threat out of the backfield catching the ball and is not used that way. Is very good in this zone scheme at taking the ball, stretching the play, then making the cut. Usually has very good ball security but have seen him put it on the ground before. Have to get tacklers on him quickly before he gets going to hold him in check. As much as Griffin III makes this offense go, Morris is a huge part of why he does have the success that he does. His ability to successfully run the ball sets up how Shanahan is able to tailor the game for this offense.
On the outside, the Redskins have a group of receivers that seem to compliment what they are trying to do within the scheme of the offense. It’s a group that is able to run routes at all levels of the field. They run screens, crossing and vertical routes. Its led by Pierre Garcon who has had his share of injury problems this season but really turned it on the last time these two teams met. Garcon has good quickness and gets into his routes quickly. He is one of those receivers that builds speed as he goes down the field. He has the ability to make adjusting plays down the field. He is a willing to fight for the contested ball but has had his troubles in this area before. Josh Morgan doesn’t have to quickness of Garcon but he is a better route runner. He does a good job of catching the ball on the move. His size helps him when he is in traffic. Is not a home run type of receiver but steady. Santana Moss has saved some of his finest work when he plays the Cowboys. His quickness is his greatest strength. When they draw up slot players, he is your guy. Is a perfect fit for this offense because of how quickly they want to get the ball to the outside. His size doesn’t limit his ability to fight for the ball. Brandon Banks is like Moss in that he is a short guy but he plays with a quickness and a burst. Where he makes his living is as a punt and kickoff returner. He is the club’s stunt man that comes in a runs the trick plays.
There was one time where Chris Cooley was the main weapon at tight end for the Redskins but that role later went to Fred Davis who is now on injured reserve. Logan Paulsen is the starter and he has good size but is nowhere as of a good athlete as they have played with in the past. He does a good job on the boots and waggles when he has to catch the ball in the flat. His hands are really his strength. Niles Paul was a receiver in college that the Shanahan’s have taken and made a specialist as a move guy or mismatch player. He plays with good initial quickness but he is not very strong as a blocker. Is a guy that helps you on special teams and can back up several positions.
It’s hard for me to say many good things about this offensive line but to be honest they are playing better as a unit. In years past this was a huge problem with no running game and bad quarterback play but that has all changed with Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris arriving on the scene. Starting left tackle Trent Williams has played very well during his career against the top rushers in the NFC East. He is an athletic player, that plays with good pad level and leg drive. His feet and punch work very together but there are times where he will struggle with people that try and bull rush him which is a way to try and attack him. On the other side, Tyler Polumbus missed the Philadelphia game with a concussion so his status for this week is still in question. When he does play, he tends to be heavy footed in pass protection and will struggle in the running game when he encounters defenders that tend to move on him. Rushers that tend to play with power then convert it to speed really give him trouble. He tends to have problems with his body control. Against the Eagles, Maurice Hurt made the start at right tackle. He is a big man that can move his feet. Didn’t see him get knocked back much and held his own against the pressure off the edge that they were bringing. At guards, Chris Chester and Kory Lichtensteiger are the two starters. Chester can get off the ball quickly but he has had his share of problems with his footwork both run and pass but his biggest problems is when he gets in position on blocks but doesn’t finish. Lichtensteiger is a much better pass blocker than a run. Like Chester, there are times where he gets in position but more because of ability he doesn’t finish. Will Montgomery is the starter at center and does a nice job when he is asked to help when combo blocking with the guards. He is able to stay with his man or show the ability to get to the second level and secure his block. Montgomery is not a great technique player but he does a really nice job of holding and he manages to get away with it.
During this winning streak that the Redskins are on, defensively they have played much better as a group. The most points they have allowed in a 4th quarter of a game was the 18 to the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. Their run defense has improved as well only allowing 64 yards a game but their struggles are still happening on third down where they are only at 43%. In going back and studying the game the last time these two teams met, turnovers were the big key. The Redskins were able to force three with two interceptions and a Dez Bryant fumble recovery. The Redskins along the front took the approach that the Browns used before them in putting pressure on Romo with twist stunts upfront. The Cowboys did a much better job of handling that pressure in the second half of the game.
The Redskins really only have one pressure player in their front seven and that is linebacker Ryan Kerrigan but they do have some players that if not blocked well can cause some problems. Stephen Bowen has done a really nice job since coming over to the Redskins. Bowen is one of those guys when he is on the move can be a huge problem or when one-on-one he can beat you with a bull rush. He does a really nice job of using his size to cause problems. If he has a weakness, he tends to play a little too tall. Kedric Golston is a big time effort player that doesn’t have great tools to really dominate you but you have to watch him because of the way that he uses his strength. Jarvis Jenkins was a good college player that missed his rookie season with an ACL and is working his way back into form. There are times where he plays well with his hands but is not nearly consistent enough do it. I have always been a big Barry Cofield fan at defensive tackle. Even when he was with the Giants he was disruptive. He is a much better athlete than people give him credit for. Where he makes his living playing with strength and power at nose.
London Fletcher is the leader of this defense and is as consistent as they come when it comes to making plays. He had a huge interception the last time these two teams played on a drop where he fooled Romo from a previous play in the game. He plays with quickness and the ability to react before the play has a chance to get going. Is a very good tackler in space and is outstanding when he has to avoid blocks. Perry Riley does a good job of locating the ball but will struggle if he has to take on blocks. Doesn’t have the burst or awareness that Fletcher has. Does tackle well when in position. As mentioned, Kerrigan is their best pressure player. He is relentless to the ball. Plays with outstanding initial quickness and pursuit. He has the speed to get around the edge but also play with a great deal of awareness when the ball comes to his side. Is a hard guy to fool because of this awareness.
DeAngelo Hall is the club’s best cover guy. He has always been a bit of a gambler whether he is playing outside or in the slot. He plays with nice range but there are times where he is not as discipline with his technique as he needs to be. He plays with instincts and feel. He has outstanding play making and ball skills. Had an interception when Romo tried to fit the ball to Cole Beasley going across the field. Is one of those guys that will lose his poise if things start to go against him. Josh Wilson doesn’t have great height but he is very quick. He can recover when he gets beat on a route. He plays with a burst but where he really struggles is if you make it a physical game. He is not the most aggressive player and he will be a selective tackler at times. Cedric Griffin is the nickel corner and he will play on the outside instead of the slot. He is a physical player when he plays in press coverage. Reed Doughty is a guy that I try and get rid of every year but he keeps coming back in the lineup. He is not the most talented player but he plays with great awarenss. Is a much better run player than pass. Is good in the box but not as much as in space. Don’t think he has real good ball skills.