With the offense converting it’s third down opportunities and staying on the field against the Titans, it only made sense that this would be the game that the defense made a breakthrough in terms of getting off the field on third down. Of course, the Redskins’ problem against the Eagles wasn’t third down defense, it was the inability to string two successful plays together to get to third down. That was not much of an issue for the Redskins defense in this game.
The Redskins never really did slow down Titans all-world RB Chris Johnson. On more than one occasion, a loose Johnson threatened to break this game wide open. Johnson had his opportunities because of his own patience and explosiveness, and because of the Titans OL and their ability to dominate Kedric Golston (and to a lesser extent, Ma’ake Kemoeatu) at the point of attack.
When things go wrong for the Redskins run defense, the thing to do when analyzing the film is to immediately find London Fletcher and see why he didn’t personally make the play. Usually when Fletcher doesn’t make the tackle, it’s because someone (Landry or Orakpo) beat him to the line for a first opportunity play. It’s more complicated when things go bad. Fletcher is the reason that the Redskins’ run defense is better than it’s pass defense.
Against an opponent like this, it’s important to keep in mind that you can play a run near perfectly, make the tackle on the first contact, and Chris Johnson might still get six or seven yards out of a play with no real hole. What you have to avoid doing is letting him get to the open field. When Vince Young was the quarterback, the Titans got big plays through the passing game, and not through the running game. After Rusty Smith relieved him at quarterback, the Titans got a single big play with the pass, but plenty of long runs.
Back to Fletcher: the Titans were able to neutralize him to a degree in this game with misdirection, if they weren’t able to physically get a body on him. HB Blades actually picked up a lot of the slack for this, making a number of long-run saving plays. Johnson had a lot of trouble getting the edge on Orakpo on this game in the early phases, so he was able to create some long runs using draw plays that baited Orakpo to come towards the quarterback on pass. Once he was outside Orakpo, both Fletcher and Blades faced an uphill battle to bring down Johnson before he hit the secondary. A couple of other times, the Titans OL drove the Redskins DL back into Fletcher, forcing him to miss a tackle on Johnson, who hit up into the secondary. This was mostly a factor late in the game.
Pass Defense and Randy Moss
I thought the pass defense was a little too Moss-centric for a guy who hadn’t done anything this year (and didn’t do anything today). The Redskins oftentimes inverted their Moss side coverage with DeAngelo Hall responsible for staying over the top of Moss to take him away, and then using Kareem Moore underneath. The other coverage they used was a more conventional cover two where the lack of pressure to Moss’ side in the offensive scheme allowed Hall to get nosy and start aggressively jumping passes to Moss. With the amount of time the Titans spent trying to throw to Moss, this was a useful counter-strategy by Jim Haslett. Had the Titans been less enslaved to the idea of using Moss at the expense of guys like Chris Johnson and Bo Scaife, it might have come back to bite the Redskins in the form of touchdowns.
Scaife wasn’t going to get great opportunities because Fletcher is a coverage stud, and so the Titans really missed 3rd year blocking TE Craig Stevens who would have either had a better coverage match-up or taken Fletcher in coverage to open up Scaife. The other factor here is that Fletcher’s dominance against tight ends this year emphasizes just how much the Redskins non-Landry safeties suck in coverage. Usually, most defenses ask their safeties to handle tight ends. In this defense, that worry is already handled, they just need to provide help on already covered receivers. They don’t. Reed Doughty apparently wasn’t going to play in deference to Anderson Russell, of all people, but was forced into action and he and Moore combined to give up 131 yards in 4 targets, 51 of those yards with something named Rusty Smith at quarterback. That’s obscenely bad. Enter Macho Harris.
The Titans had just three third down conversions in this game: a 3rd and 6 in the second quarter, a 3rd and 3 on that same drive, and a 3rd and 2 in the 3rd quarter. Lest you believe that the Redskins struggled in short yardage defense, the Titans failed to convert a 3rd and 3, a 3rd and 1, a 3rd and 4, and a 3rd and 3 in this one.
Phillip Buchanon had as much problem with the footing as anyone on the outside in this game, and allowed conversions, but he was not a major problem in this game. He may have had a couple more passes defended if we played this one at FedEx Field instead. His tackling was very good considering he was coming in late and out of control after slipping down. Overall, he won his match-up on the outside with Nate Washington, even if Washington converted a third down or two on him. Washington’s longest catch of the day actually came vs. DHall on a play where Moss was on the Titans sidelines. Hall lost his footing on that play, and it was a team-wide problem. A lot of Redskins got hurt because of the playing surface.
Pass Rushing With all the passing the Titans did, even with an undrafted rookie at quarterback, this could have been a nice opportunity to get healthy in terms of getting the passer on the ground. They didn’t do that, but the pressure on the passer was a significant factor in the outcome of the game. Lorenzo Alexnader stripped Vince Young as he ran on the first dropback of the game, and that kind of pressure continued in this game.
The Redskins are using Brian Orakpo primarily as a weakside slot defender against singleback offensive looks, and their blitz packages do not emphasize Orakpo coming. At maturity, I believe this defense will be able to do this. This is a good blitzing team who was able to get pressure on Rusty Smith with some creative overloads in passing situations and could stay in their zones and bring extra guys. That really put an emphasis on coverage for Orakpo, and he did it very well in this game. Orakpo doesn’t always sense screens when he’s on an ‘X’ fire assignment, and I think Haslett was scared to death of being beaten by a screen to Chris Johnson. While this defense was beaten on a screen to the fullback to Ahmad Hall, Johnson only got one screen attempt. They did it on a 3rd down when they figured they could throw it over Orakpo. Of course, there’s that Fletcher guy who wasn’t amused at this display of “creativity”, and put the screen to rest by himself.
It’s a problem that Orakpo can’t get a lot of good rushing attempts in this defense considering he’s the only pass rushing terror on the field, but with Alexander getting injured only two defensive snaps into the game, Carter and Orakpo have to split the rushing attempts.
It wasn’t all bad. Ma’ake Kemoeatu is a very good pass rusher, as far as nose tackles go. He’s the one responsible for hurting Vince Young’s hand and he dominated Center Eugene Amano in this matchup. We usually ask either Kedric Golston or Adam Carriker to turn into a contain end on the pass rush (usually, but not always, Carriker). Daniels is good at this when he plays, but Carriker and Golston, the starters, are not edge rushers. Vonnie Holliday continues his role dominance. Haynesworth is just a great defensive player who needs as many opportunities as he can get.
Brian Orakpo did lead the team with three pressures on quarterback in this game, and he remains the team’s best pass rusher. But this was the second toughest three game stretch of the Redskins’ schedule this year (first: Eagles-Packers-Colts), and Orakpo didn’t get a sack in that three game stretch. Being the best on a bad unit may not be enough. We need him to be great in whatever role we ask of him. He is the guy this defense is built around.
The big problem here is that our variation of the 3-4 (Pittsburgh) is not designed to line up in the base front and just rush four guys, because three of the four guys on the field are run-first players. That’s the case with the Redskins. With so many run first players on the field, quick pass pressure is about overloading and getting a free rusher who is a sack-strip threat. That’s Landry, Carter, Orakpo, Haynesworth, Alexander, Wilson, or Doughty. In the base defense, there is room to play just three of those guys at one time, and if we continue to rush four all the time, there’s no benefit to playing this style of the 3-4 defense.
I think we need to get back to the roots of the defensive scheme, and that’s pressure first. I realize that we’re merely playing it conservative right now, but here come the embattled Minnesota Vikings, with their terrible offensive line, and 41 year old quarterback. I hope the defense brings the heat from every angle and hits Favre on every single drive and chooses to not just win this next game at home, but to win emphatically.