LB Ryan Kerrigan: He was disruptive in the second half in particular so that’s where I’ll focus. In the third quarter Kerrigan drew a holding penalty on one rush (he drew two holds in the game). Next play: he got inside left tackle Jermon Bushrod for another pressure. Next series: he gets wide on the tight end, bumps into his chest and gets around him for more pressure. He nearly intercepted a pass later in that series. On that play he took two hard steps upfield as if rushing (from the right side); maybe that confused Drew Brees. Kerrigan then dropped to cover Darren Sproles in the flat and Brees’ pass suggests he wasn’t expecting that. Sproles broke it up. Later in the third Kerrigan helped on a backside tackle for a one-yard loss. In the fourth he recorded a sack, lining up in one of the few times in a four-point stance and beating Bushrod again. He got into him low and sped around; it wasn’t close. Kerrigan had three more pressures in the fourth quarter.
DE Stephen Bowen: The Saints inability to run the ball factored into this game in a big way. When that’s the case it’s not just one guy doing his job, it’s the entire front. But Bowen had the best day of the linemen. On the first drive of the game Bowen drove guard Ben Grubbs back and then batted Brees’ pass. Bowen shoved Jermon Bushrod (tough day for him) back on one run, forcing a quick cut and allowing Adam Carriker to come over for the tackle. Bowen also batted down another pass. The Saints averaged 3.2 yards on 10 carries; it started up front.
CB DeAngelo Hall: I have some questions about him as a blitzer, more from tipping it off than anything else (see below). But Hall finished with a sack and three quarterback hurries and a tackle for a loss. Yeah, he’s never been able to say that before. So it was a good debut as a slot corner. Hall also covered well and made some tackles on special teams, too. A strong, disciplined game for the veteran.
FS DeJon Gomes: He made mistakes, including a pass interference call that led to a field goal and a personal foul. But Gomes did make one of the biggest plays of the game late in the fourth quarter when he intercepted a Brees overthrow to Lance Moore. It helped that Brian Orakpo applied pressure on Brees. Both Orakpo and Kerrigan came on stunts through the A gaps to collapse the pocket. It led to a high throw and a pick. Gomes did cover well most of the game, better than he did last season. Gomes did a good job filling in for Brandon Meriweather. Last year Gomes’ eyes weren’t always in the right place, but on the interception they absolutely were.
PK Billy Cundiff: Why with the defense? Well, his kickoffs played a crucial role in limiting the Saints’ offense, forcing them to consistently go on long drives. They started nine drives at their own 20-yard line or worse (with eight of those drives starting after a kickoff). Cundiff’s ability to consistently hit the back of the end zone will give the Redskins a chance to pin teams inside the 20 often, if they try to return the ball. Cundiff’s kickoffs frustrated Darren Sproles (who slapped the ball hard after his sixth kickoff). On the next kickoff, Sproles forced the issue and returned it from nine yards deep, but was tackled just before the 20 and a holding penalty pushed it back 10 yards. Sproles did have a 48-yard return (hangtime on the kick was 3.9 seconds, below what they want). All but one of his kickoffs went at least nine yards deep. The one that didn’t? His last one when Sproles was lined up nine yards deep. This time Cundiff bounced the kickoff just in front of the goal line and Sproles had to take a knee after fielding the ball in the end zone. Oh, yeah, Cundiff made all four of his field goals, too, and none of them looked anything but dead perfect.
FS Madieu Williams: He wasn’t consistently bad by any means. He helped force Drew Brees to make perfect throws with his positioning behind the targets, tight end Jimmy Graham in particular. Williams even broke up one pass to Graham. But Williams made two big mistakes that led to points. The first occurred one play after Brian Orakpo dropped an interception. So, yeah, the Redskins should have been off the field. But they weren’t and that means Williams must make the play that comes his way. On the 33-yard touchdown pass (on fourth and 10), Williams was aligned about eight yards off the ball on the right hash. Corner Josh Wilson, covering Lance Moore off the snap, passed him off to Williams. But Williams had turned back to the quarterback as if he was expecting something else. He then turned and ran to Moore, but couldn’t locate the ball and made no adjustment as Moore came down with the catch in the end zone. Williams also was called for a personal foul when he hit Graham with the crown of his helmet late in the game, giving New Orleans a first down at the Redskins’ 36 en route to another touchdown.
Chris Wilson: He played six snaps from scrimmage in place of Brian Orakpo and wasn’t able to make much of a dent. But Wilson’s big miscue occurred in punt protection. Wilson lines up to the right of long snapper Nick Sundberg and rather than stay in his spot, Wilson blocked inside. That opened a lane for Martez Wilson to race through untouched en route to a punt block (and subsequent Saints touchdown). Wilson has been a good special teams player in his career and it’s one reason he made the roster. But it was a tough first game back after a year at home.
The Redskins’ offense did a great job getting yards after the catch. The defense did a fantastic job of limiting yards after the catch. The Saints managed 90 yards after the catch (compared to 198 for Washington). But 38 of those 90 yards occurred on their first four completions. And 16 came on a pass to Darren Sproles in the fourth quarter with the Redskins protecting a two-score lead and wary of downfield throws. The Saints had 10 receptions that gained two yards or less after the catch. They were going to get their completions, the trick was limiting the damage and this shows just how tight the coverage was; rarely did a guy have an open look and a chance to run.
Sproles managed 29 yards after the catch, but he’s so dangerous that this is considered a big win. And as pointed out above, 16 came on a play where the Saints cleared out the middle and it appeared that Perry Riley misplayed the coverage (coming too far over to the left, enabling Sproles to sneak out over the middle for an easy catch and run). Sproles also beat Riley for a touchdown, faking him inside and then cutting out. A tough play for Riley to defend.
Hall blitzed 10 times when lined up in the slot and each time his head was turned toward the quarterback before the snap. When he wasn’t going to blitz, his eyes were turned toward the receiver. They’re supposed to have their eyes “peripheral with the ball” one longtime coach said. Now that other teams have some film on him in this role, I’m curious to see if this will matter.
Running back Darren Sproles upended two Redskins with blitz pickups – Hall and London Fletcher. In both cases the blitzer tried to jump and Sproles went low, sending them tumbling over the top.
Jarvis Jenkins had two plays in which he showed his power, but he’s also clearly still learning to stay low. It’s noticeable when he rushes alongside veterans such as, well, any of the other five D-linemen. When Jenkins can get into his blocker after the first step it’s much better. It’s the second step that causes him to get upright. On one play in the fourth quarter, I paused the game after he and Stephen Bowen took their second steps. Jenkins had lost his explosiveness because he wasn’t using his legs to drive. It was all upper body. Bowen stayed lower and still had leg strength to drive when engaging the blocker.
One of Jenkins’ best rushes, his most explosive that is, came when he was flagged for a hands to the face penalty. But he stayed low and exploded into the Saints’ lineman. I’ll take that sort of effort each play, save for the penalty of course. Another time he stayed low off the second step and stunned right guard Jahri Evans with a punch, throwing him off-balance and opening a lane inside for a Jenkins pressure.
It’s clear the Redskins plan was to force Brees to be perfect with his throws over the middle, having their defenders trail underneath with tight safety help over the top. Brees was perfect on some of his throws to Graham. But it was good discipline on the part of the Redskins’ coverage as few windows were open for Brees.
Corner Cedric Griffin was much better than he had been in the preseason. And his biggest play came after he had been beaten at corner, or at least turned around. But his ability to quickly pivot back into the play saved a touchdown as he poked the ball free from receiver Marques Colston, forcing a touchback.
Linebacker London Fletcher was thiiiis close to a really, really good game. He had excellent coverage on Jimmy Graham, but gave up two big passes simply because of his height difference. Fletcher’s best play might have been on the pass breakup of Sproles inside the 5-yard line. Few linebackers have the speed to cover Sproles on that play and his recognition and reaction at the snap was impressive.