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Redskins vs Packers: Reviewing The Redskins Defense

Washington's defense has struggled mightily through its first two games. The Packers took full advantage of the Redskins biggest weakness. Mark Bullock gives his thoughts and observations on Washington's defensive performance in Green Bay.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Redskins fell to an 0-2 record on Sunday after losing to the Green Bay Packers at  Lambeau Field. Defensively, Washington gave up 580 total yards on its way to a 38-20 defeat. So what went wrong? Here are my notes and observations after watching back the All-22 coaches film.

1. The Packers used the opening drive to test the Redskins ability to tackle in space. Like the Eagles in week one, Green Bay quickly brought a third receiver on the field, a move that forced the Redskins into their nickel package. Rodgers threw a series of screen passes on packaged plays which forced Washington defenders to tackle in space. Missed tackles hurt the Redskins against the Eagles, and they continued to plague them against the Packers, giving up multiple yards after contact from the opening drive.

2. Ryan Kerrigan managed to kill the Packers momentum on that opening drive with back to back sacks. On the first, Kerrigan shot up field and got low to the ground around the edge, only needing one arm on the right tackle to drive him back. Kerrigan was too quick for the tackle and managed to turn him around before disengaging and wrapping up Rodgers. His second sack came a play later with the Redskins using their nickel rush package. Kerrigan lined up on the same side as Brian Orakpo, but shifted inside over the left guard. Orakpo and rookie Brandon Jenkins rushed from the outside and forced Rodgers to step up in the pocket. Rodgers step up into Kerrigan, who ran a cross stunt inside with Cofield to set him free up the middle. After back to back sacks, Green Bay failed to convert on third and long, settling for a field goal.

3. The first play of their next possession saw Brian Orakpo make another sack for a 12 yard loss. Cofield used his favored club and swim move to beat the center and generate immediate pressure up the middle. Rodgers was forced to try and escape the pocket, but turned straight into Orakpo n the edge. From that point, the Packers switched up their game plan and ran mainly from three-step drops. They were content to take the short routes given to them by the Redskins secondary and force open field tackles. These quicker routes combined with Rodgers mobility and awareness in the pocket managed to negate the Redskins pass rush for the majority of the rest of the game.

4. In coverage, Washington's defense found it hard to combat the match ups presented to them. Randall Cobb scored a 35 yard touchdown on a fourth and three. Cobb lined up in the slot across from Josh Wilson, who used his hands and forced Cobb inside before peeling off to cover the tight end running out into the flat. That left Cobb to Perry Riley, a match up the Packers will take every time. Cobb was too quick for Riley, cutting across his face and getting open in the middle of the field. Brandon Meriweather should have been over the top to help, but cheated to Jordy Nelson's side and slipped as he tried to get back. Cobb made an easy catch and run for the touchdown.

5. But sometimes you just have to give credit where it's due. Aaron Rodgers made multiple plays that a lot of quarterbacks couldn't have. On Nelson's first touchdown, Washington showed a Cover 0 look. Rodgers audibled at the line to give himself a quick out route to his left. But when the Redskins dropped back into coverage, Rodgers opted against the out route, working his way back across the field to find Nelson running a post route through the Redskins zone coverage for a 14 yard touchdown. Later on in the red zone, Rodgers felt pressure coming from Orakpo. Rodgers managed to buy himself time and roll out to his right. That gave tight end Jermichael Finley time to elude the tight coverage by DeAngelo Hall and catch a perfectly timed pass from Rodgers, giving Hall no chance.

6. Nelson's second touchdown was another piece of excellence from Rodgers.  The Redskins showed a single high safety look with Rambo back deep, but actually used a slot blitz from Doughty and rotated their coverage on the back side of the play. The Packers had their tight end run a quick out to the flat in combination with Nelson on a go route. Rodgers used a pump fake to make corner DeAngelo Hall bite down on the out route and create space behind him for Nelson. Rambo rotated over to cover his deep half of the field and saw the route the whole way, but Rodgers placed the throw on Nelson's outside shoulder where only Nelson could make the catch. Fine arts of quarterbacking like pump faking and pinpoint accuracy put Rodgers in the elite category, sometimes you have to accept he's going to make plays on you.

7. One of the biggest concerns for Washington's defense thus far has been their run defense. James Starks became the first 100 yard back the Packers have had in 44 games. Starks is the back up and was only on the field due to starter Eddie Lacy suffering a concussion early on, but he was perfectly capable of taking advantage of the Redskins nickel package. In this package, the Redskins often opted to play conservatively with two safeties deep in effort to help rookie defensive backs David Amerson and Bacarri Rambo. But that leaves just six defenders in the box against the six blockers of the Packers. That means if the Packers executed the play properly, there wouldn't be a free defender in the box to tackle the running back, allowing him to run untouched into the secondary.

8. This was the case on too many occasions. The Redskins were effectively relying on one of their front six to shed their block and blow up the play. Sometimes it worked, Barry Cofield and Ryan Kerrigan made nice plays to get off blocks quickly and wrap up the runner for a minimal gain. But frequently the runner was able to make his way into the secondary untouched, without Washington's front six doing much wrong. That's precisely what we saw on James Starks long touchdown run. The front six all hit their correct gaps, but had nobody to come in and clean up the runner. Rambo came down from his deep safety position, but receiver Jordy Nelson managed to come in and block him long enough for Starks to run past him. From there, it was then a lot to ask of Reed Doughty and David Amerson to chase him down and tackle him.

9. On the Packers final drive, Jim Haslett decided to keep his base personnel on the field against the Packers three receiver sets. SS Reed Doughty was brought down to cover the slot receiver, leaving Rambo as the single high safety. That gave the numbers advantage up front back to the Redskins, who promptly stuffed back to back rushes. But Aaron Rodgers quickly picked up on that and responded by throwing a number of quick passes where his receivers simply got the better of the Redskins defensive backs.

10. But ultimately, the most immediate concern for the Redskins defense is missed tackles. ProFootballFocus has the Redskins leading the league at 30 missed tackles through two games. The next closest team is the Carolina Panthers at 20. Washington had 16 missed tackles against the Packers, including one play in the third quarter that saw three missed tackles. Rodgers dumped the ball off to Finley in the flat. Reed Doughty missed his first effort which would have brought him down for a three yard gain. Josh Wilson came in and failed to bring Finley down as Finley went on to run through Rambo's attempt. Eventually Reed Doughty caught up and with help from defensive end Kedric Golston, managed to bring Finley down after a 27 yard gain. Washington are limited in the amount they can practice tackling. They are only allowed one padded practice a week and even then defenders wont tackle to the ground. Mike Shanahan preaches rallying to the football and gang tackling, but so far the Redskins defense has been stretched out, making it tough to do that. But Washington will have to find a way to stop giving up extra yards, or the defense will continue to struggle.