Week 1 Film Review: How’d the Defense Look?
Each week after the coaches film is released on NFL Game Pass on Tuesday afternoons, I will review the tape and report my findings.
The Redskins defense was dominant on Sunday. The unit allowed only 2 first-downs in a first half shutout, spending most of the first 30 minutes with only 19 yards given up. Perhaps the most impressive stat, though? The Redskins held David Johnson, one of the NFL's most dynamic players to only 67 total yards. The addition of DaRon Payne and the return of Matt Ioannidis and Jonathan Allen obviously make a huge difference up front, as the Redskins only needed to blitz on four plays against the pass.
It’s sometimes hard to decipher whether or not a team is run-blitzing, but by my count the Redskins only run-blitzed on one play. What does this mean? Well, it shows that the Redskins can effectively sit back in coverage and get enough pressure with their front-four while also being stout enough against the run without having to send reinforcements against the run.
How did the Redskins accomplish this? Well, the answer is fairly simple; personnel that finally fit the system. Greg Manusky wants to be able to drop his DBs and linebackers into complex zones, and to do that he needs athletic linebackers and a front-four that can both stuff the run and apply pressure. Finally, with the addition of Da’Ron Payne, the emergence of Josh Harvey-Clemons, and the health of Zach Brown and Mason Foster, the Redskins have the pieces needed to be effective in this system. Mason Foster was matched up (in his zone) with Larry Fitzgerald on 11 occasions by my count, allowing only one catch for 7 yards. Any time a team can put a linebacker on a Hall-of-Fame receiver, things are looking good.
On the back end, the Redskins employed mostly quarters and cover-3 looks, allowing their corners to take away one quarter of the field and leaving the safeties to cover the deep thirds depending on the play. Manusky also mixes in some ‘robber’ coverage, bringing a safety down in the box from a high position, usually pushing a linebacker’s responsibility to a flat. While a veteran QB like Bradford can usually pick apart a zone defense, pressure makes the looks harder to discern. While many fans are questioning the pressure the Redskins forced on Sunday, Manusky didn't need to send more than four if the Cardinals were only going to manage a meager 4.7 yards per pass play. Against the murderer’s row of quarterbacks the Redskins have coming up, expect Manusky to dial up some more exotic pressure.
I wanted to focus on a few plays in this film review, starting with a stellar play (above) from Quinton Dunbar, who had an exceptional game overall. Dunbar drops into his zone, responsible for the quarter of the field to the bottom of the screen. He shows he’s studied this week, seeing the TE pulling the linebacker into the flat to clear the middle of a slant from the slot receiver. Dunbar breaks immediately on the route before the ball is even thrown and breaks the pass up-with his helmet. Dunbar commented after the game that even he was surprised how quickly he got there, wishing aloud with Deangelo Hall that he could’ve gotten his hands on the ball rather than the ball ‘hitting him in his face.’
Another fantastic play from Dunbar here (above), as a clever route concept puts him in a tough spot and he still makes the play. Three receivers align in a tight split to the bottom of the screen, and Swearinger and Moreau move over to cover the underneath zones in front of those receivers, leaving Dunbar responsible for the deep third, and in this case, two receivers running vertical routes. Dunbar stays home between the two receivers and breaks quickly on Fitzgerald, making a tough play look easy.
On this play (above), I wanted to highlight the contrast between Jonathan Allen and DaRon Payne. Allen shows his prowess with a combination of power and pass-rush moves, a relentless attack straight towards the QB. Payne, who is just scratching his pass-rushing potential, makes one move and attempts to use his power the rest of the way. Payne stayed in the game on possible run downs, so he won’t usually be in the game on obvious passing downs at this point in his career, but this type of play, and contrast between the two Alabama products, was evident throughout the game in passing situations.
Lastly, I want to point out one of the only true negatives I saw in this game, and that was a lazy play from Josh Norman that could’ve really changed the game (above). Norman is responsible for the quarter of the field closest to the bottom of the screen. Seals-Jones enters his zone and makes a lazy fake to the outside, sitting down in the end zone. Norman oversteps to the outside and then puts little effort into recovering to cover Seals-Jones, who drops what would’ve been a sure touchdown with a better throw from Bradford. Norman is a good corner, but seems to get bored at times, and did not look fully engaged in this play, a play that could’ve certainly changed the game, as it would’ve resulted in just a 10-point point lead with under 4 minutes remaining.
Some other notable observations for each defensive player:
-Jonathan Allen is proving that he is one of the best interior rushers in the league. He is relentless and perfectly built for the position, recording two pressures and a QB hit (by my count) on a day where the QB was getting rid of the ball quickly.
-DaRon Payne is already a great run-stuffer, holding up two defenders consistently against the run and pushing the pocket on passing downs. He might have been the missing piece to this D.
-Matt Ioannidis didn’t have his best game and was washed against the run on multiple occasions, but he will likely find his way to a mostly pass-rush role this season.
-Ziggy Hood looked more natural and explosive from his more natural position of defensive end. It must feel fantastic to finally be playing in the position he belongs; no one is happier than Ziggy Hood about the addition of DaRon Payne.
-Tim Settle has grown-man strength as a rookie. He had his best series in the third quarter, pushing two defenders into Sam Bradford on first down and holding up two defenders at the line on second down against the run.
-Mason Foster is a very instinctive player, and when he’s healthy, has the athleticism to match. He played well against slot receivers and diagnosed the run with patience. He’s also an underrated blitzer.
-Zach Brown is overly-aggressive at times, but man is he fast. If he picks the right gap, he gets a TFL. However, he picked the wrong gap on two ten-plus yard runs. A bit more patience would help even out his game.
-Josh Harvey-Clemons might be the most underrated player on this defense. He’s a savvy blitzer-waiting on delays and getting his hands up in passing lanes, as well as a mismatch killer against TEs and backs in the pass game.
-Preston Smith didn’t look special on Sunday, but he held the edge well on the run and had one QB hit.
-Ryan Kerrigan was much the same as his counterpart, solid against the run and had two QB hits, but nothing spectacular.
-DJ Swearinger had a mostly great day in coverage, specifically underneath, but got beat deep badly by Larry Fitzgerald to start the second half. He’s clearly more comfortable as the down safety in coverage.
-Montae Nicholson had a great game. My only worry about him has been in man coverage, but he excelled in the zone-heavy gameplan on Sunday.
-Josh Norman was great in run support and made two fantastic tackles on underneath routes, but was beat badly near the end of the game on what should’ve been a TD.
-Fabian Moreau is clearly a good communicator and made sure he was where he needed to be on Sunday, but he’s overall a work in progress; he had a hold and was beat twice for medium gains.
-Quinton Dunbar demonstrated why the team showed zero reluctancy in letting Bashed Breeland go. He’s on the rise and didn’t have a single negative on my note sheet. 3 PBU, 1 INT=great game.