In the Redskins first game post-Albert Haynesworth, it would have been an absolute travesty if this group had forgotten to show up for a second straight week. Luckily, if only for this week, the Redskins defense solved these fears that I had, enjoying their best game all season as a run defense unit, and having their best game in terms of pressuring the quarterback since probably the Texans game, if not all year. These guys in the front seven, and really, you can throw the safeties into that too when they were in the box, did the job without Big Albert, and they did it well.
It's so nice to know that this Redskins defense has character. It may not be a good defense, but when guys like Vonnie Holliday and Phillip Daniels and Adam Carriker show up and put a game like this on film, and when Anthony Bryant stuffs the middle like a dominant nose tackle should, and London Fletcher can once again go sideline to sideline without a body on him, and Reed Doughty can come off the edge and get to the runners from behind because they aren't gashing our front, that qualifies as a statement game for the Redskins defense, I think.
6 of the Bucs 17 points were a direct result of mental errors by DeAngelo Hall, who also made a physical error when he dropped an INT that should have been an easy six points for the Redskins. Hall redeemed himself with a forced fumble and recovery, though he needed to get run through by LeGarrette Blount for 11 yards to have the opportunity. Hall's game would be roughly as responsible for the loss as was Graham Gano's missed FGs, but Hall did happen to defense passes on the Bucs two best touchdown opportunties of the day, which makes up for the dropped interception. He was also more aggressive in run support than counterpart Phillip Buchanon. Buchanon had another fantastic day in coverage, allowing just one completion on 3 targets, drawing the difficult assignment with Mike Williams.
The Redskins decided to go with the full extent of their defensive playbook in this game, apparently not scared of the Bucs offense. The Redskins mixed man coverage with zone coverage and mixed blitzes with coverages and came from all angles. They pressured Josh Freeman 12 times and hit him another 3 times, allowing him to complete just 15/25 of his passes, one of the better days the Redskins defense produced. Unfortunately, he also threw for more than 10 yards per attempt in this one, exclusively because the Redskins allowed a 64 yard completion, a 43 yard completion, and a 41 yard completion. Arrelious Benn had himself a career day (relax, he's a rookie), beating Hall deep once on what could only be pinned on Hall as poor coverage, and beating Moore deep on a double move on a play that was made mostly by the fearlessness of QB Josh Freeman, a budding star at the position. Imagine how good this team will be when they actually give this guy a supporting cast!
Kellen Winslow was blanketed most of the day by London Fletcher, so he wasn't a major factor in the first 55 minutes of this game. The Bucs didn't have more valuable catches then the ones that Winslow made, beating Fletcher and Reed Doughty for a reception in an impossibly tight window with Freeman feeling pressure from his front side. The other one did the Redskins in: Winslow got open down the seam against Rocky McIntosh, and Freeman threw him open. While McIntosh is not really at fault for the fact that this happened, we'll just say that if Fletcher had covered Winslow down the field, that throw is never even attempted. That was the only time in the entire game the Bucs got Winslow on McIntosh, a match-up the Redskins hoped to avoid, and the Bucs really, really wanted. Rocky did a much better job in run gap discipline this game, but he still: is a terrible read & react linebacker, doesn't use his keys to anticipate where the ball will be, is a weak tackler for his position, is a hilariously useless pass rusher, and is unspeakably bad in coverage. I think that covers everything.
And while Brian Orakpo was mugged once or twice in this game with no call (the officials need to at least be conscious that something might happen), I didn't like that Mike Shanahan used still frames to make his case to referee Pete Morrelli. That, to me, says more about Shanahan than about the umpire who missed the hold. Shanahan, who has already shown he will go for 2 down by a point after a late TD, had a chance to do something similar at the end of the game, and put a chance to go to OT in the hands of a PAT team. Not only did it end up being the wrong call, but the only defense of the decision I can offer was that it was risk-averse. I don't think the chance to win in regulation with a struggling FG unit should have been passed there. No one plans to go to OT and score a TD before getting to a fourth down. That would be called a advantage.
The Redskins lost this game, on defense, because of one-a-quarter coverage breakdowns. Getting Carlos Rogers back at corner is going to help this unit, but the Redskins are going to have to solve a series of contractual issues at the position in the offseason: Rogers and Buchanon are unrestricted free agents, while DeAngelo Hall has a mutual contract option that will be expensive to buy out. It's safe to say that Rogers and Buchanon have the superior performance, but the most costly option to the team would be to buy out Hall and then extend Rogers and Buchanon. Kevin Barnes appears ready to step in as a third corner as soon as, well, immediately, but with Justin Tryon sent to Indianapolis for a carton of milk, Barnes is the only reserve who can see his role increased. Contract issues are going to force the Redskins to be thinner at the position.
The safeties haven't been good enough. The Redskins can live with LaRon Landry's hit 'em or miss coverage. Landry concludes the year with a 43% rate of successful completion against (57% SR, if you prefer it that way), but 8.8 PaYd/target, which is among the worst at the position. That's above average, but barely. Pair that with a top cover safety, and you have a great tandem at the position. That means the Redskins need to improve on Kareem Moore in the offseason. Moore is a below average NFL safety. Also, the Redskins' contractual obligation to pay its corners is going to force them to draft a corner or two in the later rounds to contribute on special teams and play in case of injury.
Linebacker is not a concern if Perry Riley is ready to jump into the starting lineup for McIntosh, a pending free agent who appears unlikely to receiver a contract offer. If Riley is not ready, a FA shopping trip may be in order. Extending HB Blades would be a good way to buffer against London Fletcher's advanced age, but if you realize how rare it is for a 35-year old to be playing at the level Fletcher currently is, I'm far more worried about an injury than a decline in on-field performance.
The Redskins may have more in-house options to solve their DL issues than they currently believe. Anthony Bryant and Kedric Golston may both be able to handle the nose tackle better than Ma'ake Kemoeatu, who has been below average, but not nearly as terrible as Golston as been outside at defensive end. For RDE, Jeremy Jarmon is built perfectly for the position in the 3-4, and offers more pass rush than the Redskins have gotten out of Golston. I've never understood why the Redskins wouldn't use Vonnie Holliday in that role: he played it some in this game and was great. If Holliday would do another one year contract, a Jarmon/Holliday rotation gives us good production at RDE, so long as Jarmon is up to the task. Adam Carriker is an above average two-down LDE. I have no idea if this is the end of the line for Phillip Daniels, but this last three game stretch has been his best production of the season. It would be sad to see him go, but it's been a great career, and now might be the time. I don't know if the Redskins have all the answers in house on the DL, but without Haynesworth to satisfy, we may very well know by the end of the season. Only, however, if Jarmon gets healthy quickly.
The biggest issue for the Redskins will be adding more pass rushers in 2011. I don't care what position they play: the 3-4 is very flexible. But the Redskins need to find some players with the pass rushing skill on the FA market or in the draft. It's their biggest weakness as a defense. In this game, they got really good pressure on Freeman with their pressure schemes. But those schemes have not been there for the Redskins all season: not at least, since Week 7 in Chicago. Even after this performance, it's still obvious that upgrades have to be made to the defensive personnel, even if special teams is what cost the Redskins this football game.