Redskins defense: What we've learned

After watching the Redskins’ 24-13 victory over Pittsburgh on Monday, here’s what stood out:

  • It was easy to see how dominant nose tackle Barry Cofield was at times Monday night. It was even deeper than I realized. Two years ago the Redskins coaches predicted Cofield would soon be the NFL’s best nose tackle. I’m not going so far as to say that he is, but I will say he’s improved and now combines athleticism, quickness and brains. Anyway, on the first series he had consecutive plays in which he made a crucial contribution even if it wasn’t a flashy one. First, he was cocked to his right over the center. At the snap, he squared up with center Maurkice Pouncey. As the play went to Cofield’s left, he turned and gained leverage on Pouncey, pushing him back as he ran to that side and made the tackle. On the next play, he and Stephen Bowen both occupied two defenders as linebacker London Fletcher stepped into the hole. Bowen broke free to make the tackle as one of his blockers headed to Fletcher.

  • On the second series, Cofield made his mark on two other plays, courtesy of swim moves past Pouncey. The center whiffed on his first block attempt. And the second one occurred on linebacker Ryan Kerrigan’s interception for a touchdown. Cofield was into the backfield fast with another swim move. It’s hard to imagine teams having much success against him on a consistent basis with just one blocker. The same is true of Bowen -- and one of them more often than not will be singled up in pass-rush situations. Cofield got Pouncey again on a swim move -- Pouncey’s hands were low and slow (that motto works for brisket; not blocking Cofield). By the way, my thoughts haven’t changed on Kerrigan since watching the film. A good night.

  • I focused on this in my Ten Observations as well, but it’s really intriguing to see what the Redskins can do with their pass rush and how they can mix and match and create different looks. I love Kerrigan inside in some -- not all -- rush situations because of his quickness off the ball and his ability to play with leverage from his defensive-end days. Just a good changeup. And I like that they can mix and match: one play Kerrigan is over the right guard with Bowen over the left guard. It might be the opposite on the next play, giving that player a quality rusher with different strengths. Washington can rush Kerrigan and another linebacker from a four-point stance, with one standing up. It’ll be more effective with Brian Orakpo, naturally, but it works well thus far because of the various looks. What the Redskins are not having to do, yet, is send extra rushers out of necessity.

  • They did have one alignment in which they used five linebackers and two defensive linemen. Kerrigan was at left end with Brandon Jenkins at right end and Darryl Tapp inside to his left. The Steelers gained nine yards with a quick pass. But it was a first-down play, so it was an example of the Redskins perhaps trying to generate extra push with an early-down pass rush. It helps that Tapp is a former defensive end, albeit in a 4-3 (where the ends can be sometimes 30 pounds lighter than a 3-4 end).

  • Forgot to ask David Amerson about this play, but was reminded of it watching the game again on a 20-yard pass play (the DeJon Gomes late hit). Amerson did not get a good re-route on the receiver and then failed to drop deep enough in the cover-2 look, leaving quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with an easy throwing lane. Amerson, though, continues to look like a future starter. When? He still has a lot to learn and prove, but he’s moving at the right pace. He’s willing to play physical and even though he missed on one tackle -- keep the head up -- he’s not shying from this role.

  • Corner Chase Minnifield was beaten deep by Markus Wheaton on one play, on which he made the tackle. In practices, Minnifield seemed to be beaten more when in off-man coverage, as he was playing here, than in press man. It’s probably because he’s good at disrupting the timing of a play. On the 45-yard gain, it really was just a straight go route with a minimal double move. But Minnifield handled press duties well and I liked how he shed one block from a receiver to make a tackle. Minnifield was aggressive with his hands and was able to control the receiver (Wheaton). You can always work with toughness.

  • Bacarri Rambo is coming up almost trying not to miss the ball carrier rather than to hit him. That was noticeable when Jose Gumbs delivered a few hits while playing in the middle. There was no hesitation. But Rambo is breaking down too much and his angles are off enough that the combination has equaled trouble for him. Rambo isn’t the only one who has struggled with angles, but he is the rookie starting at a spot where he needs to be a sure tackler. During camp Rambo looked like he belonged, and that he was good at correcting his mental mistakes. But one of the areas that’s tough to measure is how he’ll come up versus the run. With LeSean McCoy up in Week 1, the Redskins can’t afford a free safety still learning how to master the proper angles. I like that Rambo forced a fumble after one of his misses (a play in which Rob Jackson blew up the tight end and forced the back into a tough spot). But his struggles illustrate why it's a hard transition. He just needs to be a fast learner, as the coaches say he is in other situations.

  • Ends Chris Baker and Phillip Merling both had strong fourth quarters, but they should. I’d be worried about them if they didn’t; Merling is a veteran while Baker is expected to make the roster. Merling plays with power while Baker’s game is trying to get upfield. I like what Kedric Golston brings at end. I haven’t asked the coaches this directly, but to me it’s a no-brainer to start Golston during Jarvis Jenkins’ four-game suspension. Golston has played well and understands everything this position demands.

  • Saw a mixed night from rookie linebacker Brandon Jenkins, who continues to show enough as a pass-rusher. He has a quick get-off at the snap, but what he showed Monday was the ability to play with power, too. Late in the game he knocked lineman Kelvin Beachum off balance by driving into his pads. Earlier, Jenkins affected a throw again by getting his hands into the chest of the left tackle and moving him back. He wasn’t really close to a sack, but he did generate some push. Jenkins had a tough time on a couple plays getting off blocks against the run. Jenkins lined up in a standup position as well as with his hand in the ground. He had success rushing from both ways -- early in the game, against Pittsburgh’s first O-line, Jenkins, standing up, got his right arm into the chest of right tackle Marcus Gilbert and pushed him back. Jenkins does not play with as much power as Tapp, but it was an aspect of his game that flashed Monday.

  • The Redskins still need inside linebacking depth, but that doesn’t mean a guy like Will Compton has no value. I’d definitely keep him on the practice squad. He strikes me as the sort of player who eventually will make it and last a few years.