Nose tackle Terrance Knighton played his best game of the season, especially early when he was a strong presence. He used what he learned in Denver to help. That’s where he spent two years defending Adam Gase’s offense. With Gase now in Chicago, Knighton anticipated certain calls at the line of scrimmage -- whether protection or audibles -- to have changed. They did not, at least not all of them. “I recognized a lot of the verbiage. I told the guys during the week some things they might say and surprisingly they didn’t change all the calls. The plays I could make I made them pay for it.” Knighton played an occasional snap at right end in a base package because Jason Hatcher was limited.
I tweeted this out Sunday night, but it bears repeating here because it was a cool example of preparation and the value of quality control coaches. Chad Grimm, son of Russ, noticed in his prep work that Jay Cutler used the word “Folsom” when calling for a jailbreak screen. As in Folsom prison for you Johnny Cash fans (happens to be one of my favorite songs). So when the Redskins showed cover zero blitz with the Bears facing a third-and-10 from the Washington 41-yard line, Cutler shouted out, “Prison! Prison!” That’s why you saw Compton gesturing wildly, and it’s why you saw defenders sprint to the right spot. It resulted in a 2-yard gain and subsequent punt. “That’s the right play for an offense to be in,” Compton said. If it hits, it can be a huge gain. It did not -- and it’s why Compton was shouting Grimm’s praise as he walked by in the locker room. And I mean shouting. For those wondering, those calls can be diagnosed by a defense, but they also have to be something the offense can understand in a hurry. You’re not going to fool a defense every time; often times it’s just execution.
I get a kick out of what some people expect from this defense. Here’s what I know: Of the 11 players who started Sunday, eight were not starting at the beginning of the season. And three of them weren’t even on the roster. Three other players were likely starters at some point: Bashaud Breeland, Chris Baker and Preston Smith. So five of the 11 were never in the plans to start. And they only had Hatcher available for a few plays; he’s been playing well so, yes, that hurt. They are not a great defense, and they will make mistakes. They have an undrafted free agent receiver-turned-corner in Quinton Dunbar, who is seeing route concepts for the first time in zone coverage. They have a former corner learning to play safety. Sunday, they had one former first-round pick in the starting lineup (Ryan Kerrigan). They must rely on hustle and preparation. Go ahead and look at the starting lineup Sunday and ask yourself: At the beginning of the season – heck, right now -- what would you realistically expect? That’s not to excuse bad plays, but it is to put a little perspective into what’s going on and why they struggle at times. Good offenses will hurt them no doubt.
One reason why they can survive with this group? Leadership, says Knighton. “Every position group, we have leadership,” Knighton said. “We have young guys on the D-line; it’s me and Hatch making sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. You got Will Compton and Mason Foster who have played a lot of ball. Then in the secondary you got D-Hall and Dashon Goldson. So Dunbar and Kyshoen [Jarrett], those young guys have people to look up to and they know what it takes.” And it helps that Jarrett and Dunbar take a mature approach, as Breeland did last season. “They’re prepared every game. It’s good when you have rookies you can depend on and you don’t have to force them to concentrate,” Knighton said. “The good thing about them is they’re very competitive.”
The Redskins coverage issues stemmed from one breakdown (on the 50-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery late in the game) and from an off-schedule play by quarterback Cutler, in which the secondary allowed one receiver to run free. Some of this results from having a cornerback who should be learning on the practice squad (Dunbar) and another player, DeAngelo Hall, still learning how to handle the safety position. Both are going through things for the first time from those positions. At least Hall has years of experience to lean on, albeit at another position. Dunbar does not. The more he plays corner, the more I’d expect teams to test him when he’s in zone coverage.