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Redskins linebackers need to have bigger impact against run

ASHBURN, Va. -- Five observations on the Washington Redskins' defense after Sunday's 34-20 loss to the New York Jets:

  1. Given the number of times teams have run against the Redskins over the past two games -- a combined 72 attempts -- the number of tackles by the inside linebackers has been low. The Jets, for example, ran 41 times Sunday and, in the run game, Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley combined for 13 tackles. Robinson had nine of those, though three came when they the Jets were up by 21. Against Atlanta, the two combined for 10 tackles. They weren’t getting off blocks, and the linemen weren't commanding double teams, either. On Sunday, they weren’t always finishing. Once, on the 54-yard Chris Ivory run, both players appeared to hit the same gap, leaving a big crease in the middle that Ryan Kerrigan was unable to fill coming over from the backside. (Also on the play, the Redskins had five defenders play side; so after a patient Ivory hits the hole and cuts back, he does so to nice alleys.) For what it’s worth, four of Riley’s eight tackles came in pass coverage.

  2. Linebacker Preston Smith went from 30 snaps to only 16 against the Jets. Not sure exactly why because the Redskins have continued to say that Smith has progressed, but my guess is that it stemmed more from playing more base defense than in recent games. In that situation, Trent Murphy will play more than Smith because the Redskins feel he can set the edge better. The problem Sunday? Nobody was really setting the edge. Occasionally it was because the Jets ran outside vs. a nickel look, meaning outside linebackers Kerrigan and Murphy were in a four-point stance. That left it up to others to do so, and they did not.

  3. One key to corner Bashaud Breeland's interception was the way linebacker Perry Riley played the coverage off the snap. He was aligned across the running back, split wide to the right. The running back, Zac Stacy, ran underneath while Brandon Marshall, lined up to the inside, ran wide. Had Riley tried to go underneath Marshall, he might have bumped Breeland. Instead, Riley went behind him and Breeland was able to stay tight on Marshall. Earlier in the game, inexperienced corner Quinton Dunbar bumped into slot corner Kyshoen Jarrett in a similar situation (the 35-yard catch-and-run to Eric Decker).

  4. One thing I’d like to see more of: stunts involving Kerrigan. It can sometimes be difficult to run those because it is contingent on taking away a primary target, causing the quarterback to hesitate at least a little. That buys time for the stunt to work. The reason I like it is because the Redskins have a couple linemen who do this well, including Chris Baker and Jason Hatcher. Both are adept at taking up two blockers, allowing a linebacker to stunt to the inside. That’s what happened on one rush early Sunday: Kerrigan was free inside thanks to Baker occupying both the right guard and tackle. Kerrigan drilled quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick -- just after he unloaded a pass.

  5. Two of the most active defensive linemen Sunday were Baker and Ricky Jean Francois (Stephen Paea did not play; back injury). The latter has surprised me a little, considering he didn’t do a whole lot in Indianapolis. But when he signed, he was considered a great fit for what the Redskins wanted, a guy who could get up field in a one-gap system. Jean Francois has 10 tackles this season -- half have been for no yards or less. He again showed good penetration Sunday, as did Baker. There were times gaps became too wide open, not necessarily because of these two. And that allowed a quarterback who can scramble big creases to hit. Not good.