Redskins' changing DL, Trent Murphy's improvement helps vs. Ravens

BALTIMORE -- Five observations on the Washington Redskins' defense after the 16-10 win against Baltimore:

  1. This was the sort of defense I expected this season. Not one that holds a team to 10 points, mind you. But one that plays a smart, disciplined game and doesn’t have a lot of missed tackles. There were a couple, of course, and they occurred on the two longest runs of the game for Baltimore (a combined 62 yards). (Sidenote: I’m surprised Terrance West only finished with 11 carries. Fail. That offense is not good, but it has played better). Those have to be cleaned up or they will continue to bite the Redskins. But, for the most part, they played sound coverage and forced everything underneath. It helped that the Ravens' line was banged up and that receiver Steve Smith was out with an injury. But the Redskins played smart. After one play, a tackle for a loss by linebacker Will Compton on a tight end screen, you could see him pointing to his helmet. What he was saying: That was smart -- and from film study. I also liked how rookie slot corner Kendall Fuller played to his help on the last heave into the end zone by Joe Flacco. Good awareness and the right play. His man was covered. It’s just one strong game, but it’s one the defense must build on.

  2. One move I absolutely liked: Ziggy Hood played a lot more end Sunday, especially after the first series -- a Ravens touchdown drive. That’s where he should be, but he had been playing nose with Kedric Golston sidelined. The inability to find a legit nose tackle has been a problem. If you’re in nickel a lot, that’s OK, but Sunday they were in their base defense most of the game. Anyway, the Redskins used Matt Ioannidis more at nose tackle, allowing Hood to play right end. He has worked quite a bit on his pass-rush moves in recent years, and had a chance to record his first sack since 2014 with a quick swim move. He also did a good job on another cutback run by holding his man off with his right arm and filling the gap to make the tackle. The Redskins need to find a true nose if they want to start playing the run a lot better. Indeed, on Monday they were hosting Terrance Knighton and Phil Taylor. Both are bigger nose tackles. (For what it’s worth: I saw at least one time where Chris Baker was aligned over the center. He prefers end; he’s making plays at end and did so again Sunday. Both he and Hood would help. They and the linebackers need someone who can not only command a double team, but hold one. Guards don’t have to stay on the nose right now, because it’s unnecessary after the initial surge).

  3. The Redskins tried a different pass rush Sunday on two occasions, with a line consisting of Ryan Kerrigan at one end, Preston Smith over the nose and Trent Murphy at the other end (with Terrance Garvin at linebacker). The first time it led to a quick throw on third down with some duress. But the second time it led to a sack, thanks to this group’s quickness -- on the sack they also sent Compton and Garvin, too. Murphy got inside quick and, because of it, the guard was off-balance and moved backward -- and that caused the fullback to trip, taking away another blocker. It was a different look and blitz package than the Redskins have showed all season. It’s certainly not the first time they have tweaked a package, but this one was noticeable.

  4. I wrote about Trent Murphy before the game in my notes package, but it’s worth repeating, because he continues to show more as a pass-rusher. It often takes pass-rushers a few years to get a great feel for the game, etc..., and that’s especially true if you’re not someone who can just win off the edge. Murphy has developed because he’s kept working. He also said Friday how much yoga has helped his game for one reason: it provides more flexibility. Sure enough, on his pressures and his sack, a key for Murphy was being able to bend the corner and maintain his balance and speed. Made a big difference.

  5. Props to inside linebacker Mason Foster, who had his most visible game since joining the Redskins (and probably his best). In many cases it was just a matter of making the right read and reacting. He blew up screens because of that -- on the first one he took care of, Foster was already moving up field as the ball was being thrown. The blockers had no chance to react, so it became a tackle for a loss. He reacted fast on a quick slant when he was in coverage outside, driving down hard on the ball for an incompletion. Just an overall solid day for Foster.