August 24, 2010

Redskins Making Strides In New 3-4 Defense

Last week's 23-3 beatdown at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens would have been cause for alarm in seasons past for the Washington Redskins. But not this year.

The Redskins defense did not prepare for the Ravens as they normally would. Simply a preseason game, the Redskins did not watch film or gameplan for the Ravens. Instead, they operated out of their base defense without adding any wrinkles to it.

Brian Orakpo wasn't concerned with the loss in the least. To him the game was all about working out the kinks.

"We're not gameplanning Baltimore," he told me afterwards in the locker room. "We're not opening up our playbook for anything. It was a physical game and it's preseason. It's just an evaluation period right now."

It may sound like a positive spin following a tough loss, but Orakpo blew off the notion that the Redskins defense struggled so nonchalantly, I knew that the game wasn't a concern. The only thing Orakpo and the defense cares about is September 12th vs. Dallas. The game against Baltimore was all about making progress.

And Orakpo felt that the defense did just that.

"We're still creating turnovers, still getting pressure, we're still getting off the field when we need to," he said. "So I think defensively we're making huge strides as far as getting the ball back to our offense."

Baltimore's offense was just 1-10 on third downs in the game and also turned the ball over once on a fumble forced by DeAngelo Hall and recovered by London Fletcher.

Last season, the defense's inability to generate turnovers and stop opposing offenses on third downs attributed in part to its struggles. Orakpo stressed the importance of improving upon Washington's third down percentage as opposing offenses converted 40 percent of their third down opportunities in 2009.

"Third down is a money down," he said. "You gotta get off the field [and] put pressure, you know not [just] sacks. It's about creating turnovers, interceptions; it's all that combined to really get the ball back to the offense."

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has emphasized the importance of playing aggressive defense and the 'Skins have taken that to heart, swarming to the ball, tackling well, and playing with a swagger they didn't have in 2009.

Thus far, LaRon Landry has been rock solid playing in the strong safety role. He was active Saturday night, hitting everything in sight and looks to be re-energized under the new leadership from Haslett.

The same can be said about Carlos Rogers who has stepped up his performance since last season when he wanted out of DC. Rogers might be the team's best pure cover cornerback and he showed it in particular on one play in the first half against Baltimore.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco dropped back to pass, and looked deep for receiver Derrick Mason down the left side of the field. Flacco let it fly, but Rogers was right on Mason's hip stride for stride and the pass fell incomplete.

Rogers has the physicality and speed to be the team's top corner, and if he can live up to his potential, Haslett will have himself a corner who can thrive on a Revis-type island; a crucial element to an aggressive 3-4 defense.

Of course there's also Orakpo. He's coming off an eleven sack rookie season, and this year he is expected to rush the passer to an even greater extent. Orakpo will need to build on last year's success if the defense wants to achieve their goal of putting pressure on offenses.

Haslett has several pieces in place, but the defense is still one in transition. The defensive line has yet to look consistent in filling gaps while the outside linebacker position opposite Orakpo is a concern. Still, there was more good than might have been expected when looking at the final score from last week's game.

The defense is heading in the right direction.

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