April 20, 2014

Washington Redskins jump in with both feet on day two of free agency

The Washington Redskins, fairly quiet in the first day of the free agent signing period, were quite a bit more active in day two.

The Skins added four players, including former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Jason Hatcher.

The team also added defensive end Clifton Geathers, linebacker Darryl Sharpton and cornerback Tracy Porter.

Hatcher, 31, enjoyed his best year in the league last season, recording 11 sacks. He spent the first five seasons of his career as a backup and broke the starting lineup in 2011. He played right defensive end in the Cowboys’ 3-4 system that year before switching to tackle last season in a 4-3. He’s expected to play end for the Skins.

Hatcher represents a huge upgrade along the defensive front for the Skins. Not only did Hatcher have more sacks than the entirety of the Skins defensive line last season, he’s also adept at putting pressure on the offense in the running game.

Geathers, a massive 6’8″, 340-pound fourth year defensive lineman, appeared in 16 games with the Philadelphia Eagles last year, recording 13 tackles.

Sharpton recorded 87 tackles for Houston, starting the final eight games of the season. He should compete for a starting inside spot next to Perry Riley Jr., re-signed by Washington on Wednesday.

Porter started 16 games for Oakland last season with 67 tackles, two interceptions and a touchdown. Porter has had injury troubles in his seven-year career, playing just one full season as a pro. He can play against both wide and slot receivers.

OPINION: Haslett has to prove he’s capable in last chance

With the announcement by Washington Redskins new head coach Jay Gruden of the return and possible contract extension of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, those third-and-longs and fourth-and-shorts next NFL season may be more subject to hopes and prayers than the accustomed chant of “Defense!” heard from the upper deck of FedEx Field on Sundays.  

Jim Haslett, who has been the defensive coordinator since 2010, should by now be very accustomed to being a hot topic on Washington sports talk radio and at the office water cooler.  

Most fans were shocked when they heard the news that the Redskins were retaining Haslett, feeling there should have been a change in leadership on the defensive side of the ball. But if you step back and assess the situation, it’s understandable why they are going to keep him at least at the present time.  

It might not be the right idea, but you can see the team’s logic in it. 

With a new head coach coming in, whose background is obviously on the offensive side of the ball (and with the majority of a new staff), some consistency at one phase of the game might be the smart approach. You just can’t fix every problem at once. For example, most companies and managers in business world recognize that it’s better to be really good at one thing rather than being mediocre in everything.

Haslett has to prove this season that he’s capable of leading a competent defense.

Haslett has a long resume of coaching defenses in the NFL, so experience isn’t the issue here. The problem is his track record – of his past 12 defenses, none have ranked higher than 14th in points allowed, and that was the only time his defense ranked higher than 21st. Finishing in the lower third of the league in points allowed generally isn’t a way a guy accumulates 12 seasons as a defensive coordinator, but here we are. 

The issue during Haslett’s Redskins tenure is one of talent. Because of the salary cap penalties levied by the league, the Skins the past two seasons have concentrated on making the offense better at the expense of the defense and special teams.   

Let’s take a look at the talent Haslett has had at his disposal during his Redskins tenure. One can easily argue that the salary cap penalty and restrictions have more than merely handicapped the team the past two years – they’ve has nearly crippled it.  

There have been some promising additions on the offensive side of the ball recently, notably Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and Pierre Garcon, with little added to the defense during the reign of Mike Shanahan. Where are the Griffin and Morris-type additions to the defense?  

Even with their 3-13 record this year, the Redskins defense ranked in the middle of the league I yardage allowed – 18th overall. They were, however, 30th in points allowed. Why the disparity? 

The Redskins’ special teams were horrendous this past season. They gave up several touchdowns and yielded short field opportunities for the opposing team too many times. They were dead last in all aspects of that phase of the game, and it’s an aspect of this team that has been hit particularly hard by the salary cap penalties. 

If the Skins couldn’t address adding playmakers to the starting defense, how on Earth could they address depth signings as quality backups and special teamers?  

This offseason, many of last season’s starters on defense will become free agents.  With Haslett’s retention and the salary cap penalties being lifted, it will be interesting to watch who gets new contracts and where the team will look to improve from the outside. 

The past few seasons, the Skins and their apologists have claimed over and over that they haven’t had the right pieces and talent needed to run the 3-4 defense. They should have some flexibility to in that regard this offseason.  

With the retirement of 4-time pro bowler London Fletcher, who will step up and become the true leader of this group? His heir apparent, Perry Riley, Jr., is a free agent. So is the entire starting defensive backfield, though not many will miss those guys. And so is top sacker Brian Orakpo. 

Haslett has to decide who will replace Fletcher’s production in addition to leadership. Fletcher led the league in tackling on multiple occasions. He’ll be missed on the field as much as in the locker room.  

They need depth along the defensive line. Barry Cofield has been rock solid in the nose tackle role, but the rushing defense was porous in 2013, a huge step back from the previous season when they limited teams to 95.8 ypg, fifth in the NFL.  

The team addressed the secondary some in last year’s draft, bringing in CB David Amerson and S Baccari Rambo. Both had growing pains this season, but look to be pieces to build upon, especially Amerson. 

It will be interesting to see if they draft to build depth here. This group for the past two seasons have made so many mediocre quarterbacks look good – let alone what the actual good one do to it. The Redskins should go after a true shut-down corner this year – either via free agency or trade. They should look for someone who has been a solid citizen and that can set an example and mentor the young defensive backs they drafted last year.  

If they retain CB DeAngelo Hall, they need to stress with the veteran ballhawk that he needs to be more of a leader and eliminate the unnecessary unsportsmanlike penalties he accumulates as much as – if not more than – his interceptions. 

The team also retained defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, another of the former Tampa Bay staff that Bruce Allen has imported to D.C. They brought back inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti and brought in outside linebackers coach Brian Baker from Cleveland to work specifically within the 3-4 system. 

This year’s defense will have Jim Haslett’s entire fingerprints all over it. We will have no other person to point our finger at. They have some holes to fill but they have the money to spend. With so many defensive players testing the free market this year it will be interesting to see how it all takes shape by training camp.  

Maybe with all the needed changes that are going to happen to the team this year, coach Gruden, Bruce Allen and the ownership decided to stay with at least one part of what they knew, for better or worse.  

Changing everything at once is a dicey proposition. Obviously the special teams’ poor performance cannot continue. They have a new coordinator there as well, with Ben Kotwica coming over from the Jets. Adding personnel on the defensive side of the ball can’t help but make the personnel for the special teams that much better. 

Maybe Haslett hasn’t had all the materials necessary at his disposal to be successful. If that is the case, maybe he deserves shot with a roster stocked with difference-makers on defense.  

But he needs to take ownership and accountability, with no more excuses this time around. We shouldn’t expect a championship defense this coming season. But it is reasonable to expect a consistent and competitive one though.

It should prove interesting how Haslett, Bruce Allen and the talent evaluators approach the restocking of defensive personnel during the offseason. We gave Mike Shanahan four years. Why not see what Haslett can bring and accomplish in his fourth with appropriate personnel and no limitations.

Staff intern Wayne Hess contributed to this report.

Ovechkin delivering; rest of Caps — including management — need to pick up the slack

Alex Ovechkin - Washington Capitals practice at Kettler, 3/28/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Alex Ovechkin – Washington Capitals practice at Kettler, 3/28/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

On Friday night, with the greatest player in the history of team sport in attendance, the Washington Capitals’ captain, The Great Eight, scored both of the Caps’ goals in a 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Saturday, on Hockey Night in Canada at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ovechkin recorded the Caps lone tally in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs. Through 22 games, Alex Ovechkin has 20 goals to place him at the top of the leader board in that particular category. Hard as it might be to imagine, it’s the first time in his illustrious career that Ovechkin has been the first player in the league to 20 goals in a season.

The Caps, as whole though, haven’t mirrored Ovechkin’s personal success yet this year, despite their captain being on a pace to record the first 70-goal season in the NHL in forever.

Ovechkin is taking a lot of shots, scoring a high — but based on his history, not outrageously high — percentage of said shots, and generally being the best player on the ice almost every night he laces them up. The rest of the team however, remains a work in progress.

Washington’s next-highest goal scorer is Joel Ward, with nine. Ward’s career high in goals was the 17 he posted in 2008-09, his first full campaign in the league, so it’s unlikely that he continues to score at a 33-goal pace, especially considering his over 20 percent shot success.

The second line’s contribution has been sparse thus far. Troy Brouwer has scored five times; Brooks Laich thrice. Mike Green, bitten by the injury bug once again, has yet to record a goal, though two of Mikhail Grabovski’s seven goals came off tips of Green shots, which were originally awarded to the defenseman, on opening night.

It’s kind of been an age-old story around these parts since the start of the Ovechkin era. Where will the secondary scoring come from? When will they learn to play defense? Will the goaltending, strong enough in the regular season, carry over to the second season?

The Capitals defensive struggles are well documented. On any given night right now, half the dressed defenders didn’t start the season on the big club. One was waived by a division foe. One’s a 27-year old minor league journeyman. Another is a 29-year old AHL veteran. One was a college free agent signee last year. Several have been legitimate NHL rookies, including 19-year old Connor Carrick, who was sent down to Hershey just three games in.

Raise your hand if you had Steve Oleksy, Nate Schmidt, Alexander Urbom or Tyson Strachan being nightly contributors to the Capitals in this, Ovechkin’s age 28 season.


All the while, a legitimate Top-4 prospect named Dmitry Orlov bides his time riding the shuttle between Hershey and D.C., yet to suit up for the big club this season,

Whatever you want to think of GM George McPhee’s asset management this season, especially on the blue line, you’re probably justified. If you want to think he’s waiting out the competition until the trade deadline to steal a Top-4 D-man from a second division team, good for you. If you think he’s squandering precious games during the regular season when the Caps could be building a home-ice advantage for the playoffs, you’re justified as well.

It was a real crapshoot for the Caps to have started the season depending on Jack Hillen, John Erskine and Carrick, then filling in the gap with the rest when those players didn’t pan out due to injury or inexperience. The ramifications might not be fully known until the spring.

One thing is for certain: Ovechkin is holding up his end of the bargain. It’s up to the rest of the Caps, and to McPhee and Adam Oates, to find the right parts to supplement Ovechkin’s contributions. Otherwise, at the end of the season we’ll once again be lamenting another incomplete season in the prime of Alex Ovechkin’s Hall of Fame career.

OPINION: Washington Capitals have too many holes to trade for one “difference-maker”

On Wednesday, Mike Harris of The Washington Times espoused his opinion that the Washington Capitals should shake things up and trade for a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman. Presumably, Mike was talking about the “Rod Langway” type of Norris winner, and not the type of candidate Mike Green was when he was twice-nominated.

I’ll let Mike explain himself: [Read more...]

Redskins get elusive first win as defense finds its footing

The Washington Redskins finally got their elusive first win of the season by playing solid defensive football and taking advantage of turnovers Sunday afternoon against the Oakland Raiders. The Redskins defense played their best game of the season, against an admittedly depleted Raiders squad, and the offense executed well enough to qualify the win as a “team” victory. And not a moment too soon.

The Redskins came out of the gate a little bit sluggish to start the game, with consecutive three-and-out series, perhaps due to crossing three time zones to play this one. The sluggish start was compounded by a special teams blunder, as a blocked punt by Rashad Jennings after the Skins second series was recovered by Jeremy Stewart in the end zone for a quick 7-0 Raiders lead.

After another Redskins three-and-out on the following possession, Raiders QB Matt Flynn, starting for the injured Terelle Pryor,  threw a strike to rookie TE Mychal Rivera for a 18-yard touchdown to give the Raiders a two score lead early on. But on the drive, the Raiders lost starting running back Darren McFadden to a hamstring injury, and that would play into the Redskins hands the rest of the day.

Those two quick scores by the Raiders apparently triggered a wake-up call for the Redskins.

On the next possession, the offense went hurry-up no-huddle and marched down the field. The drive stalled at the Oakland two yard line, however, and the Redskins settled for a chip-shot field goal by John Potter.

That must have energized the defense as well.

On the ensuing Raiders possession, David Amerson read Flynn all the way, jumped a route, and picked off a pass intended for Raiders leading receiver Denarius Moore.  Amerson took it untouched 45 yards for the Skins first score of the day.

With McFadden out, the Raiders went to a more pass-happy attack, which enabled the Redskins defense to come after the immobile and indecisive Flynn. The Skins pressured Flynn all day, recorded a season-high seven sacks, and forced two Flynn fumbles to go along with Amerson’s pick-six.

The defense didn’t allow another point, shutting out the Raiders offense for better than three quarters, as the Skins scored 24 unanswered points to walk out of Oakland with their first win of the year.

Going into the bye week, the Redskins should feel good about getting their first victory of the season. Their 1-3 record places them one game behind the Dallas Cowboys (2-2), who lost on the road at San Diego, at the top of the division. Both the Eagles and Giants lost in Week 4 as well, setting the NFC East as the worst division in the NFL right now, with no team having a winning record.

What’s more, if the Cowboys lose in Week 5 to the high-powered Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning, the Redskins would then have an opportunity to go into Arlington in two weeks and battle with the struggling Cowboys for the division lead.

It appears that mediocrity is going to rule the division this season. If the Redskins can use the two solid weeks of practice surrounding the bye to get Robert Griffin III even more up to speed with his offense, and give the rookies in the secondary two more weeks to feel comfortable in the schemes, there’s little reason the Skins can’t rebound to still be a factor in the division.

District Sports Page staff intern Brandon Enroth contributed to this report.

Washington Capitals 2013-14 Preseason Season Roundtable, Part I

Opening night of the 2013-14 season for the Washington Capitals is less than a week away. With that in mind, the District Sports Page Caps staff and contributors will take a look at several key areas that will affect the Caps season as they get ready to start play in the newly-formed Metropolitan Division.

The second half of our roundtable will post Monday.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page; Katie Brown, Caps Staff Writer for DSP; Abram Fox, former Caps Page Editor at DSP, Erika Schnure, RinkRebel.com and DSP contributor; Ted Starkey, Caps author and contributor to DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan and DSP contributor; and Harry Hawkings, RocktheRed.com. [Read more...]

Washington Capitals place D Tomas Kundratek on waivers

The Washington Capitals reportedly placed right-handed defenseman Tomas Kundratek on waivers Wednesday, with the plans to send him to Hershey if he clears waivers. The rest of the league has until Thursday at noon to make a claim.

Kundratek’s removal from the roster removes his $550,000 salary cap hit, giving the Caps a little more room under the cap with which to maneuver.

The move could be a pre-cursor to the team keeping Tom Wilson, the 19-year-old winger that has made a terrific impression in camp. He is not eligible to play in the AHL this season, so if he doesn’t make the Caps, he’d have to be returned to his junior team. Coach Adam Oates has made several comments that he’d like to have Wilson’s size and presence on the fourth line this season and that he’s already outgrown major Juniors, calling him a man among boys at that level.

The Caps top two defense pairing seem set, with veterans Karl Alzner and Mike Green as the top pair and John Erskine and John Carlson the second duo. The Caps then have several candidates to fill the bottom pair.

Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy finished last season as that third pairing, but Kundratek’s overall game seemed to be a good fit to stick around as the seventh defenseman or eventually step in for Oleksy.

Then there’s Dmitry Orlov, who at one time seemed destined for top-four minutes. A series of injuries, including a concussion that saw him miss over three months last season, derailed those plans.

In Adam Oates’ pregame comments before the team takes on Nashville Wednesday night at Verizon Center, he said that Kundratek is “a good hockey player. If he gets picked up [on waivers], I hope he does well. If he doesn’t, I hope we see him again.”

Washington Capitals 2013-14 Season Preview: Defense

All week, District Sports Page has been previewing the 2013-14 Washington Capitals roster by position. Monday, Katie Brown looked at the left wingers, and Tuesday she previewed the pivots.

Today, here’s an in-depth look at the blueliners.

Karl Alzner - Washington Capitals practice at Kettler, 3/28/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Karl Alzner – Washington Capitals practice at Kettler, 3/28/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Karl Alzner (24, 6’3″, 213, shoots left; 48 games 1-4-5, minus-6, 14 PIMs in 2012-13) – Like his then-partner John Carlson, “King Karl” got off to a slow start last season once the lockout lifted. It’s almost as if someone in the organization told the players there was no way in hell the season was going to happen and they all sat around playing Mario Brothers or something.

Political diatribes aside, Alzner recovered to do what he does best – play against every opponent’s top lines and keep goals out of his own net. He doesn’t shoot or score very often (though he was second on the Caps in shot attempts in the second round of the playoffs, but very few players are as dependable on defense than Alzner.

The only knock on Alzner is that despite decent size, he can get pushed around a bit along the walls, and not just by bigger players. Hopefully The King spent some time back in British Columbia in the weight room this summer.

Capitals John Carlson pre-game warmups up at Verizon Center (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Capitals John Carlson pre-game warmups up at Verizon Center (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

John Carlson (23, 6’3″, 212, shoots right; 48 games, 6-16-22, +11, 18 PIMs) – Carlson had an interesting campaign last season. He started off considerably, um, rusty, after admittedly not skating much during the lockout. He seemed a step slow for the first 20 games of the season, as much as anyone on the Caps did during that horrendous stretch.

Head coach Adam Oates ended breaking the Carlson-Alzner duo up to try to spur better play from both. The more Carlson played and rounded into shape, the better he got and ended up in the top three in the league in blocked shots.

Still young, Carlson could be primed to have a breakout season. He’s gifted offensively and responsible on the back end. He will log plenty of minutes this season regardless who his partner is.

John Erskine -Practice April 27 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

John Erskine -Practice April 27 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

John Erskine (33, 6’4″, 220, shoots left, 30 games, 3-3-6, +10, 34 PIMs) – Big John is the closest thing the Caps have to a true enforcer. He’s certainly the only player on the team, other than Ovechkin and until Tom Wilson is ready, that inspires any sort of a physical presence, especially guarding his own net.

But here’s the thing – Big John is slow, a poor skater to boot, and lacks any type of offensive skill or presence. He has a very heavy shot from the point, but can only get it off if the pass is soft or he’s left completely alone, which is usually the case as teams have no reason to fear Erskine making a play with the puck.

Oates, and presumably GM George McPhee, seem to love whatever positives Erskine brings to the blue line though. He should be candidate to sit every night, unless they’re playing Philly or Boston, but Erskine damn near earned top-4 minutes last season.

Mike Green during warmups at Verizon Center, May 2 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Mike Green during warmups at Verizon Center, May 2 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Mike Green (27, 6’1″, 207, shoots right, 35 games, 12-14-26, minus-3, 20 PIMs) – Green led defensemen in goals last season. That really shouldn’t be a shocker. He also missed 13 games due to injury, which also shouldn’t shock anybody.

“Game Over” Green rediscovered his scoring touch last season and is certainly a boon to the team’s power play. He’s also made considerable strides in his own end. He’ll never be considered a shut-down defender, but he’s serviceable in his own end, where as a younger player he was a liability.

Oates’ offense not only encourages but darn near demands that defensemen get up in the play. Green doesn’t need much enticement to do so but he should be able to flourish in this system. With a full training camp, he should be ready to go out of the gate…as long as he can stay on the ice.

Jack Hillen - Captials practice at Kettler, September 14, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Jack Hillen – Captials practice at Kettler, September 14, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Jack Hillen (27, 5’10″, 190, shoots left, 23 games, 3-6-9, +9, 14 PIMs) – The stats love Jack Hillen. No the traditional ones so much, but his even strength Fenwick (differential in scoring chance opportunities) led all Caps defensemen last season. Hillen is a decent puck-moving defenseman, but his slight build and lack of upper body strength (his listed 190 lbs is more like 170, in my opinion) make him a liability defensively and injury risk pretty much any time he steps on the ice.

It’s not a sin to be a smallish defenseman. Hillen is pretty good at what he does for not much salary. He’s a pretty decent depth defenseman that can move the puck for you a little bit. And Oates used him primarily at even strength against weaker competition.

But as you’ll read below, I think the Caps have a much better option available to them that will eventually limit the amount of minutes, and ultimately, games Hillen will contribute to the Caps this season.

Tomas Kundratek makes his NHL Debut Jan. 11 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Tomas Kundratek makes his NHL Debut Jan. 11 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Tomas Kundratek (23, 6’2″, 201, shoots right, 25 games, 1-6-7, minus-5, 8 PIMs) – Kundratek was an all-star in the AHL, going 16-15-31 in 49 games for Hershey in 12-13. He hardly looked overmatched with the big club either, and could be positioning himself for good minutes with the Caps this season.

Oates almost mandates that defensemen are paired with someone with an opposite shot, so this also may help Kundratek garner ice time. As a righty, he’s obviously seeded behind Green and Carlson, somewhere alongside Oleksy.

Considering Kundratek is a vastly superior offensive contributor over Oleksy, he might seem the apparent choice for the third paring at right-handed defense. Oleksy did an admirable job last season when pressed into duty. It will be interesting to watch if the league “catches up to him” this season. It may take an injury for Kundratek to crack the lineup, at least early in the season, but his overall game should overtake the overachieving Oleksy soon enough.

Steve Oleksy (27, 6’0″, 190, shoots right, 28 games, 1-8-9, +9, 33 PIMs) – Oleksy went 2-12-14 in 55 additional games for Hershey before being recalled due to heavy injury problems along the Caps backline in the middle of last season.

Oleksy is a hard worker and has persevered through a career that saw him playing independent hockey when most guys are in the middle of their NHL careers. He’s willing to mix it up, though he didn’t do much fighting with the big club, and he’s much more rugged physically than his actual stature might suggest.

What he can’t do is move the puck. He’s brutal offensively and he’s not a very good skater. He’s a typical “effort” guy, but his pedigree suggests that he’ll be overtaken on the depth chart by Kundratek very quickly. Still, a hard worker and good guy to have as a depth defenseman.

Dmitri Orlov sporting a black eye during warmups in January 2011 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Dmitri Orlov sporting a black eye during warmups in January 2011 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Dmitry Orlov (22, 6’0″, 210, shoots left, 5 games, 0-1-1, +5, 0 PIMs) – Orlov went 3-14-17 in 31 games in Hershey as he made his way back from concussion symptoms. Look, here’s the thing – I love Dmitry Orlov’s game.

Orlov could end up being the best two-way defenseman this team has. In 60 games his rookie season, Orlov went 3-16-19, +1 and exhibited terrific skating skills, a good idea of when – and when not – to jump into the play, and a little bit of snarl when the situation called or it. He also has tremendous timing on the old-fashioned hip check.

The thing that might hinder Kundratek, handedness, might play in Orlov’s favor. As a lefty, only Erskine and Hillen stand in his way to playing time. He should overtake both quickly to earn second pairing status and be well on his way to being a dependable two-way defender for the Caps for many years to come.

On the farm – Cam Schilling, Nate Schmidt, Patrick Wey, David Kolomatis

Redskins defense struggled to keep up with pace of Eagles revamped offense

The scene was set for drama on the national stage Monday night. Not only did the game mark the return of Robert Griffin III from offseason knee surgery for the hometown Washington Redskins, but it was also the debut for Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, straight out of the University of Oregon with his zone-read offense. 

What no one could anticipate before was that the latter was much more prepared to take the field right off the bat than the former. 

Griffin, quite famously, never played a down in the preseason as he rehabbed the reconstruction of his right knee. Kelly’s offense, not quite as prominently though just as accurately, didn’t show anything in the preseason that would indicate that his zone-read offense would not only be NFL-ready, but as devastatingly effective as it was in the first half against a Redskins defense rife with rookies, some p laying out of position due to injury need already in the young season.               

On the opening possession, the Eagles marched down the field at an unreal pace, catching the Redskins defense completely off guard in the process. Once the Eagles reached the Redskins 25 yard line, though, the Skins stepped up and made a play. Michael Vick attempted a lateral pass to running back LeSean McCoy, but defensive lineman Ryan Kerrigan knocked the pass down, making the lateral a live ball. DeAngelo Hall picked up the loose football and ran it back 75 yards for a Redskins touchdown. 

The play was reviewed to ensure that it was indeed a lateral and the touchdown stood. Despite the defense being shredded during the opening drive, the Skins were able to stem the tide with the big play and open up a 7-0 lead over their division rival. 

However, that good feeling didn’t last long. 

That one play, which resulted in the defensive touchdown for the Redskins, was the only highlight – and points – the home team scored in the first half. The defense looked sloppy and undisciplined, committing unnecessary penalties and generally being run ragged by the Eagles no-huddle attack.  Add to that several missed tackles in the open field and severe breakdowns in coverage, and the recipe added up to total disaster. 

The Eagles’ high-tempo offense resulted in less substitution time – and weary defensive linemen – for the Redskins. Vick seemed to have no trouble throwing against the Redskins secondary, which was a big question mark going into the game due to starting two rookies in their first NFL game. 

At the end of the first half, the Eagles held a 26-7 lead, and it wasn’t that close. The Redskins had no answers on defense and the offense gave them no help. Griffin was rusty, throwing two interceptions. Alfred Morris fumbled twice to allow the Eagles to dominate field possession. Lack of offensive production forced the defense back on the field before they could catch their breath. 

Asked if the Eagles surprised the Redskins with their offensive attack, head coach Mike Shanahan said, “[It was] kind of what we thought. It was what they’ve done before in the past. One thing you have to be able to do is tackle McCoy. You have to tackle Vick. I thought [wide receiver DeSean] Jackson made a couple of plays in there. They out-executed us.” 

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett made some drastic adjustments at halftime in order to slow down the impressive Eagles spread offense. It helped that the Eagles seemed to let their foot off the gas in a game they were seemingly in control of, but the Skins D did make some plays that helped spark the team. 

Down 33-14 at the start of the fourth quarter, veteran cornerback Josh Wilson forced Philly wide-out Jason Avant to fumble, which set up the Redskins at the Eagles 27 yard line. The ensuing drive lasted five plays, resulting in a 10-yard touchdown throw from Griffin to Leonard Hankerson (five catches, 80 yards), his first of two scores for the evening. 

There were more bright sides. Barry Cofield, Perry Riley, and Ryan Kerrigan all had sacks. Riley finished with eight tackles, Kerrigan with seven. The defense played much better in the second half – not coincidentally when the offense picked up its game. 

However there were three players that stood out with disappointing nights. 

Rookie Baccari Rambo finished with six solo tackles and four assists. Granted, he was needed to make a lot of plays as the Redskins last line of defense as free safety, but at times he looked a step slow against the Eagles up-tempo game plan. He also had a couple of missed tackles in the open field against the shifty McCoy, which continues a pattern that plagued him in the preseason. 

Linebacker Brian Orakpo, returning from his season-ending torn pectoral muscle of last season, was not much of a factor against Jason Peters, the rather average starting left tackle for the Eagles. Most of the night, Orakpo was absent from the Eagles’ backfield. Instead, he spent much of his time trailing the play, trying to chase down Vick or McCoy from behind. 

And then there was DeAngelo Hall. 

Hall made the big play with the fumble recovery. There’s no doubting his playmaking ability with the ball in his hands. There is also no doubting his penchant for making dumb mistakes and blowing coverage. The Eagles’ first touchdown was a direct result of Hall getting beat to the post by Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson. Hall looked like he thought help was coming from the safety, but he has to know in that situation the safety is a raw rookie. 

“[I] spoke with a couple guys back there,” Hall said. “Like I said, we’ll go back to the drawing board. I don’t even know exactly what went wrong; it was supposed to be a couple guys [on coverage]. But it is what it is. [The Eagles] came out, executed their game plan and they got a win.” 

Hall also took a personal foul penalty with a horse-collar tackle of Jackson along the sideline later in the second quarter. Jackson gained 14 yards on the play; Hall’s unnecessary penalty added 15 yards to the play, which pushed the Eagles to the Skins 31 yard line. Two plays later, Vick hit tight end Brent Celek for 28 yards to increase Philly’s lead.

Overall the performance by the Redskins defense was sub par in the first half, and clearly improvements need to be made. But they played much better in the second half, allowing just seven points, while the offense started to click and take some of the pressure off the clearly struggling-to-keep-up defense.

There will be some growing pains with the defense this season. Rambo and fellow rookies E.J. Biggers and David Amerson are all going to be counted on to play big minutes in the secondary, especially if continually injured Brandon Meriweather can’t get back on the field for the Skins. But Haslett and the defensive coaches need to figure out how to get more pressure up front to take some of the heat off the raw and inconsistent secondary.

Monday night’s first half was a perfect storm of high-level execution by the Eagles and lack of execution — and maybe a little lack of preparation — by the Redskins, especially breaking in three rookies on the back line. The Redskins defense will get better with experience. Will Chip Kelly’s offense do the same? Or will teams be able to better game plan for it now that there’s full-speed film on it? These teams match up again later in the season in what will certainly be an even more intriguing matchup.

[District Sports Page intern Brandon Enroth contributed to this article]

Washington Capitals End-of-Season Roundtable, Part V: How would you rate the defense?

With the conclusion of Washington Capitals season, too early yet again, it’s time for appreciation, evaluation and critique. In this seven part series, the Caps staff at District Sports Page, and a few friends, will be taking an in-depth look at what went right, what could be better, suggest some changes and grade out the team position-by-position.

Our panel: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of DSP; Abram Fox, Caps Team Editor of DSP; Katie Brown, Caps Beat Writer for DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan and DSP contributor; Ted Starkey, SBNation.com and DSP contributor, Adam Vingan, NBCWashington.com; and Harry Hawkings, RocktheRed.net.

PART I: What was the Capitals’ biggest accomplishment this season?

PART II: What was your biggest disappointment about the Caps this season?

PART III: What single adjustment would you advocate for next season?

PART IV: How would you rate the offense this season?

PART V: How would you rate the defense this season?

DAVE: D. I thought, pretty clearly, the blueline was the Caps’ biggest problem this season. In the very beginning everyone was a liability, including the normally stalwart Karl Alzner. I don’t know if it was adjusting to Adam Oates’ system, or the layoff from the lockout (remember, not a single member of the defensive corps played competitively during the lockout), but until about 25 games in, everyone was just getting in each others’ way, pucks were bouncing off skates into their own goal almost every night, and breakouts died in the neutral zone because no one knew what to do with the puck.

When Mike Green came back from his yearly injury absence, things got much, much better, but that because there was nowhere else to go. Green ended up leading the NHL defensemen in goals scored, but teams still keyed their forecheck on clobbering Green any chance they could. John Carlson ended up in the top five in the league in blocked shots, but according to most of the fan base he should have been a candidate to be sent back to the minors early in the season. Pundits wondered for a while, without irony, if Carlson did indeed peak in juniors. Alzner rebounded from his slow start to put together another solid defensive season and even insinuated himself in the play more often this season, and was tied for third on the in shots on goal in the playoffs. Not that Karl being third on the team in shots on goal is a good thing.

The others? A hodgepodge of has-beens, journeymen and never-weres. Tom Poti proved to the team — and probably the league — that his career has come to an unceremonious conclusion. John Erskine enjoyed something of a renaissance, but was completely exposed during the playoffs. Roman Hamrlik, employed by the Caps for a good chunk of the season, was sent packing to sit in the press box at Madison Square Garden instead of Verizon Center. The #fancystat folks loved Jack Hillen’s contribution, but it was really hard to see that translate to success on the ice, and his lack of physical stature left him open to punishment. Steve Oleksy provided some depth, but he’s a career minor league journeyman for a reason, and those reasons were evident if willing to look for them.

Dmitri Orlov and Tomas Kundratek were banished to Hershey, and for the life of me I don’t understand why, especially in Orlov’s case. But both should see plenty of time with the Caps next season.

About the only thing that was legitimately encouraging on defense this season is that Jeff Schultz, finally, took his proper place in the press box after about mid-way through the season. I fully expect the Caps to try to trade the 6’6″ liability, if not simply buy him out under the amnesty clause in the CBA.

ABRAM: 6/10. The defense gets the same rating as the offense, even though they weren’t as good, because Washington’s D corps was working with much less talent. Steven Olesky, a career minor-leaguer, became a stalwart on the back line, and Jack Hillen and John Erskine both earned a great deal more ice time than a putative playoff team would prefer. The Caps were in the bottom half of the league allowing 2.71 goals/game, and allowed a deflating 32.3 shots/game. In the playoffs the defense made a marked improvement, cutting the scoring down to 2.29 goals/game, and limited shots as well, cutting that number down to 29.3/game, fifth best in the league (though it should be noted that five of the top eight teams in that stat were also eliminated in the first round). Notably, the team’s penalty kill stepped it up in the playoffs, finishing the playoffs with a 92.9% kill rate after ending the regular season in the bottom of the league at 77.9%.

KATIE: Aside from Mike Green, Karl Alzner and John Carlson, the blue line was not stellar this season. John Erskine, who signed a contract extension this year, seemed a step or two behind or looked lost for as many times as he blocked a shot or jumped in the crease to save a flying puck. Jack Hillen rebounded from injury and proved to be reliable, and Steven Oleksy, called up from Hershey earlier in the season, provided an inspirational story and a little bit of grit. Overall, the defense wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either, so mediocre with flashes of brilliance should sum it up.


TED:B. Defensively, the Capitals are thinnest, with the top two of Mike Green and Karl Alzner being reliable, but John Carlson was wildly inconsistent this season. John Erskine and Jack Hillen weren’t really the answer, either. While Dmitry Orlov was in Hershey, the bottom end of the Capitals’ defense was part of the breakdown in the series against the Rangers.

ADAM: I’m not sure if I can simply give an entire defensive corps a grade, but I was impressed by the team’s depth. Twelve defensemen played over the course of the regular season, which at one point was a league-high. Karl Alzner and John Carlson continued to grow, while Mike Green looked like his old self again near the end of the season. Jack Hillen was solid when he wasn’t injured, and Tomas Kundratek, Dmitry Orlov, Cameron Schilling and Steven Oleksy proved that the Capitals’ blue line pipeline is strong.

HARRY: I give the defense a B-minus this year.  Mike Green, Karl Alzner, Steve Oleksy (seriously) and John Carlson all had good seasons individually but the bottom half of the defense, like Jack Hillen, John Erskine, Tom Poti, and Jeff Schultz were all inconsistent or downright bad.  The Capitals’ d-zone play never looked right all season; it seemed as though they were running around constantly and their penalty kill was 27th in the NHL at 77.9% and showed little improvement through the season.  In short, there was always an issue with the defense despite the solid play of some individuals, and unlike the offense, it didn’t get noticeably better as the year progressed.

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