September 23, 2014

Five takeaways from the Washington Redskins Week Two victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars

Here are five big takeaways from the Washington Redskins’ 24-17 home opener win over the Jacksonville Jaguars: [Read more...]

Washington Redskins 2014 Season Preview Part VIII: Outside Linebackers

All this week leading up to the Washington Redskins 2014 season opener against the Houston Texans on Sept. 7, District Sports Page is taking an in-depth look at the players that will make up the 53-man roster to start the season in a position-by-position breakdown.

In Part I, Neal Dalal took a look at the Quarterback position.
In Part II, Eric Hobeck examined the situation at running back.
In Part III, Joe Mercer previewed the wide receiver corps.
In Part IV, Joe Ziegengeist evaluated the offensive line.
In Part V, Joe Mercer reviewed Jordan Reed and the tight ends.
In Part VI, Neil previewed the defensive line.
In Part VII, Joe Miller previewed the inside linebackers.

Here is our preview of the outside linebackers.

Ryan Kerrigan sacks Eli Manning in 2011. (photo by Brian Murphy)

Ryan Kerrigan sacks Eli Manning in 2011. (photo by Brian Murphy)

In this day and age, NFL teams must employ an elite pass rush.  The reasons are numerous, but the most important one is that it is becoming more and more difficult for a secondary to defend in this league.  Rules designed to protect receivers and running backs, the essential cash cows of the NFL, are limiting defensive backfields from being physical with receivers and throwing off their timing with the quarterback.  This is where the pass rush comes in, and Jim Haslett’ 3-4 attacking defense could be just what the doctor ordered.

The Washington Redskins defensive theme this offseason was to un-cuff and unleash the pass rush.  This will mostly begin and end with Washington’s Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo.  The sixth year Texas product is playing under the franchise tag this season and will be looking to put up impressive numbers to secure a huge contract that he thinks he deserves.  Last year, Orakpo amassed 10 sacks and combined for 60 tackles, and even added an interception return for a touchdown to his resume.

However, these numbers do not put him into the upper echelon of elite pass rushers in the game and Orakpo needs to improve upon his sack total in 2014 if he wants Jay Gruden and Bruce Allen to invest in a new contract for him.  He has expressed sincere interest to remain a Redskin for life and did not seem to perturbed when the franchise tag was placed on him.  The feeling should be mutual between Orakpo and the front office if he posts another Pro Bowl-type season.

On the other side, outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan will be focusing on one thing: being a consistent really, really good pass rusher.  Kerrigan has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his brief career, but he is now a veteran in the league and will also be looking to improve upon his 8.5 sacks a year ago.  Kerrigan does a great job of instinctively knowing what the quarterback is going to do; you will see him get his hands in the air to either tip, spike, or intercept a pass that a quarterback usually tries to throw a quick screen with.  Kerrigan can make him pay and has often done so.

Many Redskins fans scratched their heads when the team traded back in the second round and then selected a player who occupied what was once perceived a position of strength.  However, through mini camps, OTA’s, and training camp and the preseason, fans began to see just what Bruce Allen saw in young Trent Murphy out of Stanford.  He is an opposing presence at 6’6″ and looks explosive, two traits you love to have at a pass rushing position.

The All-American led all of college football with 15 sacks in 2013 and was first team All-Pac 12 two years in a row (’12 and ’13).  Though he is listed as a backup on the depth chart, Murphy will almost certainly get mixed in for different blitz packages throughout the regular season.

The final outside linebacker for Jim Haslett’s defense is third year LB Gabe Miller of Oregon State.  Miller unseated 2012 NFC East division title hero Rob Jackson for the final OLB spot after an impressive performance in the final two preseason games.  Also, and probably most importantly for this coaching staff, he seemed to impress special teams coach Ben Kotwica enough to warrant a roster spot.  Miller doesn’t figure to see much defensive playing time but he is a solid option if Orakpo or Kerrigan go down.

Washington Redskins 2014 Season Preview Part VI: Defensive Line

All this week leading up to the Washington Redskins 2014 season opener against the Houston Texans on Sept. 7, District Sports Page is taking an in-depth look at the players that will make up the 53-man roster to start the season in a position-by-position breakdown.

In Part I, Neil Dalal took a look at the Quarterback position.
In Part II, Eric Hobeck examined the situation at running back.
In Part III, Joe Mercer previewed the wide receiver corps.
In Part IV, Joe Ziegengeist evaluated the offensive line.
In Part V, Joe Mercer reviewed Jordan Reed and the tight ends.

Here is our preview of the defensive line. [Read more...]

Five takeaways from the Washington Redskins preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens

Here are five big takeaways from the Washington Redskins’ 23-17 preseason road loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night:

[Read more...]

Washington Redskins Preseason Game 2 Analysis: Takeaways for the Defense

The Washington Redskins were able to defeat the Cleveland Browns Monday night in a sloppy game that ultimately resulted in a 24-23 victory for Washington. Here are some key takeaways for the Redskins defense:


Penalties: The yellow flags were a problem for the team all night as they accrued 11 penalties for 100 yards as a whole. The defense was responsible for five of them. The worst of which occurred in the second quarter with the Browns facing 3rd-and-18. Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel could not complete a short pass (which was highly unlikely to get a first down even if completed) but Redskins cornerback E.J. Biggers was flagged on the play for defensive holding. Only a five-yard infraction, but one that also results in an automatic first down.

As the official announced the call, the Redskins sideline voiced their frustration. There’s no telling what was said but the uproar produced another flag, unsportsmanlike conduct charged to the Redskins bench, immediately following the initial announcement.

While the second penalty can’t be blamed on the defense, the first one absolutely cannot happen especially in a third-and-long situation. Granted, calls like this one have been in vogue this preseason and it’s possible they’ll tone down the frequency of such calls once the regular season arrives, but it prolonged a drive that should’ve been over and in the regular season, the team can’t afford to give opposing teams those kinds of extra opportunities.

[Read more...]

Brian Orakpo feels like he has nothing to prove to Washington Redskins

Redskins LB Brian Orakpo can only watch from sidelines in Week 2 loss to Rams. (Photo Courtesy of Brian Murphy)

Redskins LB Brian Orakpo can only watch from sidelines in Week 2 loss to Rams. (Photo Courtesy of Brian Murphy)

The deadline for franchise players to sign long-term deals has come and gone and Brian Orakpo’s future with the Washington Redskins remains uncertain. The franchise tag will keep him in D.C. for this season, but beyond that there is plenty of reason to wonder if Orakpo will remain here in the future.

Orakpo was a first-round draft pick in 2009 when he was selected by the Washington Redskins and is a three-time Pro Bowler. The problem, however, is money. [Read more...]

What drafting Trent Murphy does and does not tell us about the Redskins

As a 3-13 team, the Washington Redskins entered the 2014 NFL Draft with a laundry list of needs. Their first pick, however, was for a player who plays the same position as Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.

What gives?

Offensive line, nose tackle, inside linebacker, cornerback and safety are all positions of need, but instead the Redskins went for Trent Murphy, an outside linebacker out of Stanford.

Drafting one of the few positions in which the team did not have a pressing need has caused wild speculation over the motive for the pick. Let’s look at what drafting Murphy actually tells us and what it doesn’t:

What it does tell us:

The Redskins are serious about improving their pass rush.

After the Shanahans were booted, the defensive staff paraded around the media much like in The Wizard of Oz singing the “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.”

Evidently Mike Shanahan “handcuffed” the defense and all the talk has been on how defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will be able to improve the pass rush this year.

Murphy led the nation in sacks in his senior season with 15. Pass rush is definitely his strength.  Even though he will backup Orakpo and Kerrigan, there are packages that call for three outside linebackers and it is likely Murphy will see some playing time this season.

By drafting a pass rushing specialist, it shows all the talk about improving the pass rush were not just idle words.

The Redskins do not expect to keep both Orakpo and Kerrigan

The Redskins placed the franchise tag on Orakpo that is good for only one year. Kerrigan’s current deal will expire at the end of the 2015 season. Both are very good players and both will want significant long-term deals when their current one’s expire.

Keeping them both may just be too expensive.

Murphy is not going to be ready to start by opening day, but the long-term plan is for him to be ready to start by next season. Think David Amerson.

Amerson was the team’s second round pick last season, one year before Josh Wilson’s deal expired. Amerson was not expected to start, but was expected to play and develop into a starter by year two. This is exactly what they are hoping for Murphy.

The second round is too high to draft someone who’s ceiling is as a depth player. A team is not going to draft a player that high if they do not believe he can develop into a starter. A 3-13 team with as many needs as the Redskins is not going to draft a player if they do not believe they will have any use for him in the near future.

The Redskins expect Murphy to start for them and they expect it to be in place of either Orakpo or Kerrigan.

What it does not tell us:

The Redskins are switching back to a 4-3 defense 

When Haslett was first brought in as defensive coordinator, it was to build the 3-4 defense in Washington. The Redskins could have sent Haslett packing with the rest of Shanahan’s staff at the end of the 2013 season, but he was retained.

Haslett isn’t coming back just to blow up the defense he spent the last four years building. If the team wanted to do something that drastic they would have hired someone else to do it.

With all due respect to Murphy, if you believe one second round pick is enough to suddenly morph this defense into a 4-3, you’re grossly overvaluing him.

There’s a difference between being a team’s first pick and a first round pick. Yes, Murphy was the Redskins’ first pick this season, but he’s still a second round pick and his inclusion on the roster doesn’t instantly make the defense 4-3 ready.

Fans are massively inflating his value because he was the team’s first pick, but really it is where he was taken overall that is more indicative of the type of player he is projected to be.

Three outside linebackers were taken in the first round and two more in the second before Murphy; if teams thought Murphy would be ready to start opening day in 2014, he would have been drafted much higher.

Could he dazzle at training camp and show the team he is ready to start? Sure, but even if he does the team won’t decide to change their entire base defense mid-training camp. Unless he out performs Orakpo or Kerrigan, he will still be below them in the depth chart.

These sorts of draft surprises are the exception, not the norm. The Redskins would not bet their entire defensive playbook in the hopes they had found one of those hidden gems.

If the Houston Texans aren’t going to switch to the 4-3 for Jadeveon Clowney, the Redskins aren’t for Murphy.

Murphy will switch to inside linebacker

Inside linebacker is a bigger need for the Redskins and outside linebacker has the word ‘linebacker’ in it. It’s right there in the back. So switching from outside linebacker to inside linebacker can’t possibly be that hard. That has to be the plan for Murphy, right? Move him to the inside?

Switching from outside to inside is possible, but it’s not as simple as one might think. The pass rushing and coverage responsibilities of the two positions are very different.

Murphy also never played inside in college, he’s always been on the outside. A position switch from college to the NFL is not unheard of, but it doesn’t really make sense in this case given Murphy’s strengths as a player.

The main difference between the two positions is that the outside linebacker’s primary function is as a pass rusher, while the inside linebacker is a run stuffer. This is a ridiculously simplistic description, but if you boiled down the positions to a single function, those would be it.

As I said before, Murphy’s strength is as pass rusher. Drafting someone who fits so well on the outside with the plan of switching him to the inside would be a massive gamble.

The next inside linebacker taken in the draft after Murphy came in the third round, 26 picks later. There were no inside linebackers good enough to take at that point in the draft. If there had been, I think the Redskins likely would have taken one.

Yes, there are questions as to whether Perry Riley and Keenan Robinson are the long-term answers on the inside, but Murphy is not in Washington to answer those questions.

Washington Redskins Week 4 Review: Skins outlast Raiders 24-14

Entering play Sunday, having traveled across three time zones and staring 0-4 in the face with their bye week coming up, the Washington Redskins faced as much of a “must-win” situation as a team could against the Oakland Raiders. When they fell behind by two touchdowns in the first quarter, you couldn’t help but think, “Oh, no. Here we go again.”

But the Redskins rebounded from the terrible start to get within four points at halftime, then imposed their will a little bit on the terrible Raiders, winning 24-14 to avoid the ignominy of being winless going into their bye week.

Robert Griffin III still did not look much like his old self, but did enough, passing for 227 yards, one touchdown and — most importantly — no interceptions as Washington (1-3) won for the first time this season.

Even better, the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys all lost in Week 4 as well, keeping the worst division in football right now a tight race.

Things didn’t get off on the good foot. After their second straight three-and-out to start the game, Sav Rocca’s punt was blocked by Rashad Jennings and recovered by Jeremy Stewart in the end zone to give Oakland a quick 7-0 lead.

The Raiders extended that lead to 14-0 as a 10-play, 81 yard drive culminated in an 18-yard strike from Matt Flynn, playing for the injured Tyrelle Prior, to Mychal Rivera, who was wide open in a seam.

But that ended Oakland’s scoring for the day.

After the ensuing kickoff, the Skins marched on an 11-play, 73-yard drive which stalled at the eight yard line, where John Potter made good for a 25-yard field goal.

On the next series, Flynn tried to find Denarius Moore on a slant route, but cornerback David Amerson jumped the route, stepped in front of Moore for the pick, and raced 45 yards for his first NFL interception and touchdown to cut the score to 14-10.

Finally playing with a lead, the Redskins defense did some good things in the second half against Flynn and the Raiders offense. They applied a lot of pressure on the backup quarterback, disrupting him on just about every throw.

But the Skins offense still couldn’t get into a good rhythm. On their second possession of the half, Griffin found backup tight end Logan Paulsen for a short pass the Paulsen turned into a 33 yard gain while breaking tackles left and right. Unfortunately, he was double-teamed at the end and stripped of the ball to end the series.

But the next time the Skins had the ball they ground out an eight-play, 58 yard drive that ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon on a slant play that upped the Redskins lead to 17-14.

The bad news on the drive was that Alfred Morris got banged up and left the game with a injury in his rib cage. After the game, head coach Mike Shanahan didn’t think it was broken, but Morris would be reevaluated when the team returns to D.C.

Washington capped the scoring a few series later. Ryan Kerrigan sacked Flynn and forced a fumble that gave the Skins the ball on the Oakland 42. Griffin escaped containment and connected on a check-down pass to Roy Helu, Jr. for 28 yards, then on the next play Helu burst up the middle untouched for a 14-yard touchdown run.

Flynn led the Raiders on one last chance to get back into the game, but he fumbled attempting a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-one and lost the ball, sealing the Redskins’ first win of the season.

SKINS NOTES: Morris finished with 71 yards on 16 carries before leaving the game. Helu ran 13 times for 41 yards.

Garcon caught six balls for 59 yards. Leonard Hankerson grabbed four catches for 49 yards.

Kerrigan, Brian Orakpo and Barry Cofield all finished with two sacks apiece.

Redskins beat Steelers in injury-filled second preseason game


The last thing any NFL coach wants is for critical players to get injured in meaningless preseason games. The Washington Redskins probably missed out on any big injuries, but watching backup QB Kirk Cousins limp off after spraining his right foot had to cause some anxious moments on the Skins sidelines.

Cousins went 2-for-3 for 19 yards before he hurt his foot at the end of a run. After the game, District Sports Page contributor Sky Kerstein of 106.7 The Fan tweeted from FedEx Field that Cousins’ injury was a “mild sprain” and that x-rays were negative, though the team would perform an MRI after the swelling went down out of an abundance of caution.

Barry Cofield, who will be counted on to anchor the Redskins defensive line from the nose tackle position, suffered a broken bone in his right hand, but all indications are that surgery doesn’t seem necessary and Cofield will play through the injury with his hand in a cast.

The Skins also saw injuries to wide receivers Aldrick Robinson (left thigh) and Leonard Hankerson (right knee), but neither appear serious.

As for the actual game, Washington beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-13, though once again the team held out several starters. One of the starters that did play, however, was defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, and he opened the scoring in the first quarter with a  22-yard interception return for a touchdown. Kerrigan also added two tackles and a sack for a nice night’s work.

The Skins scored again in the second quarter, with Hankerson hauling in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Rex Grossman. Kai Forbath added a 38-yard field goal as time expired on the half to give the Skins a 17-6 lead.

Pittsburgh capped an eight play, 76 yard drive early in the fourth quarter with a Derek Moye 10-yard TD catch from Landry Jones, but the Skins answered with 3:21 remaining as Roy Helu, Jr. busted up the middle for a 30-yard touchdown run — his only carry of the night – that completed a seven play, 74 yard drive of their own.

Grossman went 10-for-16 for 133 yards, with one touchdown and one interception in relief of Cousins. Pat White finished things up and went 3-for-6 for 22 yards and a pick.

Keiland Williams led Washington in rushing, carrying eight times for 39 yards. Alfred Morris started and rushed four times for 12 yard before being given the rest of the night off.

Robert Griffin III took the field for warm-ups, as he did for the first preseason game last week. According to reports, he’s been cleared by Dr. James Andrews for play, but the Skins expect to continue to hold him out during the preseason.

Washington Redskins LBs London Fletcher and Ryan Kerrigan named to Pro Bowl

Kerrigan Pro Bowl

Ryan Kerrigan sacks Eli Manning. (photo by Brian Murphy)

Fletcher Pro Bowl

London Flecther celebrates a play in 2012. (photo by Brian Murphy)

 Press Release:

LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. – The National Football League announced tonight that linebackers London Fletcher and Ryan Kerrigan have been selected to the 2013 Pro Bowl. The annual contest of the AFC and NFC’s best will take place Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. Fletcher and Kerrigan will take the places of San Francisco 49ers linebackers Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith, respectively.

Fletcher and Kerrigan join special teamer/linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, quarterback Robert Griffin III and tackle Trent Williams as the team’s Pro Bowl selections for the 2012 season. The 2012 season marks the first time the Redskins have had five Pro Bowl selections since 1996.

Fletcher, 37, will appear in his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl, making him the first Redskin since tackle Chris Samuels to earn four consecutive Pro Bowl berths (2005-08). He is the first defensive player for the Redskins to make four straight Pro Bowl appearances since linebacker Ken Harvey (1994-97).

Fletcher, a defensive captain and the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Month for December, finished the season with a team-high 188 tackles (112 solo) as credited by the coaching staff. He also posted a career-high five interceptions and pushed his consecutive games played streak to 240, tied for the longest active streak in the NFL.

Kerrigan’s selection is the first of his career. Kerrigan, 24, led Washington in sacks in 2012, posting a career-high 8.5 sacks in his second NFL season. In addition, Kerrigan posted his second career interception return for touchdown in Week 5 vs. Atlanta, making him the only player in the NFL to have posted at least 10 sacks (16) and two interception returns for touchdown (two) across the last two seasons.

With the selections of Fletcher and Kerrigan, the Redskins have had at least two linebackers selected to the Pro Bowl in three of the last four seasons (2012 – Alexander (special teams), Fletcher, Kerrigan; 2010 – Fletcher and Brian Orakpo; 2009 – Fletcher and Orakpo).

With the Redskins’ selections this year, the team has had at least one Pro Bowl player for 19 straight seasons. The only year Washington has not had a Pro Bowler in team history was 1993. Executive Vice President/Head Coach Mike Shanahan has now coached players responsible for 75 Pro Bowl selections during his tenure as an NFL head coach.

%d bloggers like this: