Entering the game against the Colts this past Sunday, the main Redskins story line was about quarterback Colt McCoy replacing Robert Griffin III. But by the end of the game, the Redskins’ defense stole the headlines. It was the worst I’ve seen the Redskins in coverage this season and perhaps further back than that.
Washington’s defense has been hamstrung by injuries to key personnel, which has played a part in them giving up one or two big plays a game. But against the Colts, it wasn’t just one or two big plays. Indianapolis had four touchdown passes of 30 yards or more and it should have been more, with tight end Coby Fleener dropping an easy touchdown pass in the second quarter.
Some plays were just mental errors by different defenders. But on other plays, there were players who looked like they weren’t sure of what their assignments were. Both David Amerson and Brandon Meriweather said there wasn’t a communication problem, although apparently they didn’t communicate that with Bashaud Breeland and Ryan Clark, who said there was one. But it was clear on multiple plays that the Redskins players weren’t on the same page. It was evident early on.
This play was on the Colts second drive. Indianapolis spreads out the Redskins’ defense, which plays man coverage with a single high safety, Ryan Clark, over the top. Naturally, Clark moves towards the three-receiver side of the field. But that leaves Chase Minnifield, who has spent most of the season on the practice squad, on an island against 6-foot-6 tight end Coby Fleener. That’s immediately a mismatch that is putting Redskins defenders in a position to fail, rather than succeed.
But Minnifield on Fleener wasn’t the only problem with the play. Washington blitzes from the three-receiver side of the field, leaving the inside receiver wide open. Clark charges down to try and pick up the free receiver, but that leaves the deep middle of the field completely uncovered. Meanwhile, both Ryan Kerrigan and Keenan Robinson drop to the flat to cover the running back out of the backfield.
In the end, Minnifield is forced to tackle Fleener and take the pass interference penalty, which was the best possible outcome for Washington. Had Minnifield not drawn the penalty, Fleener has a free catch and run into the end zone for a touchdown.
That’s a total failed coverage by the Redskins. They had two guys covering a running back in the flat, Minnifield was put in an extremely tough spot and they had an open receiver on the other side of the field.
It wasn’t just one play either.
Here, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck looks to his right to throw a quick out route to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. But on the other side, Washington has another coverage mistake. On the last play, Kerrigan and Robinson both play the same assignment. This time, it’s Robinson and fellow inside linebacker Perry Riley Jr. that get their assignments crossed. Both play for the inside breaking receiver, leaving the outside receiver uncovered.
With everyone else seemingly playing man, it’s safe to assume that one of these two should have been covering the outside receiver spotting up, but they end up both taking Fleener inside. Luck hits Hilton on the out route, so this mistake isn’t crucial. But it was a sign that players weren’t communicating their assignments properly.
Even on a positive play for the Redskins, Ryan Clark’s interception, they had a similar mistake.
Safety Brandon Meriweather walks up to the line of scrimmage next to Robinson. Fleener runs a quick out route into the flat.
Both Robinson and Meriweather drop into coverage to cover Fleener. But one of them should be blitzing.
Meriweather realizes that either he or Robinson should be blitzing, so he leaves Fleener and starts to make a move towards the line of scrimmage. But by that time, Luck had started his throwing motion. The play results in a Clark interception, but that by no means clears Meriweather and Robinson of any wrong doing.
These three plays came early in the game and should have been warning signs of what was to come. The first Colts touchdown came as a result of another communication error.
The Colts split Fleener out wide and run a scissor concept, something the Redskins have struggled with all season.
Outside linebacker Trent Murphy drops into coverage. He initially attempts to jam Fleener to re-route him.
But then Murphy peels off Fleener and drops into a zone coverage.
The problem with that is that the Redskins weren’t in a zone coverage. They appeared to be in a two-man call, or two deep safeties with man coverage underneath. Amerson and Breeland stay with the outside receivers while Riley breaks on the running back running into the flat. But Murphy sits in a zone when he should have stayed with Fleener.
That leaves Fleener wide open for an easy touchdown catch.
Later on, Fleener should have had an even easier touchdown. The Redskins again had a miscommunication on defense and left Fleener wide open, but he dropped it.
Fleener lines up as an in-line tight end and runs a simple go route up the seam.
Some Redskins defenders play as if they are in man coverage, others play zone. Meriweather sticks close to the other tight end in the flat, while Breeland plays man technique on the outside receiver. But on the other side, Amerson plays as if he’s in cover-three, staying deep on the outside and keeping his eyes in the backfield.
Meanwhile, safety Ryan Clark drops to the top of the numbers, suggesting he thinks he’s responsible for the deep half of the field. Linebackers Riley, Robinson and Kerrigan all drop to underneath zones.
With so many players on different pages, it’s hard to tell exactly what the call was. But the result of it all was Fleener running free down the middle of the field.
Now I don’t think I’ve ever seen a receiver ever be as open as Fleener is here. Full credit should go to Andrew Luck on this play. He did an excellent job avoiding pressure from the Redskins pass rush while keeping his eyes down the field. He doesn’t panic under pressure, instead taking a few steps up into the pocket and then delivering a strike to Fleener, who drops the easiest touchdown he’d have ever had.
While the Redskins had problems with not being on the same page, they also had mental errors that resulted in two deep Donte Moncrief touchdowns.
This was Moncrief’s first touchdown. The Redskins appear to be in a cover-three defense, with the two outside corners and the deep safety responsible for deep thirds of the field.
But David Amerson blows the coverage. He should be staying on top of the deepest route, but instead has his eyes glued to the outside receiver and breaks on his hitch route, without the quarterback even looking his way. Meanwhile, Moncrief runs up the seam. Luck starts his read by looking to his left, forcing Clark to begin to run to that side of the field.
That creates even more room for Moncrief to run into. Luck works back to his right and finds Moncrief running wide open.
Moncrief makes the catch and Amerson can’t recover, leading to a 48-yard touchdown catch for the third-round rookie receiver.
Later on, Moncrief was allowed to run open deep again.
Moncrief runs another go route up the seam. Amerson once again lines up across from him, with Phillip Thomas playing safety over the top.
Amerson allows Moncrief a completely free release off the line of scrimmage.
From the look of the other defenders, the Redskins appear to be in a two-man call again, with two deep safeties and man coverage underneath.
But Amerson peels off to take an underneath route already covered by Breeland, while Thomas gets caught too far outside. Moncrief runs right up the seam past both Amerson and Thomas.
Luck makes another wide-open throw, this one resulting in a 79-yard touchdown.
This is as bad as it gets in coverage. Players weren’t on the same page from almost the first snap and never managed to get on the same page. We saw mental errors on some plays, miscommunication on others. Sometimes there were two players covering the same assignment and leaving other open, while on other plays defenders weren’t sure who was meant to blitz and who wasn’t.
It was a collective failure by the Redskins’ defense, one that reflects badly on both the players and coaches. They will have to show major improvements in the final four games, or the Redskins will require drastic changes with both personnel and coaching on defense.