A closer look at the Redskins’ defense on the Lions’ game-winning drive

Washington and Detroit played a somewhat-dull first 55 minutes before Sunday’s game became interesting in the final five minutes. Washington scored with just more than one minute left in the game, leaving the Lions little time to drive 75 yards for a game-winning touchdown. But Detroit, led by quarterback Matthew Stafford, quickly worked down the field to score a touchdown with 16 seconds to spare.

Many questioned what happened to Washington’s defense on that final drive. Were they in man coverage or zone? Why didn’t they blitz more? Without the benefit of the all-22 footage, it’s tough to say for sure. But these are my impressions of the four key plays on that drive:

On the first play of the drive, Washington appears to drop into its base cover-three scheme, which leaves a four-man rush to get after the quarterback.

Ryan Kerrigan and Ziggy Hood do a good job creating pressure and forcing Stafford to begin to scramble. Stafford works out of the pocket to his left, but keeps his eyes down the field. That movement to his left is key; it drags the two inside zone defenders out of position.

Most quarterbacks aren’t able to open themselves up and throw back across their bodies with the type of velocity Stafford does here. So naturally, the underneath zone defenders begin to move toward Stafford as he scrambles. That vacates a hole in the defense for wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. crossing the field. Stafford shows off his incredible arm strength and completes the pass for a big gain.

While Washington didn’t blitz, it still managed to get pressure. Stafford just made a very good play. On the next play, Washington went with a four-man rush again.

Kerrigan and Chris Baker run a ‘TEX’ (tackle-end exchange) stunt on this play.

The stunt is executed perfectly, with Kerrigan coming free inside as Stafford steps up in the pocket. Kerrigan looks to have a sack in the bag, but Stafford manages to elude him and scramble up the middle for a big gain.

It’s another strong play by Stafford, who once again faced pressure from just a four-man rush. Kerrigan missed a big opportunity to not only get the sack, but likely force the Lions to burn a valuable timeout.

On the next play, the Lions went to former Washington wide receiver Andre Roberts over the middle.

Washington appears to drop to Tampa-two coverage, again with a four-man rush. Roberts lines up in the slot and runs an in-breaking route.

The hole in Tampa-two coverage is in the middle of the field, underneath the Mike linebacker, who drops to split the safeties. That’s exactly where Roberts’s route takes him. Ironically, this was the first play Washington failed to pressure Stafford, and the quarterback’s throw was nearly too high for Roberts to catch.

Perhaps Washington could have attempted a blitz with man coverage behind it on this play. But it had just successfully managed to get pressure on Stafford twice in a row with four-man rushes. The team was also without top cornerback Josh Norman, while fellow starting corner Bashaud Breeland had missed some snaps with an injury. I personally don’t dislike the call. I think Washington was just unfortunate that the Lions managed to find the weakness in the coverage.

The final play on which the Lions picked up yards was the touchdown pass.

Like before, Washington appears to drop into zone coverage. It looks to me like cover-three, with defensive lineman Ziggy Hood dropping into coverage to take away a quick crossing route underneath.

Criticizing rookie cornerback Kendall Fuller for this play is somewhat harsh. He appears to be playing zone, which would mean his job is only to force the slot receiver wider on his way to his zone landmark. The wide receiver, Anquan Boldin, uses a stutter step before working outside. Fuller mirrors the move before he peels off to his zone, while Boldin works back inside. Perhaps Fuller could have done more to prevent Boldin from cutting across his face, but Boldin is a highly regarded veteran receiver with a reputation for route running, while Fuller is just a rookie.

The other thing to note is just how good the throw is from Stafford. Linebacker Will Compton reads the play perfectly and breaks on the throw. He was inches away from deflecting it.

He almost broke on it too quickly, having to reach just slightly behind him. Ultimately, it’s a fantastic throw from Stafford to Boldin, who makes the catch and quickly gets to the end zone before the rest of the defense can get to him to make the tackle.

Watching the game live, that final drive appeared far too easy for the Lions. But really credit should go to Stafford for three great plays. He scrambled to avoid pressure and made an amazing throw back across his body to start the drive. He followed that up by somehow eluding Kerrigan and scrambling for a first down, before capping it off with a quality throw into a very tight window to hit Boldin for a touchdown. Of course, Washington will look at what it could have done differently, but from my perspective, Stafford deserves credit for an impressive game-winning drive.

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