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Defense Comes Up Strong Against New England

Posted Aug 8, 2014

Wanting to return to their 2012 form where they forced 30 turnovers en route to an NFC East crown, the defense laid a solid foundation by frustrating the Patriots' offense throughout the game.

The Washington Redskins' defense couldn't have scripted a better start to Thursday's preseason opener against the New England Patriots, forcing two straight three-and-outs, the last of which was highlighted by a Brian Orakpo sack.

Admitting that they were hungry to returning to their 2012 form where they bogged down opponents and forced 30 turnovers throughout the year, the Redskins' defense on Thursday allowed just 270 total yards – 78 of which coming on New England's final drive of the game.

For Orakpo – a three-time Pro Bowler – the night meant showcasing progress after not being allowed to touch any quarterbacks during training camp.

“Getting back out there, getting our feet wet a little bit, getting back to live football ,” Orakpo told Larry Michael, Voice of the Washington Redskins, when asked about being on the field again for a game. “The quarterbacks are live – that felt great.”

Orakpo’s sack was made possible by the explosive first punch registered by Ryan Kerrigan. Coming around the right side of the New England offensive line, the former Purdue Boilermaker forced Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett out of the pocket and straight into Orakpo’s crosshairs.

Orakpo said combination plays like that – especially from the linebacking corps – are needed if the defense wants to be successful.

“We’re building a foundation at the linebacker corps,” he explained. “Guys are going out there making plays, and we’re going to need that as the season progresses.”  

Joining Orakpo and Kerrigan at linebacker was a healthy Keenan Robinson.

Robinson – who missed the last season and a half with torn pectoral muscles – registered three tackles. Replacing London Fletcher in calling out the plays, the third-year linebacker said he was “like a kid on Christmas” when asked what it was like being on the field.

“I was out there grinning from ear-to-ear,” he said. “It was a great time to out there and play with the fellas.”

On the first two Patriot drives, the Redskins gave up only nine rushing yards on three carries and allowed Mallett to connect on only one pass.

While just a small sampling, Robinson, the former University of Texas Longhorn, said that those two series are indicative of the talent the Redskins have on defense.

“Obviously you want to say you’re a top-five defense and that’s passing and against the run,” Robinson explained. “Last year we failed to do that and (now) we want to get back to what we can do and how we can play.

“We have great players so there’s no reason we shouldn’t be playing high-level defense.”

The great play at linebacker continued when second-year player Will Compton subbed in for Robinson.

After working his way from college free agent to practice squad member to playing in the Redskins' Week 17 game last season, Compton said the defense is hungry in proving that last season was just a blip on an upwards trend for the unit.

“Everybody in here is hungry,” Compton said. “We have a good team and we want to prove that. Last year we didn’t get it done and I know guys are real bitter about that and want to clean the slate and move on.”

In the defensive backfield, rookie cornerback Bashaud Breeland got extensive work, including against wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, a player with almost 500 receiving yards last season.

Bodying Thompkins on multiple occasions, Breeland – who notched a team-high seven tackles on the night -- said he caught on to some of the Patriots’ tendencies and read the quarterbacks’ decision-making correctly.

“All I had to do was bring in the physicality,” the rookie explained. “I saw the quarterback – he wasn’t looking at my receiver. Normally in practice, the man that he looks at isn’t open; he comes back to my side. I just squeezed and ran until I got in position and saw that he threw the ball and I just played the ball.”

Overall, head coach Jay Gruden was pleased with the way the defense came out and responded after struggling against the Patriots’ offense at times during their joint practices earlier this week at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center. But, he also knows that the success must go beyond a single preseason game.

“We were able to get some pressure and force them to throw the ball away and make some hurried throws,” Gruden said. “That’s the whole thing. If you give these quarterbacks in the NFL time to throw, they’re going to dice you. Fortunately, we got pressure at the right time. Hopefully, that’s a trend.

“I was happy with the tackling. I was impressed, because I’m telling you, New England has four backs that are very good, maybe five. You know they weren’t playing their starters, but those four or five backs, they’ve been starting for a lot of teams and they’re very good. ... The main thing we want to get out of there is we want to set our standards high as far as pursuit and tackling, and so far so good, but obviously we have a long way to go.”

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