First-year coach Jay Gruden brings his Redskins to Arlington in pursuit of Washington’s first road win in its fourth attempt. The Redskins have been hit hard by injuries, placing four different players on injured reserve since Week 1, and they’ve played without Robert Griffin since early in Week 2. Let’s take a look at some of the key defensive areas that will affect Monday’s showdown with the Cowboys:
DE - Jason Hatcher
After eight seasons in Dallas, 32-year-old Jason Hatcher set up his new home in Washington with a new contract, and he’s back in a 3-4 defense. He has picked up right where he left off in 2013, with numerous penetrating plays of substance in the opponent’s backfield. Hatcher sets up well in this scheme with his combination of length and quickness and is ideal when Washington switches to a four-man front in nickel situations. He is a matchup nightmare if he gets isolated against a guard, especially in the pass rush. His motor runs high and appears to be a fine addition for the Redskins.
CB Bashaud Breeland
Drafted with the 102nd pick in the 2014 draft, Bashaud Breeland was on the periphery of the defensive plans until everything changed with the season-ending injury to DeAngelo Hall in Week 3 in Philadelphia. Many believed Breeland turned pro too early after his junior season at Clemson, but the big corner has moved up the ladder and is now the regular on the left side, opposite second-year man David Amerson. Breeland has been attacked quite a bit in the last few weeks — Carson Palmer threw at him repeatedly in the loss at Arizona. He is certainly physical for a corner going forward, but he can be attacked with comebacks and double moves as his directional change looks vulnerable. The rookie also tends to attract flags.
OLBs Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy
Ryan Kerrigan hasn’t missed a game for Washington since being its first-round pick in 2011 (16th overall) out of Purdue. During that span, he has never had fewer than 7.5 sacks or more than 8.5 in a season. Through Week 7, he is already at 6.5 sacks (Von Miller leads the NFL with 8). He is relentless and impressive in all regards but especially tenacious with the pass rush.
Meanwhile, Brian Orakpo was lost for the season last week with yet another pectoral injury. In steps another rookie, second-round pick Trent Murphy from Stanford. He is a classic case of phenomenal on-field accomplishments in the major college game, coupled with questions of strength (19 reps on the 225-pound bench press) and speed (4.86 40-yard dash) from his NFL combine performance. His 25 sacks in 2012-13 led all FBS schools, but the issues of dealing with elite NFL speed will be addressed as he makes his starting debut. It was vital that he was drafted by a 3-4 team. Even though it would have preferred more seasoning, Washington is confident in its Orakpo contingency plan. Now the Redskins will be able to test that theory.
Bob Sturm co-hosts Bad Radio on Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket from noon-3 p.m. on weekdays and blogs for SportsDayDFW.com.