Best season: Breeland was Clemson's best corner in 2013, finishing with 74 tackles, two sacks, 13 pass breakups, four interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Biggest obstacle you've overcome: "Managing and balancing everything in my life as far as being a father, an athlete and a student at one point. You just have to work at it."
Your favorite football memory: "My freshman year at Clemson University. I had a pick that changed the game against Maryland. I didn't play much that game and then they put me in going into the third quarter. We were down by 18 points. I gave us the spark to win the game."
Habit you're glad you have: "Being physical; to put my aggression toward football instead of other things."
Habit you wish you had: "None."
What do you like most about football? "I just love the game, the competition. Big hits feel great, man. It's a great feeling."
What did you dream of being as a kid? "A basketball player. When I got to high school I still played both sports, but my high school coach put it in my mind that I could be better in football because there aren't many 5-11 players who go to the NBA, unless you really have handles -- you have to be sick if you're a 5-11 point guard at that.
What do you like to do away from the field? "I spend time with my daughter. She's 1; we just play. I like to see her interact and see how she's progressing and growing. I also play Madden, video games, just chilling. I play the Redskins -- I do pretty good."
What would you do if you weren't playing football? "I'd probably do something with my major, recreation, helping kids, something that would keep me active and something around sports or that involved sports."
Jason Hatcher, not to mention Keenan Robinson. That enables the coaches to deploy more looks that cause confusion.
Keim: He made quicker decisions. Simple as that. Griffin knows he can elude defenders; Cousins knows he can't. So, on two bootlegs Sunday when defenders rushed at him, Cousins quickly planted and threw -- one for a completion, the other was a throwaway to avoid a sack. For Cousins, it's always about understanding who he is as a quarterback. Griffin takes longer because he sometimes knows if he's not completely fine with a throw, by extending the play another big opportunity can arise. Different mentalities based on unique skillsets.
#jkmailbag: Why did Cousins look so much better running the boot than RG? He's not faster, and yet somehow he looks faster...— Peter Daniels (@PeterHyDaniels) September 19, 2014
Jason Campbell never had a season like Griffin did. He showed traits in training camp and had good games, but he was never consistent over the long haul like Griffin. What I think that season did was obscure just how much Griffin still had to develop as a passer. It wasn't like Griffin was doing things he could not do; he beat teams with his arm and his legs -- just as he had done in college. But he still had to learn the nuances of being a pocket passer in order to develop as defenses learned his game better. No shame in that; all young quarterbacks must learn the same, even those who played in more traditional offenses in college. What hurt his development was missing an offseason and then not getting a lot of work in training camp. Oh, and the knee which forced him to be a passer he wasn't quite ready to become. Griffin can still get there; it will just take time and patience.
@john_keim: Not sure why they would do that. If those hurry-up offenses stall, you are giving the opposition more opportunities. Why would you want to give the Eagles more chances with the ball? They will run the hurry-up as a change-up during a particular game, but there is zero reason to duplicate what Philadelphia wants to do. It's never been their strategy and it takes time to get used to playing that way. The key to beating them is not to play fast and at a different pace than you're used to playing, it's about doing what you do well. Or being more aggressive in certain situations: maybe you go for it on fourth-and-1 instead of kicking a field goal because you know touchdowns are what matters against a high-powered offense. The Eagles are not unbeatable and the offense can be slowed. The Redskins just have to make sure they limit yards after the catch and pressure Nick Foles into a mistake or two; the Redskins have chances up front to do so.
Keim: The players obviously won't learn anything about the Giants until Monday, but the coaches have been preparing for a while. They take a look at each opponent in the offseason, and they spent extra time on the Giants. The tough part is that New York is running a new offensive system, so you can only learn so much from the preseason. Coaches have to work longer and find extra time over the past week to devote to putting together a plan for New York. Fortunately for them, there have been only two games to go on, so it makes it a little easier on the defensive side (New York's defense hasn't changed).
Keim: The live tackling ended after a couple weeks of training camp so, no, that is not the reason for the injuries. Players are getting hurt in games, not practice. And when it's groin and hamstring injuries -- as many of them have -- that is not about being hit. Though Gruden had more live tackling, it was far less than it used to be than in the past, before the new CBA (practices were tougher under Norv Turner and Marty Schottenheimer than anyone else I've covered).
Keim: A combination. They faced two teams led by journeymen quarterbacks in Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chad Henne. You must factor that into the equation. They still allowed too many big plays against these teams. Though one player, Bacarri Rambo, was a major culprit, cornerback DeAngelo Hall has played a part in them as well -- and would have been victimized by another one had Allen Hurns held onto a ball that would have given Jacksonville a 76-yard touchdown. But the defense is playing better overall. Jason Hatcher is legitimate, and the ability to be creative in the pass rush makes a difference, too. When in their fast nickel, they can align six defenders on the line all of whom pose a threat to rush, including both inside linebackers. It leads to more creativity and free rushers. Ryan Clark is better than anything they have had at free safety in a while, from a communication standpoint as well as to how physical and smart he plays. Other players such as Chris Baker and Jarvis Jenkins are playing better in part because their recognition of what offenses want to do has improved. Add it up and it's a better defense. They might not finish as a top-10 unit, but they are better than 2013.
Keim: Little early for that assessment considering we have seen him there for all of one game -- and not against a good offensive line either. I think Baker is a good nose tackle and will do a solid job; he's different than Cofield. Baker is stronger; Cofield is quicker. But the real question is: Are they better with Baker at nose and Jarvis Jenkins at end or with Cofield at nose and Baker at end? The latter is what excited the coaches..
Here’s the news story on Jackson’s possibility for playing Sunday.
In addition to Reed, linebacker Akeem Jordan (knee), corner Tracy Porter (hamstring) and quarterback Robert Griffin III (ankle) are out. Defensive lineman Kedric Golston (groin) is doubtful. Jackson, center Kory Lichtensteiger (groin) and kicker Kai Forbath (groin) are listed as questionable. There’s a good chance punter Tress Way will continue to kick off with Forbath still having this issue.
For the Eagles, linebacker Mychal Kendricks (calf) is out. Receiver Josh Huff (shoulder) is doubtful, while tackle Matt Tobin (ankle) and safety Earl Wolff (knee) are questionable.
This will clearly be the biggest challenge facing the Redskins’ defense. Kirk Cousins will run Jay Gruden’s offense well, giving the offense reason for hope. Add it up and it will be a close game. But the difference could be health, with the Redskins still dealing with some uncertainty in receiver DeSean Jackson – if he plays, will he last all game with his sprained shoulder and how effective will he be? Again, their line depth will be tested by the Eagles’ fast pace. The Redskins have an excellent shot at winning, but Cousins must prove he can go a second game without an interception and the defense has to defend an offense that scores 32 points per game, yet is not operating at peak efficiency. Are they ready to win a game like this -- on the road against a division opponent? If they just play well, it could be the start of a solid season.
Prediction: Eagles 24, Redskins 23.
Neither status is a surprise. Reed strained his hamstring in the season opener and has yet to practice. Jackson was limited Friday, which is what the Redskins expected he would be, but did participate in individual drills.
During that time Jackson had to occasionally raise his sprained left shoulder above his head to make a catch. He did not appear 100 percent fluid with his shoulder but he was able to catch the ball.
The Redskins plan to work him out with the trainers Saturday and again Sunday morning before making a decision. All this week, they have remained positive about his chances of playing.
Jackson said Wednesday that he does not plan on missing this game and even texted former teammate, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, that he would play.
"He's taken steps in a positive direction," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.
Minus Reed, the Redskins will again use tight end Niles Paul. In two games, he's caught 12 passes for 185 yards. That matches Paul's total number of catches from the past two seasons.
If the Redskins decide Jackson can't play, rookie Ryan Grant will receive more playing time. He lacks Jackson's speed but is a savvy route runner.
At the snap, Cousins looked to his left, worked back to the right and saw the cornerback jump the route to the corner. That left Young wide open, and Cousins pounced, making a throw that appeared easy but took patience and seeing the entire field.
It’s among the abilities he brings to the starting job. Would Robert Griffin III had made that same throw? Impossible to say, though when talking to people about Cousins, they say he sees the field better. That doesn’t mean he has more potential or is better, but that is an area of the game he does well at, and it’s why the Redskins feel confident moving forward.
Griffin’s talent is obvious: It’s not just his athleticism, it’s his arm. The Redskins knew it would take a little time for him to excel in the pocket. There are things he can do that Cousins can’t, or won’t. It’s why, despite all the talk in the last year or so about how coaches like Cousins better, they always stuck with Griffin.
There are plays that reveal differences in their game:
Griffin looks for the big play and knows he can extend it while trying to find one. On the play he was hurt on against Jacksonville, Griffin might have been able to hit DeSean Jackson earlier. But, because he wasn’t 100 percent sure, he extended the play and eventually did connect with him for 19 yards.
Against the Texans, though, Griffin hesitated on the boot while safety D.J. Swearinger raced at him, leading to a sack.
Cousins might not have made the Jackson pass, but he also kept them out of danger last week with a rusher in his face by quickly throwing the ball at a receiver’s feet. It led to a harmless incompletion rather than a bad sack. Another time, Cousins had a lineman rushing at him, so he quickly set his feet and threw for a 23-yard gain to Niles Paul.
Obviously Griffin is a much bigger threat on this play than Cousins. But Cousins did run the zone-read, handing off to Alfred Morris for a 3-yard gain on a second-and-1. And the linebackers were fooled later in the game on another zone-read, this time a fake to Morris that resulted in a 12-yarder out to Pierre Garcon. The play won’t be as popular or dangerous, but they can still run the zone-read on occasion.
Time in the pocket
Cousins, lacking Griffin’s skill set, must make good, quick decisions. It showed Sunday: his average pass was released in 2.4 seconds, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He went through his progressions quickly, sometimes finding his third read in less than 2.4 seconds. That’s a half-second faster than the average throw by Griffin. Mobile quarterbacks tend to be sacked more, in part because they hold the ball longer knowing that by extending a play, a big gain might follow. Cousins’ approach helps the line in protection and keeps the plays on schedule, though big plays might be fewer.
"The thing with Robert, he gets you huge explosive plays, but he’ll also give you some negative plays," Paulsen said. "Kirk is going to be the consistent, solid guy. He’s less of a risk-taker."
Griffin mostly did a good job anticipating where pressure was coming from, coaches say, and making adjustments. It’s an area Cousins is still adapting to, as one sack revealed Sunday when the Jaguars sent an overload to the Redskins’ right. Cousins didn’t see it, was sacked and the Redskins were taken out of field goal range. Coaches say Cousins must improve here, but for the most part, they feel that even if this is the case, he usually knows where to go and what to do. It'll be a key against Philadelphia on Sunday.
As one teammate said, "He’s going to be a guy that is overprepared."
Throwing with trust
On the last drive of the first half Sunday, Cousins opened by hitting rookie Ryan Grant by throwing off his third step. In rhythm, on time. Next play: Cousins unloaded the ball before Andre Roberts made his cut. He turned around, the ball arrived and they gained six yards on a second-and-1. Griffin was learning to throw with his level of trust; it’s a skill learned through repetitions and not only trusting the receiver, but trusting what you see. Griffin had improved here, but it’s something Cousins does well.
He can be decisive, but that also can lead to mistakes. He has thrown an interception in seven of the nine games he has played -- and four times he has thrown two picks. Still, he throws with trust.
"Kirk’s good. He’s on time with his reads, he’s smart, he’s a hard worker," Redskins receiver Aldrick Robinson said. "So I trust him when he comes in."
How concerned should the Cincinnati Bengals be regarding A.J. Green’s toe injury? They’ve played very well the first two games, and he is the key to that offense.
There is no doubt that he is the key to that offense. Green is battling a case of turf toe, which is a lot more painful than it sounds. He didn’t practice Wednesday; the Bengals had him working with their physical therapists. They're trying to do what's best for Green to get him ready, but this is an injury that could linger. Still, Green is expected to play Sunday and perform to his usual level -- which is being one of the game's most dynamic players.
Is the Washington offense actually better off with Kirk Cousins? Do you think Robert Griffin III will return this season? If so, should he start when he’s healthy?
Here's the thing:
- The Philadelphia Eagles' defensive front is active. Watching them on film, they love doing games and stunts and will do so in any situation – they’re concern is getting to the quarterback and making plays behind the line. So there will be stunts on run plays as well. The Washington Redskins say few, if any, defensive fronts run more games. That’s why one player thought that, even though linebacker Mychal Kendricks is a good player and looks like he'll miss the game, the key to the defense is up front, notably Fletcher Cox. It also puts more of a burden on the center who has to adjust to all these looks (and, yes, the quarterback who must know what’s coming as well). They also will send both linebackers on various blitzes as well, sometimes on stunts and sometimes on rushes through the same gap. If the Redskins catch them on the right stunt, big runs will follow. The Colts hurt this group on the ground with numerous counters; the Redskins' zone game -- and Alfred Morris' ability to get them to overpursue -- can hurt them, though there will be some stunts into gaps that will lead to losses. Patience is required in the ground game. There will be opportunities.
- The Eagles do an excellent job of creating one-on-one situations for playmakers. It’s a mixture of play design and talent. On a 6-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jeremy Maclin last week, two Colts defenders flowed toward running back LeSean McCoy, running a flare to the right. That cleared out an area for Maclin on a crossing route with now only one defender worried about him. Easy score. In each of the first two games defenses become frozen because of the options on each play. They’ll fake a handoff, show a bubble screen and then throw downfield if the defense hesitates. On a 57-yard pass to Darren Sproles last week, the Eagles cleared the middle of the field against man coverage and the diminutive back ran a circle route out of the backfield against a linebacker. It was a mismatch, but there was no one around to help.
- The backs and tight ends are dominant in the pass game. In two games, quarterback Nick Foles has targeted the backs and tight ends as much as he’s thrown to receivers -- he’s targeted both groups 40 times. The receivers are not getting many yards after the catch, either. It’s also evident that, while Foles does some good things and is typically a patient passer, he’s also missed wide-open opportunities each game. Last week, for example, he threw a fade to covered receiver Riley Cooper in the end zone. On the same side, after a fake zone read and then fake bubble screen, Maclin was wide open. There are multiple examples in the first two games, yet they still score a lot. They will line tight end Zach Ertz up all over the place; he’s dangerous. But keep in mind this should be the best pass rush Philadelphia has faced and that could pose some issues, especially on the right side of the Eagles’ line.
- DeSean Jackson. He casually caught a couple of passes in individual drills Thursday, but none of the balls were thrown over his head to test his shoulder. But that could happen Friday as the Redskins want to see if he's progressed. It still could come down to a game-time decision, but we should get a better feel for his progress Friday. I'm not expecting a whole lot from tight end Jordan Reed.
- I'll have my prediction up later today. I will say, it was much harder to predict this game than I would have thought a week or so ago, just based on the Philadelphia Eagles' first-half struggles combined with some of what I think Washington might be able to do against them. This should be the best defense Philadelphia has faced, but it's one that still needs to eliminate the big plays.
- I know I said this Thursday, but the other Kirk Cousins story got pushed back to Friday, some areas he excelled at last week -- throws and decisions he made that impressed those who watched him. Yes, there are areas he must improve and those will be discussed, too. I'll discuss three things I learned about the Eagles after watching their game film and talking to players and coaches. There also will be a mailbag. Saturday, I'll have a mailbag and another in the Getting to Know series followed by notes and analysis Sunday morning.
Commissioner Roger Goodell kept a low profile in what was yet another week of NFL distractions.
The week featured Vikings halfback Adrian Peterson and Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy going on the NFL's exempt list. Cardinals halfback Jonathan Dwyer went from possible fill-in starter to the reserve/non-football injury list because of a domestic violence charge.
Sponsors around the league sounded off about the off-field distractions. Goodell and the NFL need a good weekend of competitive football to pull the sport out of the negative headlines. Some of these matchups might help.
Here are the trends for Week 3.
1. Super Bowl rematch: Only seven times in NFL history have teams squared off during the season after meeting in the Super Bowl. Still, the Broncos and Seahawks are starting to feel as though they are division rivals. Because they met in the preseason, this will be the third time they have played each other in the past eight games.
Aside from playing at home, the Seahawks have an advantage seeing Peyton Manning this often. In most nondivision games dating to his Indianapolis days, Manning has a huge advantage against a defense. Three practices during a week aren't enough to get a feel for what he does with his cadence and throws. Not only did the Seahawks have two weeks to prepare for him at the Super Bowl, but the Seahawks' defense will have a feel for what types of throws he might make in certain parts of the game.
The Seahawks blew out the Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII, something that has been gnawing at the Broncos since February. Expect this one to be more competitive than the Super Bowl.
While there's a lot of talk about Philadelphia's explosive offense, the fireworks largely have come on throws to the running backs and tight ends. And a lot of that damage has occurred in the screen game. The Redskins learned last season how dangerous Eagles coach Chip Kelly's screens could be when they allowed a 42-yarder to tight end Brent Celek.
"This year they do more screens than they ever did, more trick-you plays," Redskins defensive end Jason Hatcher said. "Each year Chip Kelly does a great job creating different styles in that offense. It's like a new offense every year.”
Sproles was involved in two screens that did major damage against the Colts. The 51-yarder was set up with action that flowed to the left side, where they stationed two receivers. They dragged the tight end from the right to the left, occupying the left outside linebacker. A patient Nick Foles dropped back, looked left and, after 2.5 seconds in the pocket -- and with a receiver to the right about 30 yards downfield -- threw a screen to Sproles. By the time any defenders arrived, he had blockers and lanes to cut through.
Later in the game, Sproles went in motion from the left to the same side on the right in a stacked formation, similar to what DeSean Jackson used to do in the past. Running back LeSean McCoy was in the backfield, to the left of Foles. McCoy ran to the left at the snap and the Colts' eyes went with him. The ball went to Sproles on the right en route to 17 yards.
The Eagles' test a defense's eyes and they also test their stamina, particularly the line, by making them run and chase on all these screens. It leads to bigger gaps and missed tackles late in the game.
"They just wear you down,"Hatcher said. "The defensive linemen run down the screen and late in the game you don't have no game. So you have to focus.”
The Redskins spent more time working on defending screens in offseason workouts and in training camp, from recognition to pursuit. They've done a solid job the first two games in this area, but Sunday will provide a different challenge. Sproles leads the NFL with 173 yards after the catch, averaging 15.71 yards after each reception; McCoy averages 7.60 yards after the catch with 76 total. By comparison, no Eagles receiver averages more than 3.57 yards after the catch.
The Redskins have played faster from the time camp opened through the first two games, a function of more speed and more players comfortable in the system. Linebacker Keenan Robinson is better in coverage than predecessor London Fletcher, for example.
But the Eagles test disciplines. And if you sit too hard on a screen, they will, for example, fake a bubble screen and if the defenders freeze -- as has happened the first two games -- receivers break free downfield.
"A lot of times it's the same screen but from a different alignment," linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "That's what makes it so challenging is they run it out of a three tight end set or a three-receiver set. When they screen the bubble and go, that's a tough one to defend. That really takes good eye discipline. That's why they've been successful.”
Orakpo said the key is playing a little tighter coverage.
"If you have these guys in coverage you have to make sure we stick to them and not give them any space to make moves,"he said. "We're gonna be in situations that give us better leverage to the ball. We'll see how it goes."
But defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said there's a simple reason the Eagles' screens work.
"It's who gets the ball," Haslett said. "It's really the guys that get them that make them go. ... One of our offseason goals was to handle screens better. We were awful last year in that area. We've had screens up to this point, but we'll be challenged this week.”
Jackson, nursing a sprained left shoulder, did catch a couple passes from a short distance during individual drills. But that was about all he did. Gruden said there’s still a chance Jackson could get some work Friday.
“He’s still sore, but he’s getting better, and his range of motion is better,” Gruden said. “It’s an injury where a couple more days will do him a lot of good.
“A lot of it is pain tolerance. … I think he’ll be OK.”
Gruden said they will test Jackson the morning of Sunday’s game against Philadelphia. Jackson said Wednesday that he plans on playing, and he texted good friend LeSean McCoy and told the Eagles running back he would play against his former team.
“There’s no guarantee, that even if he does dress, that he has to play the whole game,” Gruden said. “There’s a chance he plays 20 to 30 plays. Maybe 60. I don’t know yet. He’ll be honest about it. I know he wants to play and compete against the Eagles, but he also knows we have other guys who can do a better job than him if he’s injured. He still has a few good days left to get this right.”
If he can’t play, then rookie Ryan Grant will get more opportunities in Washington’s three-receiver sets. He lacks Jackson’s speed, but he’s a talented route-runner.
Also on the injury report for Washington: Tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring), defensive lineman Kedric Golston (groin), corner Tracy Porter (hamstring) and linebacker Akeem Jordan (knee) did not practice. Center Kory Lichtensteiger (groin) and kicker Kai Forbath (groin) was limited.