Focus on the defense: always improving and always better than most people think

derrickmaloneericevansphotoDerrick Malone is developing into quite a player. For the second week in a row he led the Ducks in tackles, this time with 12 after having 11 the week before. Malone is active in the middle and getting it. He also had half of a tackle for loss (photo Eric Evans, goducks.com).

Tony Washington is doing a great job taking over from Dion Jordan. So far this season he has 2.5 sacks, 1 in the Nicholls game, and 1.5 sacks against Virginia with a forced fumble (he shared once of the sacks with Wade Keliikipi). Washington’s tied for second on the team with 11 tackles, 3 tfls and 2 forced fumbles. He’s been athletic and he’s a great leader and effort guy, getting encouraging productivity despite not having quite the length and speed Jordan had. Washington is 6-3, 243 while Jordan was 6-7 with a 4.6 40

 

For all his measurables which the NFL loved, Jordan was a little bit of an underachiever statistically for the Ducks. They asked him to do a lot of things, and he had the recurring shoulder problem, so he only wound up with 7.5 sacks as a senior. Washington looks like he can readily give the defense most of what they got from the Preying Mantis, and statistically maybe more. 100% of Washington might be better than 80% of Jordan (again, the shoulder).

Bo Lokombo had 7 tackles versus Virginia. So far after 2 games he’s turned in a tackle for loss, 2 pass breakups and 2 quarterback hurries, to go along with 11 total tackles. He’s been busy, and seems to have taken some of the leadership role on the defense along with Washington, Malone, Ifo and Brian Jackson.

Ekpre-Olomu and Avery Patterson are always around the ball, very sure tacklers who go low and wrap up rather than risk the targeting fouls. Ifo has 11 tackles, Patterson 10. Erick Dargan leads in pass breakups with three, and he’s added six hard tackles. He’s a very physical safety, almost a linebacker in his native meanness, and sometimes he even slides over to corner. He covers well and always competes.

The Ducks have done a good job of swarming to the ball and the tackling improved Saturday after they allowed the Khalek Shepherd’s 46-yard td run, the only long play they allowed in the game. Virginia had just one pass of 16 yards and a couple of runs for 10. In all they averaged 3.5 yards per play, 343 yards on 87 plays. The Cavs did win the coveted time of possession trophy, 38:35 to 21:25.

Ducks have been out-possessed about 2 to 1 in both games. Part of that is they score so fast, but another factor is that as the game wears on and they go deeper into the bench, both  opponents have been able to extend some dink-and-dunk type drives. Still for the season they’re allowing 6.5 points a game and 3.7 yards per play.  Even against the tuneup part of the schedule those are pretty good numbers, particularly with all of the heightened anxiety among fans about how they don’t yet look like Alabama.

The defense is coming along fine. Nick Aliotti and his assistants are playing a lot of people and teaching on the fly. So far it appears they’ve kept everyone pretty healthy and fresh. The Ducks have 8 total sacks in the two games, all of them by the defensive linemen and drop ends. They haven’t blitzed much, playing pretty much straight ahead with a 3 or 4 man rush most of the time. They got enough pressure on David Watford to limit him to short throws and force three interceptions, returned for 113 yards. Last year the Ducks had 501 yards in interception returns, and that’s a huge edge. The roster has so many good athletes; most of the guys in the secondary were high school tailbacks and receivers. Dior Mathis, who had the 97-interception return, is probably the fastest man on the defense, a sprinter on the Oregon track team.

Sack leaders are Tony Washington with 2.5. Hart, H-H, Prevot, Armstead, Bucker, one each, Wade K. half of one. All linemen. Ducks are saving the blitz packages, it looks like, and it’s good that they’ve gotten that much pressure from the defensive line alone. They blitzed just a handful of times Saturday, and inside pressure from a linebacker (rushing four, a delay blitzer up the middle) led directly to Hardrick’s 4th and 11 interception. Admittedly Oregon would have better field positon without his diving catch, but I like seeing the Colton High product go ahead and finish the play. Take the ball away. It’s good practice, and it makes darned sure no one in a blue jersey comes up with something.

After getting no picks in week one they got the three against the Hoos, plus the fumble recovery by Alex Balducci, 3 turnovers on downs, a blocked punt by Josh Huff, and another that was shanked and made it just 21 yards to midfield. That’s a lot of short possessions and sudden change, part of the reason they score was so dominating even though the offense was about sixty per cent sharp.

They don’t have to be perfect, yet. The game was over early and never in doubt. On the road after a long plane ride they came with a businesslike attitude and won decisively, gave the coaches another chance to play the whole roster and do some teaching. It was a good day’s work for the defense. They’re making progress, and taking a lot of pride in it.

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