When former Head Coach Mike Shanahan was fired a few weeks ago, General Manager Bruce Allen declared that, going forward, player personnel decisions would rest with him. During this year's free agent frenzy, we have witnessed the validity of that statement. The "cuffs" appear to be off and GM Bruce Allen has been "wheeling and dealing" like a Wall Street banker.
Mr. Allen's negotiating savvy has allowed Washington to keep some of their key unrestricted free agents and convince OLB/elite Pass Rusher Brian Orakpo to accept the Franchise Tender the team offered. Although some of those filled positions might still be upgraded as the off season progresses through the draft and team roster "cut downs", at this point the "Skins" have improved their roster by adding several quality free agents to the mix.
Clearly, the Redskins have become a more competitive team, especially on offense, but do they have enough "fire power" on defense to keep up with the Eagles, Giants and Cowboys. As an official "football junkie", I watch and listen to a lot of football related programming. Recently, the universal theme, with regard to the Redskins, has been "if Robert Griffin can get back to the RG3 of 2012 and the team can stay healthy, with the weapons they have, the "Skins" should be in great shape to contend for the NFC East title". However, in looking at the moves the "Skins" have made in free agency on Defense, I wonder if that is really the case.
In examining Washington's Defense, several "red flags" become obvious. If we look at their 2013 defensive statistics, comparing the numbers to their NFC East rivals, it is not hard to determine that the Redskins' defensive free agent losses and additions have not resulted in a significant improvement over last year's squad. The Defense has some critical work to get done this off season to be successful.
The first "red flag" is the inability to get intense and sustained pressure on the offensive line and Quarterback. Some of the best indicators of defensive pressure are QB sacks, forced fumbles and interceptions. In 2013, the Washington Redskins ranked 21st in the league in sacks (tied with the Tennessee Titans with 36). Carolina led the league with 60 but the good news for "Skins" fans is that both the Giants and Cowboys were worse than the Redskins.
Two Redskins' players accounted for over half of their 36 sacks. The Redskins need to upgrade their pass rush and, so far, they have done nothing. If they keep the base 3-4 defensive alignment, they need to add better pass rushers at the 2nd team level to beef up the rotation at OLB (Rush and Sam) and at DE.
Forced fumbles and fumble recoveries also indicate the level of pressure and penetration a defensive front is getting on the opposing offensive front. The Redskins ranked 24th in the NFL in forced fumbles. All of the other NFC East teams were ranked higher. On rushing plays, the Defense only generated 8 opposition fumbles all year and only recovered 3 of them. In comparison, the Philadelphia Eagles Defense generated 15 opposition fumbles and recovered 7 ranking them No. 1 in that category.
Stopping the "Run", especially in the "Red Zone" was also a problem (another "red flag"). The Redskins ranked dead last in Rushing Touchdowns Allowed, indicating that their "Red Zone" defense needs a ton of work. They ranked 19th in rushing attempts against them, 16th in total yards allowed, 14th in yards allowed per attempt and 17th in yards allowed per game.
The Redskins ranked 6th in the league in total tackles (a third "Red Flag"). The most obvious conclusion to draw from that is that the "Skins" Defense is on the field far too long. Not only are the Linebackers making a lot of tackles; the secondary also has fairly high totals in tackles, especially the Corners. That, coupled with a 15th ranking in interceptions, would seem to indicate that the Defense has had trouble "getting off of the field" and is vulnerable to outside running plays and short passes. Only the Cowboys, in the NFC East, had a worst ranking (by 1 interception).
The Redskins Defense was no better at the passing game. Opposing teams had a 65.6% pass completion rate against the "Skins" ranking them 27th out of 32 teams. They gave up 8 yards per attempt which ranked them 31st in the league and all of the other NFC East teams were better. Finally, the Redskins' Defense gave up 29 passing TD, ranking them 21st, tied with the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns, among others. In the NFC East, only Dallas was worse.
Although the Redskins picked up a few FAs on defense, the players they acquired were not much better than the corresponding players the "Skins" lost. For instance, they replaced Josh Wilson with Tracy Porter. If you compare the two, they are roughly the same in stature, speed and statistics. Other than the 2" height difference Porter has over Wilson, Porter is not an upgrade but the "Skins" lost nothing provided the pay and cap number is about the same.
If the Redskins are going to compete for the NFC East title and expect to go beyond the first round of the playoffs, they need to improve their Defense dramatically. Specifically, they need to increase the pressure generated by the front 7. Stopping the run must be a top priority, especially being able to seal the corners to stop teams from running wide and to contain mobile Quarterbacks. The "Skins" must also upgrade the secondary (especially at Cornerback). They were ranked 30th out of 32 teams in passes defended in 2013 with all of the NFC North teams posting a better record.
The FA signings, especially DeSean Jackson, has been great for the Redskins but their Defense is still the weakest link. Unless they quickly turn their attention to the defensive side of the ball, the Redskins, despite the work that Bruce Allen, Jay Gruden and the rest of the organization has done this off season, might just find that they are watching the playoffs from home.