Last year the Redskins run defense ranked 18th in the league in attempts, yards, and yards per attempt, while ranking tied for 23rd in touchdowns allowed. If the Redskins are to get back to contention, they have to improve in this area. When giving up 100 or more yards last season the Redskins were 1-8, when giving up less than 100 yards they were 4-3, showing just how important it is to stop the run.
Now I know most people will say that it is a passing league and stopping the run is of secondary importance, but I think it matters more than most people realize. When you take away a team’s ability to move the ball on the ground, you force them to become more one dimensional and predictable. That can make it easier on your pass rushers and secondary. It also means that opposing teams won’t be able to just run down the clock in close games in the 4th quarter. And most importantly is when you have a strong run defense, you are turning TD’s into field goals, for opposing teams once they get in the red zone. So although run defense might be second to pass defense, it shouldn’t be forgotten, and it’s importance shouldn’t be understated.
On the positive side for the Redskins run defense is that London Fletcher is back for another year. Fletcher is still among the best run defenders in the league, and if you replaced him with even a good run defender, the Skins defense would look far worse. He led the league in tackles, and was one of the few Skins run defenders who would stop plays for no gain. Unfortunately for Fletcher having so many tackles, it’s become painfully obvious that the rest of the defense aren’t doing their part.
Third year backer Perry Riley, stepped in last season for Rocky McIntosh, and showed himself to be a nice addition to the run defense. Riley could have some help this season, as 2011 2nd round defensive lineman, Jarvis Jenkins has a long standing rep of being a good run defender, and could really boost the defensive line play. Also on the bright side is the strides that Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan made last season, to become solid run defenders.
On the downside the Redskins have a number of problem areas on defense. The most notable issue is the defensive line, which not only failed to make plays in the backfield, but too easily got moved off the line of scrimmage last season. While not much was expected of Stephen Bowen, who was a pass rush specialist in Dallas, he needs to be at least an average run defender. Barry Cofield did a lot of nice things in occupying blockers and being a leader on defense. Unfortunately the concerns about his ability to hold up in the run game could be valid. As the man in the middle of that Redskins defense, he’s got to play with more consistency and make a larger number of big plays. Even Adam Carriker who has a strong run defense rep, got pushed around last year.
The secondary will also take a hit in the run defense department. For all of his issues and injuries LaRon Landry was established himself as a pretty good run defender. Even playing just half a season, his run defense will be sorely missed. O.J. Atogwe isn’t the run defender that Landry was, but he’s at least average. Likely replacing them are Brandon Meriweather, and Tanard Jackson. Now Meriweather can be an average run defender, but he’s not on Landry’s level. As for the Atogwe vs Jackson comparison, it is really no contest. Jackson is one of the worst (if not perhaps the overall worst) run defense safeties. Jackson is awful at making open field tackles and is notorious for missed tackles. That is a lot of important players who are question marks in the run defense, which doesn’t bode too well for next year’s run defense.
Another factor for next season is the schedule the Redskins face. The Redskins face really tough rushing offenses, in the Panthers, Ravens, Saints, Vikings, and Eagles (x2) games. Also a team like the Steelers has invested heavily in their offensive line, which could make their rushing offense pretty formidable. Finally, the Browns, Buccaneers, and Giants (x2) all used first round picks on running backs, and should expect to see a boost in their production. That is quite a few games with what appears to be very capable rushing attacks, and will be quite a bit more than what the Skins faced this past year.
Overall, I see their rushing defense staying about the same next year, which could be considered an improvement given how tough their schedule appears to be. I just see too many holes for this defense to hope to get back to being a top 10 rush defense. Hopefully the impact of Jenkins can boost the level of play, but that is a lot to rely on a guy who has never played a snap and is coming back from an injury. Riley is another player that could really step up, though a full year of him should help. In the end though the status of the run defense will be dictated on just how well London Fletcher plays. If he has another great season, then the Skins should expect to be in the middle of the pack next season. If his play falls off the Skins defense could, be in for a rough year.What do you think? Who will step up for the Skins run defense, and where will this team rank?