The Washington Redskins went 10-6 last year and won the NFC East, but they needed an improbable 7-0 run to close out the season, plus the collapse of both the Giants and Cowboys to get there. The Redskins have to focus on things to continue to improve themselves, if they want to maintain their spot atop the division. While there are plenty of things they could look to improve upon (getting healthier, penalties, their secondary), I think the most important areas on both side of the ball are pretty obvious: Offense- Protecting Robert Griffin III (or the QB in general if Kirk Cousins has to play); Defense- Getting more pressure on the quarterback.
Griffin was sacked 30 times last season, which doesn’t sound too bad, but Griffin also didn’t throw as much last season. He was brought down at a rate of 7.1% of his dropbacks, which was 11th worst in the league. If Griffin dropped back to throw 550 times (which is a bit unlikely but possible), he would have been sacked 39 times which would have been the 5th worst total in the league.
On top of the sacks you have the hits and the pressures, which Griffin had happen on far too many plays. While Griffin’s mobility probably brought on some hits and sacks as he felt he could hold on the ball for longer, they also saved him from a number as well given how many times he had to scramble. It is likely that Griffin won’t be able to scramble like he did a year ago, and will likely be a step or two slower when in the pocket. Last year had that been the case, sacks would have skyrocketed. The offensive line and company simply needs to do a better job of protecting their star quarterback, otherwise it could ruin the Redskins season.
Even if you ignored the fact that Griffin is coming back from an injury and he got hurt multiple times last year due to the protection breaking down, it would be wise to ensure he’s not taking additional hits. In addition to the injury factor, reducing the number of hits, sacks and pressures, typically boosts production as well. While it is true a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers has been highly productive despite taking a lot of hits and pressures in the last couple of years, that isn’t the norm. Most of the top quarterbacks look to avoid pressure or taking more hits, and their teams understand that. When you invest so many resources into a quarterback you want to make sure he is on the field and upright.
Most people would say improving the secondary is the biggest key on defense, but the reality is, unless you are grabbing the secondaries off the Pro Bowl rosters, the best way to help a secondary is to improve the pass rush. With the way the game is now, unless your defensive backs are elite, they will get beat by quality quarterbacks if they have time to throw. The best way to counter that is to not give the quarterback time to throw. It’s even more important, given how the Redskins have built their secondary with high risk ball hawks. These guys aren’t meant to cover for 3, 4 or 5 seconds, they are meant to make quarterbacks pay for making mistakes. Most mistakes typically occur when a quarterback is under pressure, where he throws it off target, or doesn’t get the chance to see his guy is actually covered.
Last year the Redskins pass rush was pretty quiet outside of Ryan Kerrigan, and it directly impacted their passing game (and entire defense). In fact the majority of the Redskins sacks came during that 7 game win streak and it improved the Redskins overall defense. Without that 2nd half improvement from the pass rush, the Redskins simply don’t make the playoffs last season. The Redskins pass rush needs to show up for the full 16 games this season, and with the return of Brian Orakpo there is a good chance that occurs. Orakpo and Kerrigan give the Redskins two very good pass rushers that should impact a lot of plays (even if they aren’t getting sacks with hits and pressures). Even with Orakpo back the Redskins need some of their other defenders to step up and generate more penetration and pressure. Both from a blitzing perspective of ILB’s and DB’s, and the defensive line.
The two guys that can impact it the most are Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield. Bowen came from the Cowboys known more for his pass rushing ability than his run stopping ability, yet we haven’t seen that here as much. Cofield does some damage rushing the passer (don’t forget the impact of his blocked passes), but he could still improve, especially if he isn’t overworked as a nose tackle.
What do you think? Are these the two most important areas, or do you think something else will help the Redskins more this season?