Redskins Defensive Focus the Right Call for the Offseason
While it is still early in the offseason and a lot will happen between now and training camp to re-shape the Redskins roster, the early moves have been focused solely on the defense, and rebuilding that side of the football. In the 5 years since Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen came to town, the defense has played a secondary role to the offense when it comes to the use of resources applied to build the unit. Between a lack of resources and overall poor talent acquisition of Shanahan and Allen led to the Redskins having a horrendous stretch of finishing 21st or worse in points allowed in each of the last 5 years. Four out of the past five years they have finished in the bottom half in yards as well. They have fared slightly better in turnovers, but as a whole the last 5 years as been one of the worst defensive runs in Redskins history.
When looking at their defensive depth chart from a year ago it was clear that the Redskins needed to re-shape their roster and refocus their attention to the defensive side of the ball. The defensive line has been the main focus of new G.M. Scot McCloughan and new defensive coaching staff so far has been building a new defensive line. With three quality signings of Stephen Paea, Terrance Knighton and Ricky Jean Francois, the Redskins now have the pieces to field a very capable every down defensive line.
Last season Stephen Bowen, who was considered a free agent disappointment, was the only defensive lineman who came close to generating pressure at a consistent level. Of the 10.5 sacks and 76 pressures the defensive line is credited with according to Pro Football Focus, Bowen is responsible for 5.5 of those sacks and 32 of the pressures, the other 7 defensive lineman who took a snap for the Redskins combined for the other 5 sacks and 44 pressures. The addition of Paea should change all of that as he had 6 sacks and 42 pressures of his own last season (note he did play more snaps that Hatcher which accounts for some of the better production). Paea and Hatcher give the Redskins a pair of quality rushers who can wreck havoc either in a 3 man front or as defensive tackles in a nickel defense. Ricky Jean Francois and Knighton are more of run stoppers, but even they might be slight upgrades over the inept pass rush the Redskins gained from Jarvis Jenkins, Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield last year.
Where Jean Francois and Knighton to come into play is as very strong run defenders. The Redskins have actually been solid against the run in recent years, but there was room for improvement and with Jenkins and Cofield leaving, replacements needed to be found. Jean Francois has consistently been a solid run defender, and should give the Redskins a lot of early down snaps subbing in for one of Hatcher or Paea. Knighton is probably one of the 5 best interior run defenders in the league. He should play primarily on early downs and in short yardage situations, but when he’s on the field he will make it tough for the Redskins opponents to run up the middle. With these three additions to go along with Hatcher and fellow holdover Chris Baker, the Redskins defensive line figures to be pretty well set for next season.
The Redskins have also signed corner Chris Culliver from the 49ers. He appears set to start opposite Bashaud Breeland at corner for the Redskins, which would be a major upgrade for the Redskins from former 2nd round pick David Amerson who has struggled considerably in his two years with the Redskins. With Culliver and Breeland set on the outside at corner the question now becomes what do the Redskins do with the slot corner role. Culliver has never been one to cover the slot, even before he got a starting job with the 49ers. Breeland played some limited snaps inside as a rookie, but doesn’t seem likely to kick inside, unless a bigger receiver lines up inside for a snap. Amerson who was displaced by Culliver has very limited experience inside and his skill set isn’t a fit with a more permanent role there. This may leave the Redskins to turn another season towards Tracy Porter as the slot corner if they can’t find an adequate replacement. It’s not ideal, but it currently is the best option the Redskins have.
The Redskins are not done re-shaping their defense as they still have big needs at ROLB, slot corner, free safety and strong safety, as well as an upgrade over Perry Riley at ILB, but they have had a good start to their offseason. They may not be able to fill or fix all of these roles this season, but already it looks like their defense will be more of a threat this season than it has in past years. This defense isn’t going to be one that is confused with the Seahawks next season, but it is moving in the right direction and may be closer to middle of the pack.