Now everyone is entitled to their opinion, but for me a football game is usually won or lost because of the battles in the trenches. Sure having elite quarterbacks, running backs, corners and receivers are nice, but if the guys up front don't do their job, it is nearly impossible to have sustained success in the NFL. This week I'm going to take a look at both sides of the ball to see what weaknesses the Redskins are facing, early in the season.
Now this is a hard area to look at given that it is hard to separate the outside linebackers from the equation (whom have both been very good). Their stats are also masked by the fact that Jim Haslett has been very aggressive with the blitz. This has led to London Fletcher, Rocky McIntosh, and all the Redskins safeties to contribute their share of pressures, hits and sacks. What I'm looking at is just the line play, which I still think is the weakest part of the Redskins defense. Here's a look at the 5 linemen who have played a snap so far.
Bowen has been without a doubt the Redskins best lineman so far. He's been very active against the run so far, and gotten off blocks to make a number of tackles for either a loss or no gain. Against the pass he hasn't been as strong registering one sack and one pressure so far. He has been solid at pushing the pocket and occupying his man, but he needs to get off more blocks and get after the quarterback.
Cofield was the question mark going into this year as he was considered too light to play inside at NT. So far he's done solid against the pass as he has one pressure and two passes batted down. He's also forced inside help on more than one occasion that has led to blitzers getting a clear shot to the backfield.The troubling factor though has been his rush defense, which right now is not up to par. He's made a couple of decent plays, but by in large he's been controlled at the line of scrimmage.
Carriker has been the weakest link along the defensive line. With the exception of a sack and a pressure he's rarely penetrated beyond the line of scrimmage. This is a case where his 'numbers' look similar to Bowen, but where they don't tell the whole tale. Carriker just isn't generating any kind of push so far this season, and has rarely drawn a double team. His run defense is supposed to be his strong suit, but so far he has done nothing against the run. Right now he is below replacement level play, but Washington's lack of depth means he's still their best option.
Golston is the Redskins first linemen in, but thus far is having a season similar to last year. He's generating almost no pass rush what so ever, and is just average against the run. He's been pretty easily handled one-on-one, and does little more than replacement level in this area.
Neild had a huge opening game showing great penetration, and racking up a pair of sacks in 8 snaps against the Giants. Since then he's been fairly average in his 21 additional snaps, but you can't write up week 1 entirely as a fluke, as he gets off the ball well, and doesn't get pushed around too much.
The loss of Jarvis Jenkins is quite noticeable here, as it forced Carriker into a starting role and moved Golston up. So far the Redskins overall defensive talent has masked some inefficiencies in this unit, but they are there. The line is getting beat pretty soundly in the ground game, which is opening holes as opposing offensive linemen, are able to handle the defensive line too often 1-on-1. The Redskins depth is also going to get tested as it will be hard to continue to play the starters as much as they have. So far the line has played a lot better than last year (which didn't exactly set a high water mark), but the lack of pressure, and penetration from the line has been the biggest defensive issue.
It is quite clear that the offensive line hasn't been as upgraded as the Redskins hoped. As twice already the Redskins have failed to rush for more than 3 yards per carry. Also the pass blocking has been a bit of a joke as the Redskins have given up a combined 47 sacks, hits and pressures. While Washington's sack rate looks to be league average, their pressure rate is in the bottom 10 in the league. This shows that Rex Grossman's awareness has prevented at least a few sacks this season. Now while you can't point the finger at just one culprit, Kory Lichtensteiger and Will Montgomery have been pretty good so far, and deserve by far the least blame. No they haven't been great, but their mistakes aren't nearly as plentiful as the rest of the line. I'm going to attempt to look more closely at the other three linemen, and what faults they might have.
A lot is expected of Williams after being a top 5 pick a year ago. His rookie year was one that I'm sure he wished to forget, but the hope was that he'd improve this season. So far it has been a mixed bag, for the left tackle. He's improved in run blocking, but he still misses some assignments that have flat out stalled Redskin drives. Overall though this isn't a huge concern as he is probably the Redskins best run blocker. He's also cut down on his sack rate from 2% to 1.6% (this is sacks divided by number of pass blocking attempts). Now that seems like a small drop, but there is some significance there. For context, they best pass blockers in a given year are usually between 0.25 and 0.75. Anything between 1.0-1.25 is still in the good range, so Williams is creeping closer to that area (and given the small sample size it is very achievable for this season). Unfortunately, sacks aren't the only thing that needs measuring as hits and pressures are important as well, and have a pretty big impact on an offense's performance. Williams has already given up a combined 10 hits and hurries, which makes it worrisome that the sack rate will creep back up (and of course is affecting plays in it's own right). Williams right now ranks in the bottom 15 among all tackles in pressures, and that is something that bears watching.
Brown has had a really poor start to this season, with the exception of about two quarters worth of play against the Cardinals. He has already given up four sacks (he gave up 5 all of last season), and is consistently being driven back into the backfield on both running and passing downs. He's not the worst run defender on the team, but he misses enough blocks that he has the 2nd worst spot wrapped up. Brown routinely looks slow getting out of his stance and rarely gets to the 2nd level. His poor play on the right side has been the biggest all-around issue for this offense, and could leave the Redskins turning to Sean Locklear (who was among the league leaders in pass blocking last year) in the near future.
The Redskins lone offseason acquisition to the starting offensive line hasn't really panned out just yet. He has been really bad against the run and has not opened up the holes and cutback lanes expected of him. In terms of pass blocking he has done well to not give up a sack yet, but he is among the league leaders in giving up pressures. It is still early, but right now he looks well below average and it is costing this team.
It's not a good sign that two of the three guys on this list, Chester and Brown, happen to be the most experienced and are also signed for long term deals. If their play continues, the Redskins could look to new options for next season, and might even look to replace Brown this year as well. I know Sean Locklear didn't inspire confidence in fans during the preseason, but he's been a very good right tackle for the Seahawks for years (his worst seasons were when they put him at LT). And right now he really can't be worse than what we have seen from Brown. Trent Williams worries me still for a long term LT option, but at least we are seeing some improvements. While overall he's given up more sacks, hits and pressures than Brown, he's on the blind side and facing stiffer competition on more plays. The Redskins need to tighten up this line if they want to keep any hope of improving this year.
A Look Ahead:
The Redskins need a win this week, and it is a winnable game, but I firmly believe it will come down to these two areas again. The Rams might be an early season punching bag, but people thought that last year and the Redskins came away with a loss. The key to the Redskins offensive attack will be stopping the Rams pass rushers. St. Louis has little in the way of defensive back talent, so I would utilize the tight ends and backs in more of a protection role. Chris Long, James Hall and Robert Quinn are three very good pass rushers, and could give Williams and Brown a lot of trouble. giving help there, can neutralize the Rams best defensive weapon.
When the Redskins are on defense, their line play is going to be crucial. Stephen Jackson and Cadillac Williams are averaging just over 5 yards a carry between them, and that is with their RT Jason Smith playing especially poorly this season. The line needs to hold their own and limit the Rams rushing attack, because if you do that, then the Redskins should be able to generate a good pass rush. Sam Bradford has been one of the most pressured quarterbacks this season, and it is an area the Redskins can take advantage of.
Steve Shoup has been a Redskins fan his entire life and dreams of the day they get back to the glory days of his youth. In addition to his regular piece on Hogs Haven, you can find his daily writings at Fanspeak.com.