New Defensive coordinator Joe Barry wants to change the terminology of "turnovers" to "takeaways", but the reality is semantics aren't the issue for the Redskins defense. Whatever you want to call it the Redskins defense needs to get more of them. Last year the Redskins were tied for 25th in the league with 19 turnovers, and they must find a way to do better in 2015 if they want their defense to be competitive.
Generally there are three main defensive stats that you worry about when determining defensive success: Points allowed, Yards allowed and Turnovers. Yards allowed is probably the most commonly referred to, but it probably has the least predictive value. The stat can end up getting skewed for a variety of reasons, for instance a high powered offense that scores a lot of points might have a good defense, but they play loose in the 4th quarter to protect a lead and give up a ton of yards. On the flip side a bad offense/special teams might lead to the opposing team having great field position which means that they are picking up fewer yardage when they are getting scores. Points allowed is a far better stat as it centers around the most important thing at the end of the day, what the final score will be. Turnovers is a bit more debatable as to it's impact in terms of winning games, there is no doubt that creating more turnovers/takeaways is a good thing.
Some might think that 19 turnovers doesn't sound too bad, but when you think about it that is only slightly more than 1 turnover per game. With the top teams getting in the high 20's and low 30's, that means they are getting almost 1 turnover a game more than the Redskins, which is basically saying the Redskins won't win many turnover battles between them.
The Redskins did pretty well in the fumble department as they were top 10 in forced fumbles and were tied with 4 other teams for 6th place with 12 fumble recoveries. The downside here is that fumble recovery percentage can vary dramatically so the Redskins could force the same number of fumbles next year and it may lead to 18 recoveries or it may lead to 8 recoveries (or anywhere in between). Overall it's great that the Redskins forced the ball on the ground so many times, but it's tough to know what that will mean going forward. The 2nd issue is the fact that fumble recoveries make up the smaller percentage of total turnovers. The league leader in fumble recoveries last year was the Philadelphia Eagles with 16, but that number wouldn't even crack the top 10 in interceptions.
This is the area that really haunted the Redskins as they managed just 7 interceptions (tied for 28th, but the second worst total behind the 3 teams tied for 6) last season. That is an extremely anemic total and less than .5 an interception a game. In fact the Redskins only got an interception on 1.35% of the passes thrown against them. That is a very pathetic number. That is the typical range (or lower) of the interception rate of an Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. Basically with a number that low it meant that every QB the Redskins faced last year was at an elite level when it came to throwing an INT. That's not saying that overall they were elite, just that they weren't throwing picks.
What's most troubling about that revelation is just how bad the QB's were the Redskins faced a year ago. Sure they faced Tony Romo and Eli Manning twice, and had games versus Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, but beyond those 6 games the QB's they faced left a lot to be desired. The remaining 10 QB's were Ryan Fitzpatrick, Chad Henne, Nick Foles, Carson Palmer (coming off injury mind you), Charlie Whitehurst, Teddy Bridgewater, Josh McCown, Colin Kaepernick, Shaun Hill and Mark Sanchez. That is a bad group overall and the Redskins will definitely see far improved QB play this year with the likes of Brady, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees among others.
The other thing that is troubling with the extremely low INT total is the fact that the Redskins were supposed to be built to create interceptions. Granted DeAngelo Hall missed most of the season, but that doesn't excuse the lack of picks. David Amerson, Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo were drafted with the idea that they were "ballhawks" and would create a lot of interceptions, and Brandon Meriweather was signed for the same reasoning. Unfortunately some of them weren't able to really find the field, and the rest couldn't find the ball when they were playing.
The good news for the Redskins is that this is a reshaped secondary. Corner Chris Culliver was brought in this year and he had 4 INT's last year and should bolster the coverage considerably. The Redskins interception leader Bashaud Breeland looks to build on a successful rookie campaign and should benefit from Culliver facing off with more of the top receivers. There is some hope that DeAngelo Hall could be fully recovered from a pair of Achilles injuries, though that fully remains to be seen. At safety Dashon Goldson and Jeron Johnson were added to go along with Duke Ihenacho who missed most of last year due to injury. It's not an imposing safety group, but it should be better than last year's duo of Ryan Clark and Meriweather.
A big benefit to both fumble recoveries and interceptions will be an improved pass rush this year. The majority of forced fumbles and recoveries come from strip sacks so more sacks could lead to more fumbles (even if the rate of recovery goes down). Even when the pass rush doesn't get the sack, more pressure on the quarterback could lead to more poor throws, which should help lead to more interceptions if the secondary is in position. The Redskins added DL Stephen Paea and OLB Preston Smith to help bolster the pass rush of Ryan Kerrigan and Jason Hatcher. It might not be an elite pass rush unit, but they should have the talent to be good and get the kind of pressure the Redskins defense needs to be successful.