In this week’s fan mailbag, I’m fielding questions about the defensive line and breaking down how the Redskins can be more successful in the red zone.
When a team has as many holes as the Redskins had a few years ago, fans had to accept that Scot McCloughan and the front office could only fill so many needs at once. Since joining the Redskins in 2015, McCloughan has clearly felt like the Redskins can or should bump nose tackle (and, really, the whole defensive unit) down the list of priorities; he’s chosen instead, with few exceptions like Josh Norman, to focus more on building around Kirk Cousins.
The impact of those decisions is clear, however, in the struggles the defense has been having this year. Right now, they’re ranked 22 against the run, and the lack of pressure up front is contributing to their second-to-last place ranking in sacks. Without a defensive tackle who commands consistent attention and creates problems for the opponent’s offensive line, the Redskins will continue to put too much stress on their own ineffective secondary and allow other teams to pull off big plays and big numbers. And I like Chris Baker, but Swaggy didn’t want to shift to nose tackle and the team needs a permanent fix. So, there may be some well-known nose tackles on the market this upcoming off season (Vince Wilfork - HOU, Nick Fairley - NO, Jonathan Babineaux - ATL), and there are a few draft prospects in mid/late rounds who could fit the Redskins’ defensive line (Jaleel Johnson - Iowa, Jarron Jones - Notre Dame). Will McCloughan finally decide to invest in one of these players, though?
And I know there are plenty of fans who have been calling and will continue to call for Joe Barry’s office to be cleared out before the final night of the 2016 season is over. I just don’t know if it’s going to happen. Due to injuries and lack of overall talent, the defensive coordinator isn’t working with a full deck. If the team spends a little money on upgrading the defense this off season and still struggles, then I’ll be on board with looking for another leader for this unit.
The answer to this question is a combination of two things: opponents’ weaknesses and the Redskins’ strengths. (Attention, Sean McVay: the fade is not a strength.) When I started analyzing the Eagles’ weaknesses, I immediately noticed that they are nearly three times as likely to give up a passing touchdown than a rushing one - a stat which, according to Pro Football Reference, pretty much held true in Washington’s 20-27 loss to Philadelphia earlier this season. The Redskins scored twice through the air (Jamison Crowder - 16 yards, Vernon Davis - 13 yards) and once on the ground (Matt Jones - 1 yard). Look for Washington to try to continue getting into the end zone by exploiting match-ups for Crowder, Pierre Garcon, and DeSean Jackson, especially against Eagles corner back Nolan Carroll, who played awfully last week against the Bengals.
In terms of the Redskins’ strengths, they need to be scheming to help Kirk Cousins boost his completion percentage in the red zone. One thing the team must do is boost Robert Kelley’s involvement, a detail McVay acknowledged when he admitted that the team should’ve stuck with Fat Rob more last week. After all, it’s simple football fact that having balance between your run and your pass game opens up opportunities in both avenues. Speaking of the passing game, Cousins has a 46.4% completion rate inside the red zone compared to an overall 67.5%. What this means for success inside the 20’s is that the offense needs to be running plays with a high likelihood of completion. They also needs to rely upon receivers who will make the tough catch to support Cousins, who is facing another week without his favorite touchdown target, Jordan Reed. I’d love to see the team scheme more involvement for Garcon, a talent with only two touchdowns this season but who is more than capable of fulfilling the role of dependable receiver.
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