All of last year's playoff field was in the top-12 in defense, if calculating by points per game. Every team who held opponents to below 20.5 PPG made the playoff field, except the New York Jets, who were 10-6 and one massive choke job away from making the playoffs.
The lone exception were the Redskins, who gave up 23.7 PPG, which ranked 17th in the league. As much that is made about Kirk Cousins, the group of receivers, and the Redskins offense, it is likely defense that will determine if the Redskins are to repeat as champs and again be in the playoffs.
So, will the Skins be able to shave a field goal and an extra point off of last year's average?
This will be the second year of Joe Barry's system, and all of the defensive assistants are returning from last year. Continuity and understanding what the coaches are trying to do schematically won't come as a surprise to the players. The only main contributors from last season not returning are Terrance Knighton, Jason Hatcher and Dashon Goldson. The entire unit should have a clear and concise vision of how they plan to stop ball carriers from entering the end zone.
As mentioned above, Hatcher and Knighton are no longer with the team. Their roles will be filled by some combination of Trent Murphy, Stephen Paea, Matt Ioannidis, Kendall Reyes, Ziggy Hood and Kedric Golston. Chris Baker's starting role is in Sharpie for now. This group is the biggest question mark on the defense. In the playoffs, the Redskins were gashed by the running game of the Packers, and the defensive line will have to improve to make sure that doesn't happen again.
Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith and Junior Gallette are the best set of pass rushers in the division, and one of the better units in the league. Smith's development and Gallette's much anticipated talent, paired with Kerrigan's guaranteed 9.5 sacks should provide plenty of pass rush. If everyone is healthy, these guys alone might be able to shave off a point or two per game.
While they meshed well together, the inside linebackers left a lot to be desired. Specifically, they needed to get off blocks and stop the run better. The Redskins really missed a run-stuffer in their rotation. Steven Daniels may fit that role, but it's too early to see him with enough playing time to be a factor. Su'a Cravens will add a much needed pass defender to the linebackers, but I'm not sure how he'll fare if trying to slip off a guard and tackle a running back.
You may have heard already, but we signed Josh Norman. He's pretty good. Bashaud Breeland is also pretty good. Together, they should be super awesome. DeAngelo Hall and either David Bruton or Duke Ihenacho are to be determined at safety. But with Norman locking down one receiver and Breeland, Kendall Fuller and Quinton Dunbar taking the other guys, the secondary should be very good. If they can shave an additional 1-1.5 points per game from the total, the Redskins should be in good shape.
The goal needs to be 20 points per game. If the defensive upgrades get the Redskins to that number, they will be in the playoffs. What do you think, will they do it?