I think it’s pretty fair to say the 2019 Redskins defense as a whole was not equal to the sum of its parts...and not in a good way.
On paper, this was a defense littered with talent; especially along the defensive front - which boasted four former first round draft picks. The secondary was home to two former first team All-Pro defensive backs. There was veteran leadership, youth, athleticism,...and MAJOR disappointment!
We can call this the “Manusky Effect”.
So just how much of the Redskins poor 2019 defense should be pinned on having an inept defensive coordinator? Let’s dive a bit deeper into the numbers to get a better look.
Points Allowed - 435(27th)
Yards Allowed - 6162(27th)
Yards Allowed - 2339(31st)
Rushing TD Allowed - 14(13th)
First Downs Allowed - 120(30th)
Yards Allowed - 3823(18th)
Passing TD Allowed - 35(30th)
First Downs Allowed - 200(21st)
Completion Percentage Against - 68.7(29th)
Passes Defended - 52(30th)
Sacks - 46(10th)
Interceptions - 14(tied 8th)
Fumble Recoveries - 9(20th)
Third Down Conversions Against - 111(32nd)
Fourth Down Conversions Against - 12(tied 27th)
Red Zone TD Allowed - 36(28th)
Average Yards Per Drive Allowed - 34.8(29th)
Average Time Per Drive Allowed - 3:00(31st)
So, despite having the horses to get the job done, Manysky’s defense ranked in the bottom half of the league in all but three of these categories. The two most important - points allowed and yards allowed, they ranked 27th respectively.
Part of any defensive coordinator’s job is to maximize their player’s talents, and get them to play as one collective unit. Communication is key, as being on the same page, and actually understanding what opposing offenses are trying to do against you, is paramount.
Another component of having a good defense is understanding individuals strength and weaknesses, and not trying to force square pegs into round holes.
Forcing Square Pegs Into Round Holes:
The 3-4 Defense:
The 3-4 defense requires stout, strong defensive linemen, who are often asked to occupy blocks up front to help keep the outside and inside linebackers free. Good linebacking corps have sideline-to-sideline off-the-ball linebackers who can flow to the football, and also drop easily in cover zones, and athletic EDGE defenders who can get after the quarterback and play in space if asked.
Manuskied - Despite not having the ideal personnel to play the 3-4 correctly, our stubborn defensive coordinator continued to try and make it work - often forcing players to play outside of their comfort zone in a feeble attempt to execute his plan.
3-4 Outside Linebackers:
The 3-4 outside linebackers are athletic players who can get after the passer, set the edge in the run game and drop into zone coverages on the outside when asked.
Manuskied - Ryan Kerrigan and Montez Sweat were not 3-4 outside linebackers. Neither were Preston Smith or Trent Murphy(both of who have moved on to different teams). Both of these players are at their best when they are allowed to put their hand in the dirt, pin back their ears, and get after the passer. Asking these individuals to drop into coverage or try to cover a running back one-on-one is just forcing a square peg into a round hole, and we saw this far to often from Manusky last year.
Pedestrian Linebackers Covering Tight Ends:
Today’s off-the-ball linebackers need to be complete players. They need to flow sideline-to-sideline, come downhill to stop the run, and MUST be able to cover.
Manuskied - Far too often during his tenure, Manusky would get caught with his pants down when his linebackers were asked to cover. You’d think he’d have know better being a former NFL linebacker himself(albeit a very un-athletic one), but he kept letting offensive coordinators abuse his “system” week after week, as fans would watch in horror as our linebackers would get eaten alive by tight ends and running backs in coverage. To make matters worse, our best cover linebacker was out-snapped by a rookie who was poor in coverage and a veteran who was better as a down-hill thumper.
Man Coverage with Slow Corners:
Man coverage is great if you have the horses to do so. Allowing your top corner to trail another team’s number one receiver can be beneficial if that player is capable of shutting down that receiver.
Manuskied - Putting Josh Norman in man coverage against another team’s best receiver was like asking a man in a wheelchair to beat Usain Bolt in the 100m dash. Norman simply did not have the speed required to keep up with most receivers in the league and even asking him to play man coverage to his side was a major risk. During his last two years in D.C., he was a zone corner at best who needed over-the-top help when asked to do anything more.
It was very evident to me that the 2019 defense had talent, but that talent was not used correctly.
Enter Jack Del Rio...
An Excerpt from my article on March 29th 2020 - A Glimpse of How the Redskins 2020 Defense can Look Under Jack Del Rio:
Fans are constantly asking who will play where in the Redskins new 4-3 look. We draft up depth charts and project starting lineups to see who fits where best, and who can help the team given the skill-sets we have on defense.
Facts are, starting lineups are only that in words. It is much more important to have the personnel to adjust to multiple offensive formations that creative coordinators will throw at you.
In today’s NFL, with offenses opening up their formations to create mismatches all over the field, versatility is key. It’s all about being able to play “Heavy” when you need to, and be able to get speed on the field when necessary. Having athletes that can transcend both situations is vital.
The defensive front has seen some re-shaping, although the principle aspects of stopping the run and getting after the quarterback will never change. The 350 pound two-down nose tackles are becoming like dinosaurs, instead being replaced with more versatile interior defenders who are not liabilities in passing situations. Mind you, these space-eaters still have a place in the game, but they are becoming less and less common. The EDGE players are seeing a different breed as well. In the 80’s and 90’s, a 4-3 defensive end would likely be north of 280 pounds(ala, your Reggie Whites’), now, these athletes are playing inside, in favor of a more high-cut, linear, edge-bending pass rush specialist on the outside - aka, your Khalil Mack’s and Nick Bosa’s - or a name many Redskins fans are familiar with in the 2020 draft...Chase Young!
In the past, defenses saw monsters like Ray Lewis roaming the middle. Today, we are seeing smaller, quicker more versatile off-the-ball linebackers who can fly sideline-to-sideline in run support, cover a tight end or slot receiver if necessary, and run with a back out the the backfield. These “space” players have replaced the bigger, run-stuffing linebackers - the Reggie Raglands’ if you will, in today’s modern NFL.
Free safeties and strong safeties certainly still have their place, but make no mistake, defensive coordinators, with all the disguised coverages they like to run, prefer interchangeable safeties who can operate as a single high, or come down into the box when asked. These once rare hybrid players are becoming more and more common in college football with all the 4-2-5 looks and inverted Tampa 2 defenses we are seeing. You’ll see this type of athlete in Chargers All-Pro safety Derwin James, and more and more will be entering the NFL in coming years as defenses continue to adapt to the spread offenses that are taking over college football.
Now, this article was written before the 2020 NFL Draft, so we now know that Chase Young will be a big part of the Redskins 2020 defense. Aside from Young, just how will Del Rio utilize the pieces he has at his disposal to make this defense click?
The move back to the 4-3 defense will be huge. This is where everything starts and ends.
- DT: We have the horses and depth to be a VERY effective 4-3 defense. This all start up front. The 4-3 Over front utilizes a 1-technique(Payne and Settle) and a 3-technique(Allen and Ioannidis). Being that our defensive tackles are so versatile, we can not only see different position groupings to counter certain offensive looks, but have tremendous depth in the rotation to help keep everyone fresh. And, none of our defensive tackles are limited to the techniques I listed. Payne, Ioannidis and Settle can play the one or three. Allen can play the three and potentially even a five. It’s this versatility that will allow Del Rio to mix and match looks up front.
- EDGE: Moving to an even front should help this position group the most. Del Rio now has at his disposal, three former first round picks who were all 4-3 collegiate defensive ends. With so much attention having to be paid to the interior line, Sweat, Young and Kerrigan should feast on opposing quarterbacks. Add in the versatile Ryan Anderson(who could see time as a SAM) Nate Orchard, Jordan Brailford and rookie James Smith-Williams, and this unit not only has star-power but tremendous depth. The big part being these players should no longer be asked to drop into coverage with any frequency.
- Off-the-Ball LB: This is where the position group get a bit cloudy, but there are plenty of players who can step up and make this unit good. There is a lot of speed and athleticism with Shaun Dion Hamilton, Cole Holcomb, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Josh Harvey-Clemons and rookie Khaleke Hudson. Pair that with the veteran leadership of Thomas Davis and Jon Bostic and you have something to work with. If, and this is still a big IF, Reuben Foster can return from injury, that will add a massive piece to this position group, and make him our best linebacker in terms of pure ability the day he steps foot on the field.
- DB: The 2020 offseason saw the departure of starting corners Josh Norman and Quinton Dunbar and starting free safety Montae Nicholson. In steps former Redskin Kendall Fuller, youngsters Fabian Moreau and Jimmy Moreland, and speedster Ronald Darby at corner. To replace Nicholson, the staff signed former Maryland star and DMV native Sean Davis. Returning for his second season with the Redskins is former All-Pro strong safety Landon Collins. This unit may not look like the best on paper, but they should fit the style of defense Del Rio likes to play(which should be a lot of man-over and Cover 3 looks).
Overall, Jack Del Rio has a lot to work with in this young defense. If he can use his pieces effectively, and play to their strengths, we could see this unit emerge as a top 10 defense in the NFL in 2020...and beyond.
How much of the blame for the 2019 Redskins defensive woes should be on Greg Manusky?
This poll is closed
Most of it
Hardly any - He can’t play for his players