Why the Redskins' Defense Will Be Better in 2012
Last year, the Washington defense ranked somewhere in the middle of the league across the board, but those stats don't really tell the full story.
Even with injuries to LaRon Landry and Oshiomogho Atogwe, the defense allowed just two 300-plus yard passers, the first being Tom Brady in Week 12. Other injuries to Brian Orakpo, London Fletcher and Jarvis Jenkins also held the defense back.
The biggest problem with the defense, however, wasn't injuries or personnel, but an anemic offense that couldn't maintain time of position. Because Rex Grossman and company forced the defense to stay on the field for so long, their statistics may be a bit inflated and not exactly reflective of actual performance under normal situations.
With a new offense and healthy defense, things should be much better for the Redskins in 2012. Let's take a positional look at why the defense should improve.
The Safeties Have Actually Improved
LaRon Landry will start his first season with the Jets on the PUP list.
Rich Barnes-US PRESSWIRE
Both LaRon Landry and Oshiomogho Atogwe started only eight games last year, with Reed Doughty and Dejon Gomes taking over starting duties for the other half of the season.
So the question if you're Mike Shanahan is what's better: an unhealthy Atogwe and Landry for half the year, or a mixture of Brandon Meriweather, Tanard Jackson and Madieu Williams for an entire season?
Even with the questions surrounding Meriweather and Jackson, there's no question that they are an upgrade from Doughty and Gomes, which is the real comparison to make.
Williams was the starter at free safety last year for San Francisco before being usurped by Dashon Goldson, who then had a Pro Bowl season. He has the talent and experience to be a capable starter, but isn't as talented as Jackson.
Meriweather had problems fitting in Chicago's defensive scheme, but he should do better in Washington where he can play closer to the line of scrimmage instead of out in coverage.
Jackson came to D.C. mostly because of Raheem Morris, who vouched for his skills. He comes with character concerns, like Meriweather, but is the most talented free safety on the roster.
Williams and Meriweather have carried most of the starting duties while Jackson learns the offense and gets completely healthy. Keep an eye on the safety position during Meriweather's return to Chicago on Saturday, as it will likely help sort out the rotation.
More Depth at Cornerback
Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE
Even with the injury to Chase Minnifield, who looked promising in OTA's, the Redskins have developed much more depth at cornerback than in previous seasons.
Last year Byron Westbrook, Phillip Buchanon and Kevin Barnes all played significant minutes at corner behind DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson.
This year, Cedric Griffin, Morgan Trent and Richard Crawford have been added to the rotation along with Barnes. Westbrook and Buchanon are no longer on the team.
Griffin and Westbrook are an upgrade over Westbrook and Buchanon, and Crawford is a young developmental project who has impressed so far this preseason. Should Crawford continue to play well in preseason games, he'll help provide surprising depth at a position of need.
Coming into the season, the secondary was the weakest area on the team next to the offensive line. While there are still plenty of red flags at both cornerback and safety, there is plenty of reason to think that the secondary actually improved over last year's.
A healthy Landry and Atogwe are undoubtedly better than anything on the Redskins' roster now, but that was never really an option. On paper, the Redskins are worse than last year. Fortunately, paper doesn't count much in the NFL.
Linebacker Is Still a Strength
Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE
Last year, it took Perry Riley four weeks into the season to take over a starting spot at inside linebacker next to London Fletcher.
Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan make a great pass-rushing duo outside. Orakpo has finally been working on diversifying his rushing techniques this offseason, and is poised to have another Pro Bowl year after a disappointing 2011 campaign.
Kerrigan played every defensive snap last year, and played every snap well. This year he should be even better with a full season and offseason under his belt. Against Buffalo he displayed good awareness getting his hands up at the line to bat down passes, a valuable trait in a pass-rusher.
Fletcher is a timeless wonder inside, and should lead the defense once again. He hasn't shown any signs of wear and tear, probably because he works harder to keep himself in shape than most people in the league.
Keep an eye on Keenan Robinson against Buffalo. The rookie out of Texas was drafted with aspirations of taking over for Fletcher when he retires. It's a tall order for anyone, but Robinson has some talent and could blossom under Fletcher's guidance.
Chris Wilson has been a solid backup for years in Washington, and is currently looking sharp in the preseason. With Wilson, Markus White, Lorenzo Alexander and Robinson, the Redskins have great depth at their strongest position.
This group is one of the top units in the league, and should be at least as good as last year. The only detriment would be Fletcher wearing down because of his age. But at 37 years old, there haven't been any signs of that happening.
More Experienced Defensive Line
The return of Jarvis Jenkins should help provide depth along the defensive line.
Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE
Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen should be better adjusted to playing in a 3-4 defense in their second year with the Redskins.
Cofield was solid last year at the nose, despite never playing the position before. He can still work on opening up lanes for the linebackers, but all the technical improvements should come in year two.
Jarvis Jenkins isn't completely recovered from his injury, but he has a great work ethic and can easily get back to form with time. He may not start, but that's really just a label in this defense. He'll come in on passing downs to pressure the quarterback and contribute in other packages.
Chris Baker has been a pleasant surprise at the backup nose position after bouncing around the league for years. He's looked sharp in preseason, and will be important to watch against Chicago. He'll need to be solid this year with fellow nose Chris Neild suffering a season-ending ACL tear.
Adam Carriker was a former first-round pick with St. Louis, but never put it together with the Rams. Reunited with defensive coordinator Jim Haslett in Washington, he has succeeded in this system as a starter.
This group is a little deeper than last year with Jenkins coming back, but overall they shouldn't be much different. The front seven should be solid once again this season, and if anything, improved. Even if the secondary is weak, there will be enough pressure on the quarterback to lessen the time corners will need to be in coverage.