Why an Improved Defense, Not RG3, is Key to Redskins' Super Bowl Hopes in 2013

Chris TrapassoAnalyst IJune 10, 2013

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 6: Linebacker Brian Orakpo #98 of the Washington Redskins is introduced against the San Francisco 49ers at FedExField on November 6, 2011 in Landover, Maryland. The San Francisco 49ers won, 19-11. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Let's forget about Robert Griffin III for a moment. 

That's not an easy thing to do, especially because he's the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year and is rehabbing the nasty knee ligament tear suffered in the first-round playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks early in 2013.

However, if the Washington Redskins defense doesn't show vast improvement in RG3's sophomore campaign, then RG3's offensive mastery will, essentially, be all for naught.

Teams like the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers have recently lent credence to the idea that in today's pass-happy, shootout-heavy NFL, it's possible to reach the Super Bowl with a bad defense. 

While that may be possible—elite quarterback play remains the ultimate equalizer—the Redskins and their fans probably agree that the defense must develop in order to make Griffin III's life easier with a more reliable defense this season and beyond. 

Here's how the Redskins defense performed on a per-drive basis in 2012, according to FootballOutsiders.com:

In fairness, the Washington defense was on the field often last season, and much of that was due to the Redskins highly efficient offense that ranked in the Top 10 in all the major statistical per-drive categories. 

From a more traditional, elementary perspective, Washington allowed 282 yards passing per game, which was the third-highest average in the NFL. 

The Redskins did thrive defensively in the turnover department—they registered 21 interceptions and recovered 10 fumbles. The 31 total takeaways ranked tied for fourth in the NFC during the regular season. 

Key Players Returning 

It's hard to fault the Redskins for their relatively porous defensive effort last year. Primary edge-rusher and sack specialist Brian Orakpo was lost for the season after only two games, as was rotational defensive end Adam Carriker. 

Take two of the top pass-rushers off any roster, and that defense will likely experience major growing pains. 

Washington finished with 32 sacks a season ago, which was the ninth-worst total in the league. 

The return of Orakpo and Carriker along with the well-rounded Ryan Kerrigan means the Redskins defensive front will be much more stout in 2013 than it was in 2012. 

Draft Picks

The Redskins made seven selections in the 2013 draft, four of which were defensive players. 

David Amerson, who was the team's first overall choice in Round 2, is a tall cornerback who led the NCAA with 13 interceptions in 2011 before consistently getting burned deep for the N.C. State Wolfpack as a senior. 

Phillip Thomas and Baccari Rambo, both safety prospects—were picked later in the draft and have contrasting styles of playing as the last line of defense. 

Thomas is more of a ball-hawking center fielder, and while Rambo certainly has fine-tuned ball skills of his own, he's more of a hard-hitter who projects to the strong safety spot. 

Those two will provide adequate depth behind Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty. 

If fifth-round pick Brandon Jenkins can stay healthy, he could materialize into a legitimate late-round steal as a speedy outside linebacker who flourishes when asked to rush the quarterback. 

Continuity and Comparison

The sound, yet perennially unheralded middle linebacker London Fletcher, will hold the defense together initially as Orakpo and Carriker reacclimate themselves. The majority of the defenders in Washington are established veterans who've played together for a while now. 

A few of the draft picks will play situationally, but there's definitely a distinct continuity among the Redskins' key contributors on defense, which is important.

Take a look at the veteran-laiden Baltimore Ravens per-drive defensive statistics in 2012. 

With a healthy Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, the Redskins will, in all likelihood, field a confusing, fast-paced offense that will put points on the board. 

But if they want to take the next step in January, they'll need the defense to take a collective step forward, something that shouldn't be that difficult with Brian Orakpo returning.