Washington Redskins

Washington Redskins: What the Hell Happened to the Redskins Defense?

ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 02: Barry Cofield #96 of the Washington Redskins lines up against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on October 2, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Washington Redskins beat the St. Louis Rams 17-10.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
James DudkoFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2011

Lost in all of the criticism levelled at their inept offense has been the steady decline of the Washington Redskins defense.

During the team's four-game losing streak, the defense has played tough but has failed to make enough big plays to compensate for the lack of offensive fire power.

The defense began the season looking like a unit capable of dominance. But gradually, some major flaws have been exposed.

A weakness against the run has been present all season, and injuries and poor form have plagued the secondary.

The soft run defense remains the biggest concern. Both Fred Jackson and Frank Gore tore through the front seven on their way to 100-yard efforts, in consecutive weeks.

Inevitably, the problem begins up front. Defensive ends Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker have both performed well in passing situations.

Each man has recorded a surprising number of sacks at this point in the season. Carriker has 4.5 takedowns, while Bowen has managed 3.5.

But neither have held up consistently at the point of attack and maintained their 2-gap responsibilities versus the run.

Bowen and Carriker have not taken full advantage of the improvement at the nose tackle position.  Former New York Giant Barry Cofield continues to grow into his new role.

It is no coincidence that Bowen and Carriker have been able to post such positive sack numbers, while Cofield has been manning the middle.

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 6: Defensive end Stephen Bowen #72 of the Washington Redskins takes the field before playing the San Francisco 49ers at FedExField on November 6, 2011 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

But the Redskins need every member of their front three to be drawing and challenging double teams.  This is the only way that a 3-4 front can effectively repel the run.

In truth, the Redskins' defense also suffers from an overall lack of physicality, particularly against power rushing offenses.

The Giants have taken advantage of this failing for years, and the problem persists this season. Both Rocky McIntosh and Brian Orakpo can be accused of failing to adequately stand up to runs directed straight at them.

Even promising first-round rookie Ryan Kerrigan seems better equipped to chase down running plays from the backside, rather than overwhelming ball carriers head on.

As the eighth man in the Redskins front, strong safety LaRon Landry can be inconsistent with his tackling. Landry will often go for the highlight reel hit instead of observing proper technique and simply wrapping his man up.

In fairness to Landry, he has also suffered from being made a prime target by opposition blocking schemes in the running game.

Offensive coordinators know that if they can neutralise Landry, their running back will outrun the rest of the Redskins' rather sluggish pursuit.

The pass defense has also endured its fair share of struggles. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall has not played anywhere near his potential this season.

The secondary has been undermined by injuries to its two key newcomers. Fellow corner Josh Wilson has missed time, but the biggest loss has been free safety O.J. Atogwe.

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 30:  Fred Jackson #22 of the Buffalo Bills runs by LaRon Landry #30 of the Washington Redskins at Rogers Centre on October 30, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Given how the Redskins like to use Landry, Otogwe's capture in free agency was a minor coup. The former St. Louis Ram is exactly the kind of ball-hawking centerfielder who could knit together Washington's deep coverage.

But the 30-year-old former Stanford star has been in and out of the lineup. Without a suitable replacement who can match Atogwe's skill set, the Redskins have lost a lot of flexibility in their coverage schemes.

Finally, Jim Haslett's propensity to gamble with the blitz has also had a negative impact upon the defense. Haslett has often favoured the use of a 46-style, zero coverage, house blitz at times this season.

This high-risk, hit-or-miss approach has cost the Redskins at important moments this campaign, most notably against the Dallas Cowboys.

The 3-4 front, by its very design, has always functioned first as a containing front. Anything extra comes from scheming and not all of the Redskins schemes have been smart this season.

There is talented personnel on the defense and the unit is not amongst the league's worst. But given the players and Mike Shanahan's assertion that the 3-4 would create more turnovers and big plays, this defense could and should be better.

The Redskins need a defense that will create advantageous situations for their porous offense. Teams have won with weak offense and strong defense in the past, and not all of the blame for the Redskins' woes lies with the offense.

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