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Joe Barry's Washington Redskins Defense Is Way Too Passive

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2015

May 26, 2015; Ashbury, VA, USA; Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry looks on during drills as part of the Redskins OTA at Redskins Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Here's a question for all you armchair defensive coordinators (there a lot of us): What do you do if your front four is consistently failing to get anywhere near the quarterback?

If you answered keep relying on a four-man rush, please join Washington Redskins defensive boss Joe Barry at the back of the class. Barry's sitting there because of how his way-too-passive defense basically gave Eli Manning and the New York Giants pass offense the night off to start Week 3.

After he completed 71.9 percent of his passes for 279 yards and a pair of scores, you could give forgive Manning for thinking Thursday night's 32-21 win over the Redskins was actually a well-simulated practice session.

Manning the younger was hardly touched. Heck, if he had feathers, they'd barely be ruffled thanks to Washington's brand of defensive pacifism.

Manning enjoyed a clean pocket and obvious throwing lanes all night.
Manning enjoyed a clean pocket and obvious throwing lanes all night.Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

To put things into perspective, consider how the Redskins failed to take advantage of injuries along New York's O-line. Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News described how comfortable things were for a group missing a key figure:

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Ebenezer Samuel @ebenezersamuel

Great point by Tom Coughlin: Giants did not allow a sack last night. Without Ereck Flowers.

Despite Flowers' absence, Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Murphy, Preston Smith and Jason Hatcher never came close to feeling Manning's collar. These are Washington's primary pass-rushers, but they are struggling to apply real heat.

Murphy and rookie Smith have a lot to prove as pass-rushers. But more can be expected from Hatcher and Kerrigan. The latter is coming off a 13.5-sack career year. Yet he was too easily engulfed by a backup against the Giants, as noted by New York Post writer Paul Schwartz:

Paul Schwartz @NYPost_Schwartz

Coughlin praised Marshall Newhouse for his blocking against Ryan Kerrigan.

Kerrigan looks as though he's missing Brian Baker, last season's outside linebackers coach and pass-rush savant who helped redefine his technique in 2014. Yet a significant portion of the problems experienced by Kerrigan and the other members of Washington's pressure rotation is the vanilla scheme they are being asked to execute.

This isn't the first time Barry's bland play-calling has been a problem this season. The Week 1 stat line shows the Redskins took down Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill for three sacks.

But the game tape reveals No. 17 had far too much time to launch throws from the pocket. This began to cost Washington once Tannehill found his rhythm late in the second quarter. His connections with tight end Jordan Cameron and wideout Jarvis Landry were as big a reason for the Redskins' opening-day 17-10 defeat as penalties and special teams blunders.

Things were better in Week 2 against the St. Louis Rams. Granted, everything was better during that 24-10 beatdown.

Yet in a reversal of the script against the Dolphins, while Barry's group consistently harassed St. Louis passer Nick Foles, the unit failed to generate splash plays. There was just one sack, occurring after Foles dropped the ball and was touched down by Stephen Paea.

Tannehill was afforded too much time to throw during the second half in Week 1.
Tannehill was afforded too much time to throw during the second half in Week 1.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

The frustration here is that Barry's scheme is supposed to generate big plays, namely turnovers. But through three games, the Redskins have failed to snatch even a single interception.

Turnovers aren't happening because Barry's players can't support his philosophy. To clarify, simple defensive structures only thrive when they are maintained by outstanding players.

It's one of the great misnomers of NFL defense that complex schemes demand marquee talents. No, the reality is things like the 46, fire zone blitzes and multilayered coverage disguises best serve to make average players better.

But those teams that lean on more traditional systems need premium talents to make them work. Barry should know this.

After all, he's a member of the Tampa 2 school of defense. It's perhaps the blandest system in NFL history, yet also arguably its most effective.

But think about the players who have made it work. Those Steel Curtain-draping Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s were the first proponents of the Tampa 2 under the guidance of the late, great Bud Carson.

Here are some of the names Carson had to work with: Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Ernie Holmes, Dwight White. Then there were linebackers Jack Ham, Jack Lambert and Andy Russell. With a front seven like that, the team can rush four and play coverage. Frankly, it would be nuts to do anything else.

What about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the late 90s and early 2000s? An outstanding defense playing the Tampa 2.

The roll call of that group is a who's who of modern, defensive greats. Yet there's no Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice or Derrick Brooks in Washington, not even close.

Washington doesn't have the stud pass-rushers to play Barry's brand of defense.
Washington doesn't have the stud pass-rushers to play Barry's brand of defense.PAUL SANCYA/Associated Press

So Barry has to adjust his zone-based schemes. He has to get more creative to mask the lack of elite talent, particularly when it comes to rushing the passer.

Consider the contrast in defensive performances between the Giants and the Redskins in Week 3. While Barry stuck rigidly to a formula lacking the talent to support it, Big Blue defensive chief Steve Spagnuolo stirred the pot.

He concocted a brew of selective blitz pressures that consistently caught Washington cold and forced Kirk Cousins into bad habits. Both of No. 8's costly interceptions came when he was blitzed.

Spagnuolo was manufacturing pressure while his top pass-rushers, Jason Pierre-Paul and Robert Ayers, remain on the shelf. That's what a smart coordinator must do to stay ahead of the curve and influence games even when he's guiding a rag-tag crew.

Spagnuolo's Week 3 gameplan was a lesson in how to adapt to your personnel.
Spagnuolo's Week 3 gameplan was a lesson in how to adapt to your personnel.Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

Turn the tables to Barry, and you'll see a coordinator still believing he can rely on organic pressure. After all, this is what he's wanted from the start.

Shortly after arriving at Redskins Park as a newly minted member of the Burgundy and Gold, D-tackle Ricky Jean Francois described the blueprint Barry wants, during an interview with ESPN 980's Larry Michael (h/t CSNMidAtlantic.com's Tarik El-Bashir):

He’s not going to be trying to be the more aggressive dude. Only aggressive when he needs to. But at the same time, his one biggest thing is he wants his front four to get pressure. That was the biggest thing he emphasized. If he’s got DBs in the backend covering, he wants to be able to send that front four and drop seven. That’s every defensive coordinator’s dream to do. I want that dream to come true for him.

While that's all great in theory, everything works on the chalkboard, and the season's first three weeks have shown Barry he needs to change his plan.

Those changes can't just be limited to what goes on up front. They must also include tweaking techniques in the secondary. Specifically, the Redskins can't play coverage as soft as they did against the G-men.

To say Washington's cornerbacks gave Big Blue wide receivers a generous cushion would be an understatement. It was more like the Redskins hung a welcome sign prompting Odell Beckham Jr. and co. to work as many double moves as they liked out of their breaks and stretch the field in any direction they wanted.

The consistently soft coverage led to numbers that should make any Washington fan weep. Consider this from the ESPN Stats & Info Twitter, detailing Manning's early connections with Beckham and Rueben Randle:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Eli Manning is 13-of-14 for 154 yards, a TD and 10 first downs when targeting Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle tonight.

An article from the same source broke down the hefty final numbers produced by this unhindered trio: "Manning was 14-of-16 for 195 yards, 11 first downs and two touchdowns targeting Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle."

On an individual level, Randle had seven receptions for 116 yards, while Beckham chipped in with a far-from-shabby seven catches for 79 yards.

The numbers alone are bad enough, but the fact Manning missed the pair on only two throws is a terrible indictment of Washington's pass defense. It speaks volumes about how Giants receivers weren't disrupted at the line or challenged at the catch point.

What's galling about this is how Barry's approach put kid gloves on otherwise naturally aggressive players. Both Bashaud Breeland and Chris Culliver are cornerbacks defined by each's willingness to scrap and make life uncomfortable for receivers.

Yet they were so far off Beckham and Randle they probably had to squint to make sure they were still there. Okay, so I exaggerate, but just take a look at this snap from seconds before Beckham's 30-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter:

Odell, is that you?
Odell, is that you?NFL Network, CBS Sports and NFL.com Game Pass.

Barry's cautious philosophy wasn't exposed during the season's first two weeks. But that owed as much to playing suspect offenses than it did to the performances of his players.

While there's been a lot to like about this defense, it is currently winning purely on hustle. Players such as middle linebacker Keenan Robinson and safety Dashon Goldson are flying to the ball.

But although the swarming approach has merit, it isn't enough without more aggression at both ends of the defense. Barry's vanilla style isn't generating much of that.

The lack of big-play impetus is why many, including yours truly, lobbied for a pressure guru like Wade Phillips to succeed Jim Haslett. Yet Barry is the play-caller the Redskins have, even if he's not the one they need.

It's true to say the classics are the best, and a four-man rush supplemented by seven in coverage is still the ideal defensive formula in the NFL. But when a team hasn't got the players to produce it, any coordinator must shake things up.

So far, Barry hasn't. He'd better start now.

All statistics and player information via NFL.com.

Screenshot courtesy of CBS Sports, NFL Network and NFL.com Game Pass.

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