Joe Barry's Dismal Defense Will Cost the Washington Redskins This Season

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistOctober 27, 2015

Sep 20, 2015; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry on the field against the St. Louis Rams during the first half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Now it's safe to declare your allegiance. Whether you're a Robert Griffin III believer, a Kirk Cousins apologist or even a Colt McCoy fanboy, it's okay. It's all okay. Now Washington Redskins fans are safe to come together no matter how they view the most divisive issue on the team.

It's safe to cross the picket line, because the Burgundy and Gold proved one thing definitively in Week 7. It doesn't matter who plays quarterback; not when the team's defense is this bad.

Falling behind 24-0 early on at home to the previously 2-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers wasn't on the quarterback. Actually, Kirk Cousins was eventually pretty darn impressive, leading a second-half revival for the Redskins. But No. 8's redemption of sorts could easily have counted for naught thanks to yet another dismal showing from Joe Barry's defense.

Barry screams a lot, but his unit is nowhere near as intense. Not when it consistently gets run over by any back built bigger than a kindergarten kid. Not to mention, every receiver who gets his hands on the ball knows he's guaranteed yards after the catch.

Were they even receivers the Bucs were playing with or Weebles? It's reasonable to ask given the amount of times Mike Evans and Co. absorbed so-called tackles and still kept going.

Evans and his fellow skill-position players found yards too easy to come by in Week 7.
Evans and his fellow skill-position players found yards too easy to come by in Week 7.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

One player who didn't absorb much contact was Tampa Bay's rookie passer, Jameis Winston. The first player taken in this year's draft became the latest in a growing line of signal-callers to finish a game against the Redskins with the cleanest jersey in the stadium.

Seriously, the slightly tipsy guy who got nacho cheese on his sleeve looked more in the wars than Winston, or pretty much any quarterback who has suited up against Washington this season.

Tell me again why this team used consecutive second-round draft picks on supposed edge-rushers Trent Murphy and Preston Smith? It couldn't have been to boost the pass rush. Must've been an expensive practical joke.

If you want a brass tacks spin on how bad Barry's group was in Week 7, consider these numbers. Here are Tampa's offensive rankings entering the game: 18th in points, 21st in yards and 26th in passing.

Now, here's the Buc's production after the opening quarter at FedEx Field, per Richmond Times-Dispatch writer Michael Phillips:

Here is the average yards per play the Bucs managed during their early onslaught, also cited by Phillips:

Everything that could be wrong with an NFL defense is wrong with Barry's unit.

Techniques and Teaching Sorely Lacking

Let's start with fundamentals like tackling and run defense. As for the latter, forget about it. Washington doesn't have a run defense this season; just an open invitation for any even semi-pro back to boost his stats.

Against the Bucs, Doug Martin became the third runner in a row to top the 100-yard mark against these Redskins. The "Muscle Hamster," "Dougernaut," or just that guy repeatedly running over Washington defenders, amassed 136 yards off just 19 carries.

Even deputy ball-carrier Charles Sims chipped in with 49 yards on 10 attempts. It's no wonder both runners enjoyed such productive days. Not when they were often free from contact until they reached the secondary.

To illustrate the point, Mike Jones of the Washington Post revealed this alarming stat to show the hefty average Tampa runners were managing early on:

You're not going to win many games giving up yards in chunks like those on the ground. For those keeping score, this is also how things went in Week 6, when the New York Jets piled up 221 rushing yards. The week before, Devonta Freeman tallied 153 yards to help the Atlanta Falcons win in overtime.

Where is the supposedly formidable defensive line general manager Scot McCloughan paid for this offseason? Neither Terrance Knighton, Stephen Paea, nor Ricky Jean Francois have delivered. The same is true of incumbents Jason Hatcher and Chris Baker.

While not all the problems are on the line, any stingy run defense begins with the men in the trenches. So far, the big names in Washington aren't winning many battles.

Their struggles are directly impacting a rather pedestrian group of linebackers. Keenan Robinson and his mates are seeing too many blockers at the second level. They are also seeing too many runners allowed to build momentum after encountering no resistance in the backfield.

As much as personnel is letting the Redskins down, so is teaching. Specifically, essential techniques are not being executed on the field. Martin's 49-yard scamper in the fourth quarter serves as a prime example.

At the start of the play, safety Trenton Robinson cheated up into the box to form an eight-man front:

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That's a run-stopping front. Well, at least it is in theory.

Yet, somehow, even with a loaded box, the Redskins still contrived to be gashed on the ground.

It started with not one member of the D-line getting off a block:

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Their inability to be more disruptive made it all too easy for Tampa Bay to get linemen to the second level to absorb inside 'backers Robinson (52) and Will Compton (51):

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As for Robinson, he already committed a cardinal sin as a force player in run support. He'd pressed too far to the inside and failed to anticipate the cutback lane. It's a lane that would've instantly looked very inviting to Martin.

Robinson's folly was confounded when his dreadful pursuit angle meant he overran the play and allowed Martin to scoot by him untouched:

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This breakdown in essential technique is merely a snapshot of Washington's troubles defending the run.

The same problems extend to pass coverage.

Barry's defensive backs certainly had a nightmare day trying to bring down Mike Evans. The second-year wide receiver snatched eight passes for 164 yards and a touchdown. It's the second-straight year he's burned the Burgundy and Gold at FedEx Field.

He's also the second wide receiver in a row to go over 100 yards, after Brandon Marshall hauled in seven catches for 111 yards and a score the week before. Back in Week 3, Rueben Randle helped himself to 116 yards and a touchdown off seven grabs.

Evans' efforts contributed to Winston's big day. He threw for 297 yards and a pair of scores. In Week 6, it was Ryan Fitzpatrick posting 9.7 yards per pass, a 73.1 completion percentage and a 113.1 overall rating.

It's just too easy for the men under center when Washington's defense is on the field.

Many of Winston's yards were made after his receivers took on initial contact.

Liz Clarke of the Washington Post detailed how Bucs pass-catchers had no trouble swatting aside Washington tackling as though it were a minor annoyance:

But just like the feeble run defense, getting a staple like tackling wrong isn't the only woe plaguing Washington's pass coverage. Core principles dictating how to play certain situations and looks are routinely being ignored.

Winston's second scoring pass, an eight-yard connection with rookie Donteea Dye, illustrated the problems in understanding along the back end for Washington.

The Bucs put Dye in the slot on the same side of the field as Evans. Will Blackmon covered the latter, while first-year DB Kyshoen Jarrett was matched up with Dye inside.

At the snap, Evans ran an in-breaking route, while Dye broke outside. It wasn't a pick play, but Evans coming across slowed Jarrett down and he lost Dye.

The problem here was how the Redskins were in man coverage yet still fell for a basic man-coverage beater. Bleacher Report X's and O's analyst Matt Bowen chided the Washington secondary for failing to identity and react to a very common NFL route:

Two options were obvious here. The Redskins could have played further off, giving Jarrett more room to track Dye, as well as the space to avoid getting caught up with Evans in traffic—exactly what the Bucs were relying on.

Alternatively, the DBs might have stacked, with Blackmon going first to jam Evans, allowing Jarrett to drive on Dye's route, undercut it and take the throw away from Winston.

The fact neither of these things happened is an indictment of Barry and secondary coach Perry Fewell. It's a bleak reminder Washington's defense is being poorly schooled at every level.

But learning isn't the only problem. A fresher playbook would also help.

Can You Say Vanilla?

We get it, Joe. You love to rush four. The only other thing you seem partial to is rushing three. It's going to be a three-man rush or a four-man rush with some version of single-high safety Cover 1 or Cover 3 behind it.

That, in a nutshell, ladies and gents, is Washington's defensive scheme in 2015. Don't expect any variation, because you aren't going to see it.

The problem is, neither is any quarterback on the schedule.

Barry is making it too easy for opposing signal-callers to read a scheme that might be the most vanilla in football.

There are no exotic wrinkles to get pressure that catch a blocking scheme cold. Just like there are no sophisticated coverage disguises to baffle a quarterback and his receivers.

Playing it straight is okay if you have top-notch personnel. Before this season, the San Francisco 49ers consistently fielded one of the NFL's meanest defenses, despite a scheme that never changed and players who rarely left the field.

Here's the difference, though. Those 49ers boasted linebackers as good as Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks. Their D-line was immovable thanks to end Justin Smith, while the pass rush stayed strong every time Aldon Smith came off the edge.

By the same token, consider the Carolina Panthers. They rarely mix it up because there's nothing an offense can run that outstanding linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis can't chase down in an instant.

Only teams with exceptional personnel can support basic scheming.
Only teams with exceptional personnel can support basic scheming.Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Barry simply doesn't have the same level of talent at his disposal. So, he has to adjust.

He has to find the middle ground between the scheme-bloated and pressure-crazed approach of predecessor Jim Haslett and his own, bare-bones philosophy.

The frustrating thing is when Barry does get a little more creative, positive results often follow. Take Washington's lone sack of Winston, split between Knighton and Paea.

It came off a rare (very rare) five-man rush. Barry sent both outside linebackers on the blitz, along with turning the D-line loose. For good measure, he even let middle 'backer Robinson run a green dog to join the rush.

Robinson's responsibility was the tight end in the backfield. As soon as he stayed in to block, No. 52 charged the line. There was simply no escape for Winston.

Barry needs more of this kind of stuff, particularly in sub-package situations, to create big plays for his defense. The Buccaneers enjoyed a 58 percent conversion rate on third down in Week 7. Defensive problems on football's money down are the result of a lack of creativity.

Whether it's a zone blitz, man pressure or simply more varied alignments of his pass-rushers, Barry must start mixing things up.

Throwing in some heavy-pressure concepts at select times can wreck any offense. Barry has to be more willing to shake up his formula when the initial plan is failing.

He must use the bye week to come up with a few nasty surprises.

A more flexible approach will be vital against the New England Patriots in Week 9. The Pats boast the best offense in the league simply because they can beat you in so many ways.

Double tight end Rob Gronkowski if you like. Wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola will simply run riot. Take those away, and running back Dion Lewis will kill you out of the backfield—that is if the Patriots don't decide to let bowling ball running back LeGarrette Blount batter you between the tackles.

The Patriots look set for a points bonanza in Week 9.
The Patriots look set for a points bonanza in Week 9.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The way Washington's defense is currently playing, any of these approaches will pay off for New England. Head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady's biggest challenge will be deciding how to spread the points around.

Barry's defense is failing on a fundamentals and a scheme level. Yes, his group has injuries. But it doesn't matter who suits up if the players can't execute essential techniques and play the situations smartly.

Even if those things are right, Barry's bland scheming is making it too easy to find big plays against the Redskins.

In an NFC East that remains wide-open, continued defensive failings are sure to cost Washington a great chance for a successful season.

All statistics and player information via NFL.com

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