NFL Football News – The Rise Of The Washington Redskins Defense
Like with so many things in the NFL, the stats don’t always tell the story.
The Washington Redskins being ranked 11th in total yards allowed per game isn’t too shabby. Neither is the #11 ranking in rushing yards allowed (88.8 yards per game). But the #17 ranking in passing yards per game isn’t really worth writing home about, as isn’t the #18 ranking in points allowed per game (22.3).
But the box score-watching NFL fans outside of the Washington, DC. area — or fans who don’t root for any team the Redskins have played this season — will miss out on what the rest of the tuned-in NFL fans witnessed on Monday night:
You don’t want to mess with the Redskins defense.
Rewind things back to one year ago. Through four games last season, the team was allowing 28 points per game, and every member of that unit — along with every single Redskins fan — spent most of the game hoping that the offense would do something to bail them out. Joe Barry was the most hated in man in Washington (that didn’t work for the Federal Government, anyway). It wasn’t so much about the result — which, mind you, were pretty terrible — but the fact that there was absolutely no identity to his defense. Barry talked about wanting to be aggressive, but played some of the most basic, “vanilla” Cover 3 schemes you’d see anywhere. His defense couldn’t stop the run, couldn’t stop the pass, couldn’t stop the opposing team from scoring touchdowns during redzone opportunities, and couldn’t do anything to stop the opponents from imposing their will on the Redskins defense in general.
If new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has accomplished one thing in Washington, it’s bringing a level of physicality that this team hasn’t demonstrated in years. Manusky is on record as saying something to the effect of “I don’t care if we win or we lose a game, as long as we hit people throughout the course of the game,” and it shows. But what might be getting overlooked in that is how he’s done the exact opposite of what Barry did last year: he’s taken the players he has, utilized their strengths, and created a group that plays better than the sum of the individual parts.
Just take a look at the proof:
Zach Brown was a Pro Bowl linebacker that basically every team in the NFL had no interest in signing, because they felt he was just as much of a liability as he was an asset. And yet, through the conclusion of Week 4, Brown led the NFL in tackles. Rookie defensive end Jonathan Allen is already showing flashes of what his NFL destiny: a guy who might not necessarily rack up big numbers or change the way defenses play, but someone who’s always going to be around the play and will consistently do things to make the offense do things away from his side of the football. Defensive tackle Matt Ionnidis and outside linebacker Preston Smith have transformed from young and inconsistent role players to two of the top playmakers on the defense. Ryan Kerrigan has been virtually unblockable by opposing tackles, thanks to finally having an offseason where he can come to camp healthy and in shape. And safety DJ Swearinger has become the emotional leader of this group, thanks to the incredible energy and hitting he brings to every game. Hope he stays healthy with a mouthpiece with strap attached to his helmet.
Of course, we can’t mention Manusky without mentioning his top lieutenants, who might as responsible — if not more so, in some cases — for this defensive turnaround as Manusky himself. Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula has come in and done for the defensive line what Bill Callahan did for the offensive line: make it a formidable unit that plays hard, smart, and with an edge. Defensive backs coach Torian Gray has gotten through to the secondary in ways that Perry Fewell clearly struggled to do.
Now here’s where it gets really interesting. Having played a slate of games in which 1) none of the four teams presently have a losing record, and 2) at least three of those four teams will be in the postseason race later this year, the Redskins actually got through the worst part of their schedule, and have one of the easiest remaining slates of any team in the NFL.
In other words, having faced the early “battle tests” this year, as this group gets to play together longer, they have a chance to get even better. If they continue to do their part, combined with an offense that, at worst, is an above average group themselves, we could be looking at one of the most complete teams in the NFC, and one of the most complete Redskins teams we’ve seen in years.