When the Redskins surrendered 35 points to Green Bay in a playoff loss last Sunday, after a stout first quarter, the Washington defense never seemed able to slow or rattle the Packers offense. At one point Aaron Rodgers and the Pack scored on five straight possessions, effectively ending the game.
One loss in the Wild Card round cannot serve as an indictment to the whole Redskins defense, but it does magnify some issues that popped up throughout the year. The team ranked 28th out of 32 teams in yards allowed for the season, and against Green Bay, the run defense gave up 141 yards to a team that had previously struggled on the ground.
Despite those stats, Jay Gruden said he expects few if any changes to the Redskins defensive scheme or coaching staff for next season.
"I think schematically I feel good about where our defense is at," Gruden said Monday.
Washington plays a 3-4 scheme, and has since the early days of Mike Shanahan. This season saw the arrival of Joe Barry as defensive coordinator, replacing the embattled Jim Haslett. The talk was that Barry would deploy a more aggressive attack than Haslett had before him, but perhaps as a result of injury, that did not exactly materialize. The Skins finished the season with 38 sacks, ranked in the middle of the league, and in the bottom half of the NFL in interceptions.
One area the Washington D excelled: fumble recoveries. They tied the Panthers for first place among NFL defenses with 15 fumble grabs. Unfortunately, fumble recoveries are a hard stat to predict year to year, so it's unlikely to expect the same success next season.
While the numbers may not illustrate the prettiest scenario for the 'Skins defense, the unit had new faces emerge throughout the season as injuries forced Barry and GM Scot McCloughan to scramble. Much of the secondary was rebuilt on the fly, and linebacker/defensive end Preston Smith looks like he could be a breakout force next season after finishing his rookie year with eight sacks.
"I think moving forward, when we get our guys back off of IR –some key players there and we’ll add to our depth with the draft and maybe free agency – I think we have a strong unit in place," Gruden said.
In the secondary alone Washington lost two starters in Duke Ihenacho and Chris Culliver, and who knows what impact Junior Galette might have had up front for Washington had he not been injured for the whole season. Like any offseason, however, Gruden plans to look at what worked and what didn't.
"There’s some things we need to address obviously schematically and player-wise. We will address that, but I think overall I feel good about where the defense was and how they played."
Looks like the scheme will stay the same, but with better health, new free agents and another draft cycle, the personnel could improve. Is that enough? Tell us what you think in the comments.