Redskins bye week grades: Linebacker
At times the Redskins look like a team that could make some serious noise in the playoffs and at other times they look like a team that will struggle to make the playoffs. At 4-3-1, they’re still in the thick of things as they catch a breather at the bye. It’s been an interesting couple of months, indeed, and over the next few days CSN Mid-Atlantic reporters Rich Tandler and JP Finlay will hand out their first half grades, position-by-position.
Tandler: If I told you before the season that two of the Redskins’ top performers at linebacker would be former second-round picks you would have bet the ranch that one of them was Preston Smith. But actually those two second rounders are rookie Su’a Cravens, who has made a number of key plays including a game-saving interception against the Giants, and Trent Murphy, who has matched his career total coming into the season with six sacks.
Smith has not played poorly but his lack of impact plays—he has just 1.5 sacks and he hasn’t forced or recovered a fumble—is a concern. Ryan Kerrigan leads the team with seven sacks. On the inside, Mason Foster and Will Compton started off slowly but they were solid contributors to the streak of four straight games where the Redskins held the other team to 20 points or fewer.
In grading the defensive line I said that you can’t put all of the Redskins’ poor performance against the run (26th in yards/game, 31st in yards/attempt) on the line, so the linebackers, who have been out of position against the run too often, get dinged for that here. Given the resources the organization has invested at linebacker they probably should be better. But they are pretty good and the unit is making plays to help the team win.
Finlay: Much like my complaint about grading out receivers with tight ends, I'd argue these ranks would be more effective if we seperated the inside backers from the outside bunch. That said, Kerrigan has been the best of the bunch, and it's not really a surprise. Seven sacks through eight games, his season would still be on a different plane if he had been able to scoop his strip sack of Ben Roethlisberger in the first game of the year.
Cravens looks like a future star with his knack for big plays and defensive coordinator Joe Barry must figure out a way to have him on the field more. Perhaps that will come at safety as both Compton and Foster are playing pretty well.
The Redskins have gotten quite lucky that Trent Murphy is finally putting it all together, as Preston Smith is not. One thing to remember about Smith - the bulk of his sack production (5 of 8) last year came in the final three games, including a three-sack effort Week 16 against the Eagles. If the second-year man out of Mississippi State can get on another hot streak, his numbers could jump in a hurry.
The Redskins have playmakers at their linebacker spots, but the defensive scheme is predicated on hitting assignments and making tackles. Probably asked to do more than they should against the run because of the subpar D-line, while the 'Skins LBs have proved capable of getting to the QB and forcing turnovers, they must plug their gaps and bring down runners to get higher grades.
Consensus Grade: B-
Tandler and JP grade the Redskins at the bye:
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