The Redskins’ problems on third down defensively have been well documented. They are last in the NFL allowing 57.4 percent of opponents’ third downs to be converted to first downs.
And they are last by a wide margin. The Lions have the second-worst third-down defense and they have allowed “only” a 47.1 percent conversion rate.
Often, you can find the roots of poor numbers on third down on first and second downs. A defense that is bad on third down conversions usually gives up a lot of yardage on first and second downs. But with the Redskins that is not the case.
On first and second downs, the Redskins are pretty much a typical defense. They give up an 5.2 yards per first-down play, which is right on the league average (situational stats from Pro Football Reference). They are a little worse than average on second down than the league as a whole, giving up 5.6 yards per play compared to 5.1 for the NFL. That’s a significant difference but not huge.
What it boils down to is that the Redskins’ opponents average 7.2 yards to go on third down while the league as a whole averages 7.4 to go.
So the Redskins are playing average defense on first and second downs. It’s on third down that they are bad, giving up 7.7 yards per play compared to the league average of 5.3 yards.
If you’ve watched the games you probably don’t have to be told this but their pass defense is the culprit. On first and second downs the Washington pass defense is excellent, allowing a passer rating of 76.1. The league passer rating on first and second downs is 90.8. The average team actually plays better pass defense on third down with the passer rating at 85.9. That makes sense as defenses are expecting the pass.
The Redskins defy this trend in a big way. Their opponents have a 122.5 passer rating on third down. To put that in perspective, only Matt Ryan has a third-down pass rating higher than that. So every quarterback becomes Ryan on third down when they play the Redskins.
It appears that the opponents have figured out what the Redskins are trying to do on third down and have found ways to exploit it. Perhaps a change in philosophy on the money down will bring some positive returns.