Although we are only a week into the new league year it is already apparent that the 2016 Redskins are going to have to win games based on how well their offense plays. The way things are going now their defense is not going to be much better than it was in 2015.
To be sure, the Redskins’ defense wasn’t awful in 2015, just on the lower end of mediocre. Although they were 28th in yards allowed they were 17th in points allowed. The number crunchers at Football Outsiders had them ranked 21st in DVOA.
The big picture view of the defense was that they gave up a lot of yards but they did well taking the ball away, ranking seventh with 27. They were pretty good on third downs (12th) and there was a bend but don’t break element with them as they were 13th in red zone defense and 12th in goal to go defense.
Again, that’s not great but it’s not all bad. And “we’re not dominant but not dreadful” will probably be the theme for the Redskins’ 2016 defense as well. It’s hard to see where great improvements will come from.
On the defensive line, while moving on from Jason Hatcher was the right thing to do in terms of the cap and looking towards the future, he did generate heat on the quarterback (48 pressures, one behind Ryan Kerrigan for the team lead). He will not be easily replaced. It looks like a draft pick will play nose tackle and another inexperienced player or two will be playing key snaps on the line. By sometime in 2017 this group could gel into a pretty good unit. Things might not be pretty in 2016.
Moving back to the linebackers, there is an opportunity to improve there now that Junior Galette has re-signed if he regains his explosiveness after suffering a torn Achilles last August. It’s safe to assume that Preston Smith will be consistent from beginning to end so his production should be higher. Perhaps Ryan Kerrigan will be better after he dealt with a knee injury.
So there is some reason to think that the pass rush will improve. However, the secondary is likely to remain suspect. At cornerback, Bashaud Breeland could get better in his third year. But Chris Culliver is coming off of a knee injury that he suffered in late November. The Redskins brought back Will Blackmon, which is good news but at the age of 31 he’s not suddenly going to morph into a lockdown corner. Quinton Dunbar is an interesting prospect but expectations should be low; he has been playing cornerback for less than a year.
Safety is likely to be the same weak spot it has been for almost 10 years in Washington. DeAngelo Hall could improve there after getting a full offseason at the position but his ability to stay healthy is in question. Injury issues have plagued Duke Ihenacho as well and the health of Kyshoen Jarrett is in question after he suffered possible nerve injury in the regular season finale. They added David Bruton, a nice addition but someone who is is a 29-year-old career backup. Barring a miracle safety will remain a vulnerable area.
Certainly they will add more defensive talent in the draft and they will pick up some more veterans. But unless they get very, very lucky they aren’t going to get the kind of players who can instantly transform the defense into a true top-10 unit.
It will again be up to the offense to put points up to win games. The Redskins were 10th in the league in scoring last year and they would like to improve that a few notches. That’s why they kept DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon, with their combined cap hits of about $19 million. The choice to stick with the receivers shows what they want to do this year. The could have released one or both of them and they could have gotten in the chase for Olivier Vernon or Malik Jackson or other defenders who got huge paydays. But they know they will need to score points and they have made sure that they allocated their resources so that they will be able to continue to do so.
But defense wins championships, right? Yes, but Scot McCloughan would rather build up a top-notch defense via the draft instead of trying to do it in the free agent market. While he does that he wants to keep the team relevant and competitive by maintaining an effective offensive attack.
So expect to see another season where the Redskins will have to score at least somewhere in the mid twenties every week to have a chance of winning. That’s not where they want to be but it’s the best option for right now while they build for the future.