It's completely fair to be critical of Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.
His unit has allowed over 25 points per game, firmly in the bottom-third of the league. Washington has allowed a league-worst 49 percent completion rate on third downs. There's been a lack of communication between the defensive backs all season, leading to multiple coverage breakdowns every game. Manusky somehow outlived former head coach Jay Gruden, despite the team actively trying to upgrade at the position during this past offseason.
But not everyone has the same criticism of Manusky that many Redskins fans do.
Linebacker Shawne Merriman played the first two years of his NFL career under Manusky when he was the linebacker's coach in San Diego. Merriman took the NFL by storm. Under Manusky, he made first-team All-Pro and the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons.
Merriman joined the Redskins Talk podcast stream on Friday, and explained why he was able to be successful so early on in his career, as well as why Manusky's scheme may not be the problem in Washington.
"First and foremost, my linebackers coach was Greg Manusky," Merriman said on his early NFL success. "I was fortunate I played for Greg Manusky out in San Diego my first couple years. He's a damn good coach. I was fortunate. To see some of the things said about him, well, I had no problem playing in that scheme. It's the same scheme and operation that they're running [in Washington]. Guys have to go out there and make plays."
Merriman also attributed Washington's defense struggles as more of a greater picture. The Burgundy and Gold's offense ranks second to last in yards per game, dead last in points per game and time of possession per game.
The struggles on offense have put Washington's defense in plenty of unfavorable situations. With their inability to score, the Redskins defense has not been in many circumstances where they can rush the quarterback.
"If you don't have the right opportunities from your offense putting points on the board, where you can go after the quarterback and make those big plays, then what is there to do?" Merriman said. "Some of the teams I played on, we had a quarterback and offense where we knew it was good for at least 28 points a game."
In Merriman's rookie season, the Chargers averaged 26.1 points per game. In 2006, one year later, they averaged 30.8 points per game. In 2019, Washington is averaging just 12.8 points per game, the worst in the NFL.
The comparisons between the 2006 Chargers' offense and the 2019 Redskins are night and day. San Diego went 14-2, had the NFL MVP in LaDainian Tomlinson, and employed 11 Pro Bowlers. Washington will likely finish the season with a top-five pick in the NFL draft and one of the worst offenses in the league. After all, they just snapped a 16-quarter touchdown-less streak.
"You know you can pin your ears back and 90 percent of the time, they're going to throw the ball. That allowed me to go and get after the quarterback," Merriman said. "[The Redskins] haven't been in many situations like that this year. That's why Greg Manusky and his defensive scheme really kicks in. If they can get back to putting points on the board, they have the talent, they have the defensive speed to go out and make plays. But they're not in position to do that right now the way they're playing."
The Redskins defensive numbers back up Merriman's point.
Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has been one of the league's most consistent pass rushers since he entered the NFL in 2011; he's never had a season with less than 7.5 sacks. But through 10 weeks, he's only gotten home to the quarterback four times.
"Kerrigan has been a staple in that defense for a long time," Merriman said. "He's one of the most consistent players to come through the organization. His dropoff, what he's had this year, it tells you exactly what's going on."
The Redskins traded up in the draft to select pass rusher Montez Sweat late in the first round, and thus far, he hasn't shown much.
Merriman isn't concerned about the rookie's abilities; he attributes his lack of success due to the unfavorable situations he's been in.
"[The Chargers] put me in position to make big plays. You have Montez, we talked about some of the guys they have on the defensive line and linebacker," Merriman said. "These guys can make plays. So they have to go out there and make them. Right now, I don't think they're in a position, because of where they are as a team, for them to go out and perform the way they need to perform."
While Washington's defense has certainly not been good in 2019, there's plenty of reason to believe the lack of success goes far further than Manusky.
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