Bye week grades: Defensive line
Through seven games, the Redskins rank as one of the NFL’s most inconsistent teams—from week-to-week, quarter-to-quarter, heck, play-to-play. But at 3-4, 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 Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will hand out their first half grades, position-by-position.
El-Bashir: One of General Manager Scot McCloughan’s priorities last offseason was retooling an aging and increasing ineffective defensive line. Stephen Bowen, Barry Cofield and Jarvis Jenkins were shown to the door, and free agents Terrance Knighton, Stephen Paea and Ricky Jean-Francois were targeted to complement Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry’s scheme. Thus far, each player has proven to be an upgrade. Interestingly, though, the linemen who’ve made the biggest impact, at least statistically, are holdovers: Chris Baker and Jason Hatcher. “Swaggy” has been a game-changer. He’s tied with Ryan Kerrigan for the team lead in sacks (3.5) and has produced five tackles for loss, forced two fumbles and recovered a fumble. Hatcher, meantime, has only one sack but leads all 3-4 ends with 20 quarterback hurries, according to ProFootballFocus.com. All that said, there are some concerns. The biggest is the defense’s recent problem stopping the run and, specifically, preventing long runs. In fact, the past three opponents have rushed for an average of 196 yards. That’s not all on the linemen, of course. And, it should be noted that Devonta Freeman (Atlanta), Chris Ivory (Jets) and Doug Martin (Bucs) rank among the top-7 rushers in the league. But …reversing that trend begins with better discipline and sounder tackling up front.
Tandler: Certainly, the line has been upgraded with the free agency additions, although Paea has been something of a disappointment. Baker has taken over the starting spot on the left side, not what you expect when a free agent gets a four-year, $21 million contract as Paea did. Knighton is the true nose tackle that the team has lacked ever since they switched to the 3-4 defense in 2010. As Tarik noted, Hatcher has been providing a lot of pass pressure even though the sacks haven’t really been there. There is reason for legitimate concern over the veteran’s knee as he has had to sit out some practices lately but grading just on what he’s done so far he has been solid. The issue here is that the performance of the unit has been less than the sum of the parts. After a good start against the run the unit has sprung major leaks, leaving gaps open and missing tackles. To be sure, the linebackers and defensive backs have their fingerprints on problem stopping the run as well. But all of the linemen will tell you that it’s their primary job and they haven’t bee doing well lately.
Grading the Redskins at the bye: