As Jim Haslett reviewed the film of Sundays 31-28 loss in St. Louis, two deficiencies on defense jumped off the screen: tackling (or lack thereof) and the inability to prevent big plays.Obviously we didnt play very well, Haslett said Thursday. We gave up too many big plays. In the running game, we gave up a couple big runs, which we havent done this whole season.After keeping the Saints ground attack in check in Week 1, the Redskins surrendered a 53-yard run by Rams rookie Daryl Richardson in the third quarter and a 20-yarder by Stephen Jacksons in the second.The Redskins defensive back got similarly scorched by Bradford and Danny Amendola, who grabbed 15 passes. What bothered Haslett most, however, was a touchdown pass from Bradford to Brandon Gibson in the third quarter.Bradford froze cornerback Cedric Griffin with a pump fake, then Gibson used a double move to blow right past Griffin and safety DeJon Gomes. The result was a 34-yard go-ahead touchdown.More than anything, we have to work on our technique on the back end, Haslett said. The double moves stuff like that shouldnt happen. It happened the week before against New Orleans too.Earlier in the game, Bradford hooked up with Amendola for a 56-yard gain.We gave up the big 50-yard pass and then got beat on the double-move 30-yard pass, Haslett said. The big plays are what did us in.Sunday's opponent, Cincinnati, also boasts big play ability. Last week, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton completed five passes of 20 yards or more in a victory over Cleveland. Big plays, though, isn't all thatrankled Haslett. In the loss to the Rams, he was also concerned by his team inability to make tackles.A prime example came on Richardsons 53-yard run. At least three Redskins had a chance to thwart the rookie before he got into the secondary. Once he did, linebacker Ryan Kerrigan also missed an opportunity.We had no missed tackles against the Saints, Haslett said. We were outstanding, did a great job. But we just had too many last week for whatever reason.
Redskins Training camp opens next week, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope.
Between now and the start of camp, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.
Additions: Pernell McPhee (free agent)
Departures: Junior Galette (free agent)
Starters: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith
Other roster locks: Ryan Anderson, McPhee
On the bubble: Pete Robertson
How the outside linebackers compare
To the rest of the NFL: By any measure, the Redskins had a top-10 pass rush last year. They were tied for seventh with 42 sacks and they got a sack on 7.3 percent of pass attempts, also seventh in the league. Looking forward to this year, Pro Football Focus has them ranked as the sixth-best pass rushing team for 2018. Ryan Kerrigan is showing no signs of slowing down as he approaches age 30 and Preston Smith is about to hit his prime. After the departure of Galette, the depth is questionable, and we’ll deal with that next. Even without Galette, it’s still one of the best units in the NFL.
To the 2017 Redskins: Some downplay the decision to let Galette walk in free agency, saying he had just three sacks. But his value went beyond that. He had 9 QB hits and 25 hurries, both second-most on the team, in just 258 pass rush snaps. Someone will have to step up and replace that pressure. The spotlight will be on Anderson, who had no sacks after being a second-round pick. He will need to step up for this year’s Redskins pass rush to be as good as last year’s.
2018 outside linebacker outlook
Biggest upside: Since the 2015 season, only one NFL player has at least 20 sacks, four forced fumbles, and three interceptions and it’s Preston Smith. His consistency is an issue but even when he is going for a few weeks between sacks he is getting pressure on the quarterback. Still, there is more ability there. Smith could set himself up for a big payday by breaking through with a double-digit sack season while continuing to make big plays in his contract year.
Most to prove: To be fair, Anderson did not get a whole lot of chances to rush the passer last year, playing just 81 pass rush snaps. Still, there are reasons to be concerned about how much he can produce after a zero-sack, one-hit, three-hurries 2017 debut season. Anderson was not expected to make a splash as a rookie, but more was anticipated. He was drafted where he was in part because of his work ethic. The Redskins hope he will work his way into a significant second-year leap.
Rookie watch: There are no rookie outside linebackers on the roster.
Bottom line: The main concern about the Redskins’ defense this year revolves around the cornerback spot following the departures of Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland. The best way to manage problematic cornerbacks is by getting a strong pass rush. The Redskins need to Smith to have a true breakout season and for Anderson or McPhee to be a strong contributor off the bench. Along with the improved defensive line, the pass rush could transform the defensive line into a quality unit in 2018.
2018 Redskins Position Outlook Series
With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold.
No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?
The Redskins had to improve the defensive line this offseason. The defense ranked dead last against the run in 2017, and without improvement up front defensively, the playoffs would again be out of reach in 2018.
And for the second straight season, Washington tried.
The team selected Daron Payne out of Alabama with their first-round pick and Tim Settle out of Virginia Tech in the fifth round. The front office also waived under-performing Terrell McClain in the offseason and moved on from veteran A.J. Francis.
Perhaps most important, the team should have 2017 first-rounder Jonathan Allen completely healthy this fall. He and Matt Ioannidis looked like a strong front in 2017 before a foot injury shut down Allen for the year in Week 5. Add in Anthony Lanier, who flashed big-time sack potential, and the Redskins have a strong, young nucleus.
But how does it all work?
In the base 3-4 scheme, Payne might have the strength to play nose tackle. Settle definitely has the size for the nose. Both are rookies, however, and will need to learn a lot, and fast, to start Week 1. Veteran Stacy McGee, coming off groin surgery, might be able to hold off the rookies if he is fully healthy. When a nose is on the field, expect Allen and Ioannidis to line up at the defensive tackle spots. If he's not playing nose, Payne will rotate in at tackle as well. Another veteran, Ziggy Hood, will provide depth at tackle, if he makes the team.
In the nickel package, which the team deploys more than half of their snaps, expect to see a healthy rotation of Allen, Payne, Ioannidis and Lanier. Keeping those players fresh should allow interior pocket pressure, and that could be great news for Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith.
With Payne and Allen the headliners, and Ioannidis and Lanier valuable, and Settle capable at the nose, the Redskins have five D-line roster spots about locked down.
Last year, the team kept six defensive linemen coming out of camp. If McGee is healthy, that spot will be his. If he's not, Hood likely hangs on. It's also possible the team keeps seven D-linemen, particularly as they monitor McGee's groin injury.
The good news is last year, due to injuries and the talent on the roster, a number of players were forced into spots they didn't truly belong. Hood doesn't have the true size to play nose, but he was forced into the position. Lanier is best served as an interior pass rusher, but was forced to be a run stuffer.
With more investments on the line, and better luck in the training room, the 2018 Redskins D-line should have more people playing where they belong. And that could go a long way.
MORE REDSKINS NEWS:
- Need to Know: Best RBs Redskins will face in 2018
- How's the Knee?: Trent Williams looks beyond ready
- Ranking the Redskins Roster: Revealing 53-31
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