In less than a year, the Redskins completed a stunning turnaround, ascending from a laughingstock in 2014 to a division champion in 2015. But now comes the difficult part: taking that all-important next step and improving from a franchise that was fortunate to get into the playoffs to one that can do some damage once it gets there. And that work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players.
In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the 25 biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.
What is the most important improvement the team needs to make?
Tandler: The Redskins had two obvious weak areas in 2015. One was running the football on offense. That clearly needs to be fixed, especially since there has been plenty of talk about that being the team’s identity since Scot McCloughan became the team’s general manager a year ago.
But I’m going to go to the other side of the ball for my answer to this question. The Redskins need to improve their pass rush. Specifically, they need to get more sacks.
The Redskins got 38 sacks last year. That was tied for 14th in the league, not great, not horrible, just middle of the pack. They were also in the middle of the pack in terms of sack percentage at 6.3 (15th).
The so-so pass rush combined with a secondary that wasn’t very good to begin with and then struggled with injuries during the season made for a poor pass defense. They were 25th in passing yards allowed, 26th in opponent yards per attempt, and 22nd in opponent passer rating.
The reason that improving the pass rush is so important is that the secondary isn’t going to all of a sudden morph into the Legion of Boom. There are a few players who may be long-term contributors, like cornerback Bashaud Breeland and nickel corner/safety Kyshoen Jarrett. But it’s going to be a while before McCloughan can assemble a secondary that is dominant, or even competent.
They have invested some resources in the pass rush and they are perhaps a player or two away from putting consistent fear into the hearts of opposing quarterbacks. If Junior Galette comes back and can be the explosive force he was before his Achilles year (not a given) they should be in good shape on the outside with him, Preston Smith, and Ryan Kerrigan. They need to get a lineman who can get pass pressure opposite Chris Baker (sorry, Jason Hatcher) and some depth. The more the better
El-Bashir: I apologize if this is getting repetitive, but there’s no getting around the need to fix the Redskins’ subpar run game. I’d actually put it first, second and third on my offseason to-do list.
Consider this: Of the NFC playoff teams in ‘15, five boasted strong running games. In fact, Carolina, Seattle, Arizona and Minnesota were ranked in the top eight. The Redskins were the outlier, ranking a distant 20th in rushing yards per game (97.9) and 30th in yards per attempt (3.7).
Sure, it’s great that Kirk Cousins and the passing attack managed to compensate for an inconsistent and largely unproductive ground attack. But do you feel that’s sustainable in the long term? I don’t. To thrive, the Redskins’ offense needs to be balanced.
I’m already on record saying that I’d be okay with GM Scot McCloughan signing a veteran free agent to pair with second-year running back Matt Jones (and, of course, replace Alfred Morris, who is not expected to be re-signed). I know that goes against McCloughan’s build-through-the-draft philosophy, but what are you going to do? Trust a 2016 draft pick and Jones, who had issues with consistency, fumbles and injuries as a rookie, to carry the load next season? Sounds like a risky (at best) plan to me.
Since the last time I wrote on this topic, the Redskins (and 31 other teams) have a new option to consider: Matt Forte, a proven veteran that Chicago doesn't intend to re-sign. Forte is 30 years old and missed three games last season with a knee injury. But he remains a productive back, rushing for 898 yards on 218 carries (4.1 per) and hauling in 44 passes for 389 yards in '15. Against the Redskins in Week 14, he rushed for 45 yards and a score on 10 carries and reeled in one pass for eight yards.
The Redskins could have other options on the open market, as well, such as the Jets' Chris Ivory (146 yards rushing and 50 yards receiving vs. Washington in Week 6), the Bucs' Doug Martin (136 yards rushing and 35 receiving in Week 7) and the Dolphins' Lamar Miller (53 yards rushing and 22 yards receiving in Week 1).
With free agency and the draft still weeks away, McCloughan is keeping his plans close to the vest. But we know this much: repairing the running game will require more than a patchwork solution.
25 Questions series
- Is McCoy the answer at backup QB for the Redskins?
- Should the Redskins try to keep Alfred Morris?
- Should the Redskins cut Andre Roberts?
- Will there be a surprise cap casualty?
- Will DeAngelo Hall return?
- Should the Redskins draft a quarterback?
- Are the Redskins set at outside linebacker?
- Should the Redskins make changes on the offensive line?
- Should Pierre Garçon return?
- What should the Redskins do at tight end?
- Is Matt Jones ready to assume the Redskins' No. 1 running back job?
- Will Kirk Cousins improve in 2016?
- Who will start at inside linebacker?
- Who on defense will take the next step?
- How can the Redskins make it to the Super Bowl?
- Who on offense will take the next step?
- Should DeSean Jackson return?
- How can the Redskins fix the running game?
- What will the depth chart at safety look like in 2016?
- Should they re-sign Darrel Young?
- Today: What is the single most impactful improvement the team can make?
- Tomorrow: Should the Redskins draft a starting running back?