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Need to Know: What is the Redskins’ plan to improve the defense?

Jul 27, 2015, 5:12 AM EDT


Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 27, 3 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.

Question of the day

A few days a week I’ll give an in-depth answer to a question submitted by a fan on my Twitter feed, via the Real Redskins Facebook page, or in the comments section here. On Twitter address the questions to me at @Rich_TandlerCSN with the #NTK hashtag. There will be a comment thread set up on the Facebook page and if you’re asking your question here, put “for NTK” at the start of the comment.

I’ll also take your Need to Know questions via email. Hit me up with “NTK” in the subject line. Just keep them relatively brief, please. 

Today’s question is from Twitter, from a Redskins fan you may have heard of:

(Thanks to Dale for taking a minute to kick in a question for Need to Know about an hour before taking the track at The Brickyard.)

There have been more changes to the defense this year than any in recent memory. There will be at least five starters who are new to the team in NT Terrance Knighton, DE Stephen Paea, CB Chris Culliver, FS Dashon Goldson, and SS Jeron Johnson. There could be a sixth if Preston Smith can earn the starting role over Trent Murphy.

In addition, the coaches are almost all new. Kirk Olivadotti remains with the linebackers but Joe Barry is the new coordinator, Perry Fewell will coach the secondary and Robb Akey takes over the defensive line.

The changes were needed. We don’t need to rehash the numbers here again as we have been all offseason (108.3 opponent passer rating, 27.7 points/game, etc.). I think we can all agree the defense was bad.

Back to Dale’s question, will the defense be better this year? I think we’ve all learned over the years that different doesn’t necessarily mean better. Year after year, new players and coaches bring hope in the spring and summer but more of the same futility in the fall and winter.

On paper, the plan is to get an improved pass rush (t-21st in NFL) from the line. Outside of Jason Hatcher’s 5.5 sacks last year, the line kicked in just five. They are looking for more out of a (for now) healthy Hatcher, Knighton should be able to get some push up the middle when he’s in there and Paea had six sacks for the Bears last year. And if the line gets better pass rush that should leave spaces for Ryan Kerrigan, Murphy, and Smith to exploit.

It looks like the lion’s share of any improvement in pass defense will have to come from the pass rush. Culliver is a solid upgrade but the rest of the secondary remains suspect.

Knighton will be the huge, active run-stuffing body in the middle that the Redskins have been missing since switching to the 3-4 in 2010. His presence and an attacking one-gap system are set to be the solutions to stopping the run. In terms of raw yardage, Washington was a respectable 12th in the NFL in rushing defense but opponents did not run on them much because the weak pass defense was so inviting.

That’s how the Redskins would like to see it play out. Will it work? Maybe, but see the part above about change not always being for the better.

The challenge for Joe Barry and company will be to get the unit to gel in time for Week 1. The linebackers are the only unit returning intact (or three-quarters of it at least, pending Smith vs. Murphy). The sooner they are communicating and coordinating their stunts and other schemes, the better.

Having all of this come together by Sept. 13 is a big ask. While I think that the new players and coaches represent an upgrade, the improvement may not be immediate.


—It’s been 211 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 48 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 3; Preseason opener @ Browns 17; final cuts 40

  1. troylok - Jul 27, 2015 at 6:32 AM

    That’s solid writing on the part of the players, but what about the coaching? Barry’s scheme is dramatically different from Haslett’s. Although he has been decent at the assistant level, his track record at the defensive coordinator position is less than stellar. How he adapts his game plan to take advantage of the talented players he has and how he covers up the deficiencies of the less talented will be a major part in how successful the defense is this year.

  2. colorofmyskinz - Jul 27, 2015 at 7:48 AM

    No update on KERRIGAN 3 days before training camp is somewhat concerning. But maybe training camp, and or his possible absence would tell the story? I don’t believe all the stories about “on track” with recovery. We heard that for Hatcher last year to make fans feel good with signing a contract and then sending him to surgery. Was supposed to be insignificant procedure and then we saw how insignificant it really was.

    KERRIGAN and Williams are a big concern. Reed is of no concern because we have already learned to adapt to his lack of prescence on the field.

    KERRIGAN and Williams however would be massive detrimental blows.

    • mr.moneylover - Jul 27, 2015 at 11:30 AM

      Ryan Kerrigan said he fine and ready to go but wonder how will the coaching staff will use him on the first day of training camp…they might eaz him back in the same way they will eaz D-hall back into the lineup…they both say they ready but coaches might hold them back to try to keep them from re injuring they self

  3. abanig - Jul 27, 2015 at 9:15 AM

    The plan is to bring more pressure by playing a one gap system and covering better in the secondary. That will improve the defense.

  4. xskulldog - Jul 27, 2015 at 9:45 AM

    Nice Job Rich on the analysis, Yes absolutely the pass rush will be the key success or failure for this unit because it all starts in the trenches.

    The coaches also need to focus on two more areas for the defense to be successful.

    1. The suspect secondary needs to concentrate on TACKLING versus going for the BIG HIT. Too many times in recent years the secondary goes for the highlight reel hit, but the opposing player does not go down and continues to get yards. This cannot continue to happen.

    2. The unit as a whole needs to stop making stupid penalties/mistakes. The coaches need to focus on making players accountable for these types of stupid mistakes because one player’s goof negatively affects the whole team. Again, this cannot continue to happen.

    If the coaches can get the players to focus on improving these two fundamental areas, we should be on the way to turning this unit around.

  5. Matt - Jul 27, 2015 at 1:30 PM

    With Red Bryant on the free agent market, any chatter on the Skins picking him up this week?

    • Rich Tandler - Jul 27, 2015 at 2:25 PM

      Nope, not that I’ve heard. McCloughan not big on 30+ year old free agents so I’d be surprised.

  6. sidepull - Jul 27, 2015 at 4:29 PM

    Having a true NT after al these years is going to help that pass rush. You just cannot dedicate 1 player to push Knighton around. Just watch what a upgrade that is to the whole D. Archives

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