Some interesting defensive numbers from this past season. And, really, it’s just another way to say the Washington Redskins weren’t very good. But what I found is that they were actually better when they were placed in the toughest circumstances – and much worse when given a lot of field to defend. Who’s to blame? It's a long list.
Here are the numbers, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information:
The Redskins’ defense faced only 77 drives that started at the opponents’ 20 or worse – that’s the second fewest in the NFL (Pittsburgh faced 73). It’s a testament to bad special teams and turnovers by the offense. However, it’s not as if the Redskins did a good job in this area, allowing points on 28.6 percent of these drives, which ranked 25th in the NFL.
They allowed touchdowns on 20.8 percent of these drives, putting them 26th in the NFL.
By comparison, Pittsburgh allowed a touchdown on only 9.6 percent of these drives (third in the NFL) and points of any kind 16.4 percent of the time (second in the NFL).
Over the final eight games Washington ranked 20th in this area by allowing points on 27.0 percent of the drives that started at the 20 or worse.
The Redskins faced more drives that started in their territory than any other team (38 – five more than anyone else). This is what shocked me: They ranked 13th in the NFL by allowing points on 63.2 percent of such drives. And on drives that started inside their own 20 (they faced nine, second most in the NFL), the Redskins allowed touchdowns 77.8 percent of the time – 11th best in the NFL.
What does this mean? The Redskins’ defense can’t blame all of their woes on field position because they were one of the worst teams in the league on longer drives. (That was the case in 2012 as well when they ranked 31st in points allowed on drives that began at least 80 yards from the end zone.) But they actually did a good job on drives that began in their own territory. (Again, a continuation of 2012 when they ranked 11th in this area.) That’s not what I expected to find when I looked at the numbers. Take it for what it’s worth. To his credit, Jim Haslett did not use field position as an excuse for the defensive struggles. And, yes, they could have done better here but they were one of the NFL's stronger units in this area. Where does coaching have the most impact? What I need to find out: What did they do differently in their own territory?
The more deficiencies you have, the more they’re exposed on longer drives, like an inconsistent pass rush and missed tackles and poor zone pass coverage. Yes, if you say coaching was one of those then put that on the list, too. Maybe that’s why they allowed 58 pass plays for at least 20 yards (eighth most in the NFL). More room to defend; more big plays have a chance to occur.
They made it too easy to score at times. Of the 18 scoring drives that went at least 80 yards, 10 took fewer than 10 plays and a third needed just six plays or less.
But it’s also why I wonder: If they had faced more drives that started at their own 20 or worse, where would they have ranked in total yards?
They allowed 5.50 yards per play on drives that began in their own territory; 5.87 when teams needed to drive 80 or more yards.
Yes, the defense ranked 18th in total yards per game, but the Redskins were 27th in yards per play (5.71). They were better over the final eight games, jumping to 19th (5.41). I don’t know if the Redskins’ defense improved as much as it faced less high-powered offenses. In the last half of the season, Washington played one top-10 offense compared to six in the first eight games. Makes a huge difference and it explains the bump in numbers. But against mediocre offenses – Washington faced four offenses ranked 21st or worse in the final eight weeks – the Redskins still were below average.
What does this mean? They have a lot of work ahead, both as players and as a coaching staff. This defense will need more than just a staff with more autonomy to become a solid group. It will take improved coaching, a revamped secondary, better linebacker play and a stronger rush from the down linemen. That pretty much means anyone associated with the defense must get better. Money won’t solve all of their problems.