When discussing the Philadelphia Eagles defense a couple weeks ago, Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden pointed to their pass rush. It's not the only element of the Eagles' defense that stands out, but it is a critical one. And it's partly why the Eagles have a shot at beating New England in the Super Bowl.
"They've got three or four pass-rushers off the edge that can beat you," Gruden said, "and they keep them fresh and rotate them in and they're all fresh. They can hit you inside and outside with all the pass-rushers."
It helps provide a look at Washington wants to keep building with its defense. And it's why they'd like to find a way to keep players such as pending free agents Trent Murphy and/or Junior Galette and why they'd like to keep Preston Smith around after next season. And it's why they'd like to add another interior pass-rusher.
If the Redskins select a defensive player with their first pick -- 13th overall -- he had better impact the passing game.
Stopping the run remains of utmost importance. That's been a bigger issue for Washington of late, but more on that in a minute.
The Redskins actually compared favorably to the Eagles in a lot of passing situations. The Eagles ranked third in third in third-down conversions allowed; the Redskins ranked ninth. Washington was seventh in sacks per pass attempt and Philadelphia was 22nd. The Eagles ranked fifth in opposing total QBR; the Redskins were 10th. In fact, Washington was the only team in the top 10 of the last category to finish with a losing record.
But what the Redskins want is a more diverse pass rush with added depth. They started to have one until lineman Jonathan Allen was lost for the season after five games. He and Matt Ioannidis paired well in nickel situations and Allen's presence created opportunities. With Allen on the field in the first five games, Smith recorded 4.5 sacks. In the next six games, Smith didn't have a sack -- though he finished strong with 3.5 over the last five games.
Allen and Ioannidis, paired together, collapsed the pocket. That didn't happen nearly enough after Allen was hurt, and with Ioannidis playing with a broken hand for a long stretch. That's why the Redskins want more depth; maybe Anthony Lanier becomes that guy, but he has to improve by a decent amount against the run.
They need someone who can help in both areas, whether that comes in free agency or the draft. Bennie Logan will be a free agent again; the Redskins had some interest in him last year. He's considered more of a two-down player (which could limit some interest in him). But even someone like Logan could help multiple ways, simply by adding quality depth to the rotation. Several Redskins defenders, after the season, said more reinforcements were needed up front.
Redskins players and coaches point to Eagles tackle Tim Jernigan -- Logan's replacement -- as a reason for the improved interior push. His quickness played well next to Fletcher Cox, providing more of a rush. Jernigan only has 2.5 sacks, but his consistent pressure matters.
They have depth with players such as Vinny Curry, Chris Long, Derek Barnett to help Cox, Jernigan and Brandon Graham. It enables them to apply consistent pressure all game. In fact, they're the only team in the league with seven players recording at least 20 pressures.
The Redskins aren't far off from this scenario. They could use a healthy Allen and another piece. But eventually it'll return to stopping the run as well. That's been the biggest problem area and it's what separates the Redskins' defense from Philadelphia's.
That's been Washington's biggest issue, much more so out of nickel where the Redskins ranked last in yards per carry (6.47) by nearly a half-yard. When Allen was on the field, they allowed 3.7 yards per run out of nickel (when linebackers Mason Foster and Zach Brown were together as well).
More numbers: Washington was 29th in yards per carry; Philadelphia was sixth. The Redskins were 29th in allowing yards before contact; the Eagles were sixth. On first-down runs, the Redskins ranked 24th; the Eagles were fourth. That's why a guy like Logan would make sense, allowing others (Ioannidis) to focus on rushing the passer.
That, in turn, would help the pass rush and keep it fresh. It's important to note: The Redskins finished seventh in the NFL with 42 sacks, but were tied for 21st with only eight in the fourth quarter (out of 160 pass attempts, 15th most).
In the end, it's clear: The Eagles have a complete defense; the Redskins have more work to do to achieve the same.