The 2016 Washington Redskins defense was nothing short of bad. And that’s probably the single nicest way to describe the Joe Barry-led group. That unit, led by high profile acquisition cornerback Josh Norman, finished 28th in total defense and 19th in scoring defense.
Changes to the unit had to be made, and in some areas the Redskins appear to be deeper. New defensive coordinator Greg Manusky takes over the unit after being promoted from within. At his fourth stop as a coordinator, Manusky’s defenses have ranked 18th overall and 17th in scoring on average. Not exactly the most inspiring numbers of all time, but better than what Barry did.
Manusky does appear to have more talent than Barry ever had. Start Jonathan Allen out of the University of Alabama, taken with the 17th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The consensus All-American slipped because of shoulder tendinitis, right into the Redskins lap; #95 should make an immediate impact of the defensive line and be a force for the next several years.
Add in talented safety D.J. Swearinger, Pro Bowl linebacker Zach Brown, and a potentially healthy Junior Galette, and you have pieces to work with. It is a matter of scheming to their strengths and not shying away from the opponent.
Barry’s biggest fault was playing too careful, but in many ways, he was handcuffed by having to start someone like Will Compton (great player, but not an NFL starter). Manusky does not have that issue. So, his defense, in theory, should be more aggressive.
With the 2017 season a day away, it is fair to ask the question: what should we expect from this unit?
Worst Case Scenario
The doomsday scenario is scary and sadly not far away. Washington was relying on former first-round pick defensive tackle Phil Taylor — a player who had come all the way back from missing consecutive seasons. Taylor gave the Redskins something they sorely lacked last year: a true nose tackle.
And yet, in the first drive of the third pre-season game Taylor went down for the year, thus putting the defensive line in flux again. Starting nose tackle Ziggy Hood is not a great answer. Neither is free agent acquisition Stacey McGee. There is just no way to paint a positive picture here.
Any other major injury to this defense will lead to another disastrous season. Whether it’s Norman, Ryan Kerrigan, or Brown, the defense can ill-afford major injuries. Add Galette’s rust and inability to come back from his Achilles injuries and you have another atrocious defense.
With those injuries, leading to Manusky also being forced to play conservative again, Washington will struggle to a bottom-five finish again. That will again keep this team from the playoffs.
Best Case Scenario
This scenario is always the most fun to write. There are parts to this defense that have not been in the Nation’s Capital in a long time.
Not since the days of Sean Taylor (RIP) have the Redskins had a decent safety patrolling the field. Swearinger offers youth and production after signing a three-year deal in the off-season. According to Pro Football-Focus, Swearinger’s overall grade was 87 last season. To put that into prospective, that ranks in the top 10 for the NFL.
Mason Foster has officially taken over for Compton at the ‘Mike’ position. A year ago, Foster came in with a grade of 86, which ranked 8th in the league. With the addition of Zach Brown, Washington finally has two inside linebackers who are league average or better.
So, what is best case for this team? Top 15 defense in both yards and scoring gets them into the playoffs. Junior Galette stays healthy and teams with Kerrigan for 20+ combined sacks and the defensive pressure leads to turnovers. Norman leads the league in interceptions and heads back to the Pro Bowl after leading the team back to the playoffs.
The talent is there and if they stay healthy there is a chance. It’s just a matter of health.
This defense has the parts to be decent. The issue remains the defensive line and lack of overall depth. If, and this is a big if, Washington’s line can remain healthy than the defense has a chance.
The Redskins were not wise to rely on Taylor, but here we are. With a new and much improved secondary expect more turnovers and blitzes. The results should be an improved defense. H
How much? Time will tell, but this team is better than years past.