Washington Redskins: Quietly Rebuilding the Defense

If the Washington Redskins are going to repeat as NFC East champions, their defense needs to rebound from another shaky season.

This past year, it took a season-ending four-game winning streak for the Washington Redskins to capture the NFC East, albeit with a 9-7 record.

It marked only the second time in the history of the division (excluding the nine-game ’82 strike campaign) that any team in the division failed to win at least 10 games. Of course, the last time was 2011, when the New York Giants won nine regular-season contests and then four postseason tilts on the way to capturing Super Bowl XLVI.

Then again, there was nothing Super bout Washington’s 2015 showing despite the five-game improvement in the win column from the previous year. The team was one-and-out after falling to the Green Bay Packers, 35-18, in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs.

Jay Gruden’s squad gave up an 11-0 second-quarter lead in that contest, outscored 35-7 the rest of the way. Green Bay racked up only 346 total yards (141 on the ground) but keep in mind that 335 of that came in the final three quarters.

So when it was all and done in 2015, the Redskins struggled across the board under the guidance of new defensive coordinator Joe Barry. Only four teams in the NFL allowed more total yards per game while Washington ranked 26th against the run and 25th vs. the pass.

Not the kind of balance you’re looking for. Barry’s unit allowed 40 offensive touchdowns, including 30 through the air. This despite the fact that the club forced a very-respectable 27 turnovers.

So the housecleaning began. This offseason, the team cut ties with defensive end Jason Hatcher and safeties Dashon Goldson and Jeron Johnson. They seemingly made no effort to bring back inside linebacker Keenan Robinson (New York Giants) and defensive linemen Terrance Knighton and Frank Kearse – both who signed with the New England Patriots.

On Wednesday, Mike Jones of the Washington Post reported (via sources) that the Redskins had signed former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Greg Toler to a one-year contract. He joins a cast of newcomers that includes defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Kendall Reyes, strong safety David Bruton and inside linebacker Terence Garvin.

Nov 29, 2015; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (91) celebrates with Redskins linebacker Houston Bates (96) and Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland (26) after a sack against the New York Giants in the third quarter at FedEx Field. The Redskins won 20-14. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Toler joins a group of cornerbacks that includes Bashaud Breeland (2), Chris Culliver (0) and Will Blackmon (2), who combined for only four of the team’s 11 interceptions.

Of course, a more consistent pass rush would help the cause. Washington totaled 38 sacks this past season, nearly half by outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan (9.5) and rookie Preston Smith (8).

Make no mistake. There are some good pieces here and the free-agent pickups will certainly help. Now general manager Scot McCloughan must supplement the newcomers and incumbents with some impact player via the draft.

Too often the emphasis on a football team is the quarterback. And many times that’s certainly understandable. But if Kirk Cousins and his club are to repeat in the NFC East, the ‘Skins must put it all together on the defensive side of the football. It’s been a long time coming.