Washington Redskins: Defensive woes more troubling than anything

LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 23: D.J. Swearinger #36 of the Washington Redskins celebrates after the 31-17 win over the Green Bay Packers at FedExField on September 23, 2018 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 23: D.J. Swearinger #36 of the Washington Redskins celebrates after the 31-17 win over the Green Bay Packers at FedExField on September 23, 2018 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images) /

The Washington Redskins got off to a 6-3 start in large part to a strong defense. That’s changed in recent weeks as the team has been thrown into turmoil.

After a 20-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys at home in Week 7, the Washington Redskins were riding high. They sat atop the NFC East at 4-2 and were trending in the right direction while division rivals Dallas, Philadelphia and the Giants were all heading in the opposite direction.

A big reason for Washington’s transformation was a stingy and opportunistic defense, an efficient quarterback in Alex Smith and the legs of future Hall-of-Fame running back Adrian Peterson.

Now, entering Week 15, the Redskins are 6-7 and are just a game ahead of the last-place Giants in the NFC East. The Cowboys have taken control of the division due to their stingy defense and strong running game. Sound familiar?

There are plenty of reasons Washington is at this point. One of which was the gruesome leg injury suffered by Smith three weeks ago in a close game against Houston. While many complained about Smith’s conservative approach, it was leading this team to wins. And Smith’s leadership is sorely missed.

More from NFL Spin Zone

Another issue is all the injuries across the offensive line and at the skill positions.  Chris Thompson and Jamison Crowder are back now but have missed most of the season, while Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff, left guard Shawn Lauvao, starting receiver Paul Richardson were placed on injured reserve in the weeks following the win against Dallas. Left tackle Trent Williams has missed time, too, while right tackle Morgan Moses is playing through an ankle injury.

But the biggest question is, what happened to the defense?

In the first half of the season, the Redskins were among the top five in run defense and scoring defense. They were sometimes susceptible to the big play in the passing game due to the youth of their backup cornerbacks, but the front seven did an outstanding job of shutting down opposing running games.

In that win over Dallas, Washington held Ezekiel Elliott to just 33 yards on 15 carries. The week before, the Redskins held Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey to just 20 yards. The week after the win over the Cowboys, this group held rookie sensation Saquon Barkley to just 38 yards on 13 attempts. These just happen to be three of the best backs in all of the NFL.

Sitting at 5-2 on the season, the Redskins sent a fourth-round pick to the Green Bay Packers for safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. In what seemed like a good move, adding a Pro Bowl player to an already strong unit, it appeared this defense was poised to finish the season strong.


Now, let’s not confuse the arrival of Clinton-Dix as the reason for Washington’s defensive woes. He’s not the sole reason for its struggles, but you’d be naive not to believe this group has gotten worse since his arrival. In one Barkley run on Sunday, Clinton-Dix took a horrendous angle and the rookie was off to the races. Everyone up front did their job. Clinton-Dix couldn’t finish.

But it goes beyond the fifth-year safety. And head coach Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky can’t blame injuries for the defensive slide. Only starting cornerback Quinton Dunbar has missed significant time. Instead, this group has been plagued by consistency issues all throughout the defense and a lack of communication between the front seven and the secondary.

Safety D.J Swearinger, who is Washington’s best defender this season, goes to the media to call out the coaches after every loss. This has been a theme for Swearinger’s two years in Washington. While Swearinger is having a good season, he’s struggled at times during the team’s four-game slide.

Inside linebackers, Zach Brown and Mason Foster have struggled all season. While Brown is athletic, he often misses assignments and was benched last week. Foster is a smart player, unfortunately, he’s just one of the slower players on the field and opposing running backs and tight ends have feasted on him.

Outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith have had strong seasons. Smith is a free agent at the conclusion at the end of the season and the biggest knock on him is he doesn’t get to the quarterback enough.

The defensive line remains the bright spot on this team. Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis, Daron Payne and Tim Settle have shown fans why there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Washington Redskins despite this late-season slide.

Each NFL team's biggest bust in 2018. dark. Next

Early in the season, it looked like this team was built to compete despite having an offense that was struggling to score at times. That’s no longer the case and as a result of this slide expect several faces to change in 2019. Whether it’s Swearinger, Brown, Foster or Josh Norman talking, this side of the ball doesn’t lack for drama. Unfortunately, positive results don’t come with that drama and it could very well cost people their jobs in the offseason.