While the Redskins offense faces its own issues in order to find success, the biggest issue is what moves have been made/will be made on defense to slow down the high powered offenses of the Cowboys and Giants; who are arguably the frontrunners to win the division next season (strictly based off of their successes of last season).
Last season for the Cowboys, we saw two rookies emerge as leaders, who led Dallas to having one of the most dominant rushing attacks in the NFL. First, quarterback, Dak Prescott, ran away with the starting job over NFL veteran Tony Romo, who had been the starter since 2006, but suffered a preseason back injury in 2016; Prescott went on to be NFL Rookie of the Year. Second, Cowboys fourth overall pick running back, Ezekiel Elliot, rose to become the most dominant running back in the league during this 2016 season. Elliot finished his rookie campaign as the NFL’s top leading rusher finishing with 1,631 yards, and 15 touchdowns. Behind what is said to be the best offensive line in the league, these two players–and a top 10 wide receiver, Dez Bryant–will be essential factors towards the Cowboys having another successful season.
As for the Giants, who the Redskins split wins with in division play last season, have made some promising additions to their already dynamic offense. Wide receiver, Brandon Marshall, is an offensive weapon that will be placed into a receiving corps that already features a top wideout int Odell Beckham Jr. Last season, Marshall’s play diminished, due to inconsistency at the quarterback position, but, he is no stranger to having high caliber seasons. Out of his 11 seasons in the league, 8 of those have produced 1,000 yards receiving. As far as potential, with an experienced quarterback like Eli Manning, the sky’s the limit for Marshall; who is playing for his third NFL team. When it comes to Odell Beckham Jr., his first three years in the league have been exceptional to say the least. He’s broken countless records, and has received numerous accolades including NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year the season before. While the Giants running game doesn’t play a huge role in their offense, it’s safe to say that their passing game can lead them to being serious contenders for the NFC East crown.
The Redskins defensive unit last year was extremely underwhelming, to say the least. The defensive line failed at the point of attack, with a lack of pass rush. Linebackers lacked physicality in the trenches, and defensive backs failed to cover down receivers; especially during those crucial, game deciding moments.
Let’s take a moment to analyze how Washington has addressed holes in every position group on that defense.
Defensive Line/Outside Linebackers
The key addition to the defensive line was first round draft pick, Johnathan Allen, from Alabama. A “hometown hero” in the eyes of many, Allen possesses an unfathomable combination of athleticism and physical prowess, in which the defense lacked last season. Within a 3-4 scheme, Allen will be tasked with taking on a numerous double teams; something that he’s comfortable doing through his tenure at Alabama. With the exception of Allen, there are still some holes on that defensive line. One player that brings experience to that defensive line is Ziggy Hood. Hood will serve as a great compliment to Allen once fatigue kicks in.
Also, somewhere down the line, Washington is looking for their 2016, fifth round draft pick, Matt Ioannidis, to produce within the rotation. One of the best parts about the 3-4 scheme is the versatility amongst players from being able to stand up and pass rush, to being able to put a hand in the dirt and get to the quarterback as well. So, the farther you move outside, the more versatile weapons to choose from.
Ryan Kerrigan’s role on the defense is locked, but to compliment him, Junior Galette will look to finally be put in the mix after suffering two different achilles tears in his first two years here in Washington.
Lastly, Preston Smith is another individual who the defense needs to rely more heavily on, in order to be successful this season. After being a 16 game starter last season, Smith’s production needs increase if he wants to distinguish himself as a viable starter in the NFL.
Heading into next season it seems as though the linebacking corps will be headed led by Will Compton at the mike position. Over the past few seasons, Compton has really been able to come into his own amongst a struggling defense. To complement Compton at mike, Washington returns Mason Foster who brings a good amount of experience. However, questions on how offseason addition, Zach Brown (The NFL’s second leading tacklet) will fit into the mix. Adding Brown breeds competition, as well as adds rotational depth. This way, Washington can feel confident in every individual that sees the field this season at ILB.
It’s easy to say that Washington’s secondary was by far the weakest link within their struggling defense last season. Looking forward, it’s easy to see that the individual that brings charisma and production to that unit is 2015 free agent addition, Josh Norman. Norman leads the extremely youthful secondary and, plays with a fire and tenacity that is arguably unmatched by any player in the league. One thing Washington will look for him to do this year is follow the oppositions number one receiver, rather than staying on one side of the field.
Opposite of him, cornerback, Breshaud Breeland struggled immensely last season; However, as Breeland is great in open field situations rather than down the field covers. Washington will look to keep him in as much as possible this season.
Kendall Fuller, who struggled with injury last season, will finally be 100 percent; however, maturity will be the deciding factor in his success.
The biggest problem plaguing Washington’s defense is their secondary. Father time taken it’s toll on DeAngelo Hall. Hall is coming off a knee injury that sidelined him for the whole sesaon. In efforts to replace Hall, Washington added safety, DJ Swearinger, this past offseason. Swearinger, who is a seasoned vet, will look to make an immediate impact within the defense as Hall’s career comes to an end.
Lastly, rounding out the secondary unit is hybrid, Su’a Cravens. During his rookie campaign, Cravens received an ample amount of playing time at both positions, linebacker and safety; was officially listed at linebacker. Coming into his own, Cravens who will be listed as officially a safety this season being able to play both positions delivers physicality in the box while also being able to cover receivers down field. The amount of responsibility placed on his shoulders allows him to develop and mature at a much faster rate than other rookies.
Will Washington be contenders next season?
Washington can be contenders but it must start on the defensive side of the ball. With a pretty tough schedule this season, my prediction is that they will struggle to find their identities early, but will eventually be able to come together as one solid unit.
ESPN, The Washington Redskins, and Jordan Miles contributed to the article.