The 2017 season for the Washington Redskins was one full of ups and downs. The team’s inconsistent preseason on both sides of the ball left fans unsure of what to expect going into the season. With the questions surrounding a revamped defense that had been poor the year before, many expected an average season at best. The Redskins came out of the gates strong, but ultimately could not overcome the number of injuries that occurred, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
The Redskins defense was made up of many new faces brought in by free agency and through the draft. After the abysmal outings that the defense had in 2016, it seemed that there was nowhere to go but up in the following season. And on cue, new players emerged at all levels of the defense. Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis both shined on the defensive line before injuries hampered their season. At the LB level, Zach Brown was clearly a standout. In the defensive backfield, DJ Swearinger emerged as a vocal leader and trendsetter, while Kendall Fuller developed into one the Redskins’ best defensive backs.
The coaching of Jim Tomsula and Greg Manusky as the D-Line coach and defensive coordinator respectively has also given the Skins defense a boost from the past season. Although the Redskins defense has shown improvement from the previous year, the Redskins can look to free agency to add the depth necessary to become true contenders in the daunting NFC conference.
As previously mentioned, Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis are two young studs that have emerged on the defensive line. Be that as it may, this position will be the biggest need for the defense going into the 2018 season. Washington’s depth was truly tested in the position as injuries began to pile up throughout the season. With our starters all healthy, this front was top 10 in run defense. Allen and Ioannidis were both top 10 in the NFL in pressures for interior lineman before their injuries.
Jonathan Allen’s season ended in week 6 when he suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot. Although Ioannidis was able to return this season with a broken hand, he was not nearly as effective after the injury. Down the stretch of the season against teams like the Vikings and Saints, that lack of depth was truly exposed when these teams were able to run the ball at will.
While backups like Anthony Lanier and Terrell McClain filled in nicely when rushing the passer, the defense’s inability to stop the run ultimately resulted in the Redskins missing the playoffs for a second straight year. Although the defensive front started strong, the defense finished dead last in the NFL in stopping the run. For that reason, Washington’s goal this offseason should be to bring in multiple hard-nosed, interior defensive linemen through the draft and free agency to help anchor their base 3-4 defense. Some potential options in free agency include Sheldon Richardson (Seahawks), Star Lotulelei (Panthers), and Sharrif Floyd (Vikings). All three of these players are tough interior linemen who are in their mid to late 20’s. Although they may have played in 4-3 based defenses in the past, all three of these options will make Redskins much more formidable up front.
The effect of a good defensive line performance was truly highlighted in games versus the Raiders and Seahawks. In these games, the Skins were not only able to stop the run, but were also able to generate a consistent pass rush with their front 4. This takes pressure from the other levels of the defense and enables 7 men to drop in coverage, which makes life tough for any QB. The success of any good defense can be mainly attributed to solid play from the defensive line.
Inside linebacker has been a promising position for the Redskins, mainly due to the exceptional play of Zach Brown. Brown’s ability to not only run sideline to sideline, but to also shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield, helped him to be one of the top tacklers in the NFL this season with 127 stops. Mason Foster was the LB beside Brown before suffering a shoulder injury that ultimately ended his season. At 6’1” 250, Foster has the size to stop the run, while maintaining the athletic ability to make plays in the passing game.
While both linebackers were unable to finish the season, players like Martrell Spaight, Zach Vigil, and Will Compton, stepped up and played well in the absence of the starters. Because of that, Washington should work to re-sign both starters and Compton to keep this core of solid LB’s together. This group will benefit from another year in the defense and an improved D-line will help to keep these players free to make plays in the run game.
The Redskins saw consistent production from the outside linebacker position through the 2017 season. Led by iron man Ryan Kerrigan, who led the team with 11 sacks, the Skins’ outside linebackers did well to provide a pass rush. They also did well in setting an edge and making plays in the run game. Preston Smith definitely has shown growth at this position with a solid 8 sack season. Although 2nd round draft pick Ryan Anderson didn’t make a big impact, his physicality at the point of attack is definitely worth noting.
Going into the 2018 season, resigning Trent Murphy will be beneficial. Although he will be coming back from a season-ending knee injury, Murphy showed his pass rush ability when he recorded 9 sacks in 2016. With Junior Gallete testing the free agency market, it would be in our best interest to do the same. Bringing in another affordable veteran speed rusher like Kony Ealy (Jets) or Shaquil Barrett (Broncos) will take some of the pressure off of Kerrigan and Smith, as Murphy and Anderson work to solidify themselves as consistent pass rushers.
The defensive backfield is definitely the most well-rounded group on the defense going into next season. The addition of DB coach Torrian Gray has helped to sure up this group. The mixture of young players along with veterans played well through the season. Because of this, there is much reason to expect even better outings in 2018.
The emergence of this group led to the Redskins going from 25th in passing defense in 2016, to 9th in the NFL this past season. DJ Swearinger was definitely a leader and playmaker at safety with 4 interceptions, but one player that really stood out at the position was Montae Nicholson. Nicholson showed that when healthy, he has the range and athletic ability to potentially be the safety that the Redskins have been looking for since the death of Sean Taylor. The addition of Sua Cravens, who was on IR for the entire year, will give the Skins solid depth at the safety position. This will give Manusky the flexibility to scheme up multiple different looks and coverages.
At the nickel position, Kendall Fuller was not only the best DB for the Redskins this past year, but really the best playmaker on the entire defense. His vast improvement from 2016 gives Redskins fans reason to believe that he will be a staple at the coveted nickel position for years to come. He finished the year with 4 interceptions, but also made countless physical plays when defending screens and short passes. Josh Norman, currently the highest paid corner in the league, will need to be better in the upcoming season. He’s expected to shut down one side of the field, but was unable to do so consistently this past year. Although he did make plays in the pass and run game, the Redskins will need him to be more of a game changer to warrant the money that he is getting.
At the other corner, Breshaud Breeland will be testing the free agent market. Breeland has been up and down in coverage in his years in Washington, but his physicality at the corner position flashes game in and game out. If the Redskins do not resign him, Fabian Moreau and Quinton Dunbar are solid young players that are capable of filling his shoes. Picking up a veteran like Marcus Sherels (Vikings) will solidify the corner position. This will also address the Redskins’ need for a return man, as Jamison Crowder struggled mightily last season with 5 fumbles.
It is clear to see that the 2018 season looks to be a promising one for the Washington Redskins defense. There is young talent at all levels, along with a good mixture of playmaking veterans. If Washington is able to build on the improvements they’ve made in 2017 by adding talented free agents, then we can expect to see a potentially top 10 defense next year. If the offense remains consistent, it will be up to the defense to get the Redskins over the hump and become a true contender in the NFC.