Hog Heaven Previews the Redskins: Part I, Defense

Redskins defenseRedskins Hog Heaven writers Anthony Brown and Greg Trippiedi  preview the Washington Redskins season in three parts. Today, we cover the defense. In Part 2 tomorrow, we tell what to expect from the offense. In Part 2, you get our season prediction.

Anthony Brown: Front office gets it right

The high impact change on the Washington Redskins was in the heads of Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen…and perhaps Daniel Snyder. Before we discuss the 2011 roster and its prospects, we must acknowledge the superior approach the front office is taking to rebuild the team. Our projections for this year would have been much more positive if the franchise leaders made these choices last year.

I like that they acquired more draft picks and used them to upgrade the defensive and offensive fronts. I like that there is some semblance of contract value to player value. Players who over-achieve may not like their contract, but it is the general manager’s job to have the performance to value ratio break the team’s way. I like it that “proven talents” Randy Moss and Tiki Barber are not on the roster. Randy may not have come for any amount of money. Tiki would have come for a bag of donuts and would still have been overpaid.

I like it that the Redskins are tens of millions under the salary cap for a change instead of tens of millions of dead cap money. It’s football. Injuries happen. Astute teams keep cap room for the flexibility to add players without unnatural acts to existing players’ contracts that remain years after said player departs.

We do not know whether this front office is any better at picking talent than their predecessors. That’s what this season is all about, really. But for the first time in the Snyder era, I feel optimistic about the Redskins over the five-year strategic horizon, provided they stick to this approach. Hat tip to Redskins Park. Now for 2011….

Does defense win championships?

Is run the ball–stop the run still the path to glory? Um, probably not. But that’s what the 2011 Redskins are built to do.

Haslett v2.0 paid the transition cost of converting to the 3-4 defensive alignment last year. Now, the carry-over players can react to assignments more than think about them. That advantage cannot be quantified, but I say the defense will move up ten places in NFL rankings for that reason alone.

What gets me amped up is that this front seven is a pass pressure unit, thanks to the rebuilt defensive line. Haslett wants the D-line to penetrate. That is a different approach than with Gregg Williams and Greg Blache who used defensive linemen to tie up blockers. Albert Haynesworth might have been a force with Haslett’s concepts, if he gave it a chance. Barry Cofield has less talent, but more desire to play in this system. The net effect is a plus over Big Al at nose tackle.

DT Stephen Bowen is the litmus test for the scouting department. Everyone saw the Redskins going for free agent Cullen Jenkins. Snyderrato would have gone for “proven talent” Jenkins instead of sleeper Bowen. The team committed themselves to a five-year, $27.5 million deal with Bowen. They are true believers. Picking Bowen over Jenkins is the free agent version of drafting Jarvis Jenkins over his high profile teammate Da’Quan Bowers. I hope that means the front office is reading scouting reports to build the roster rather than news clippings.

Jenkins’ preseason performance reminded everyone of Brian Orakpo in his rookie year. His healthy return in 2012 is something to look forward to.

Opposing teams are going to target linebackers Rocky McIntosh and 2011 first-round Draft pick Ryan Kerrigan. Rocky is too tempting a target. Ryan is a rookie on a learning curve. The rookie is a fast learner, they say, who has pass rush skills to offset his inexperience. I see Kerrigan as a young (Houston ILB) Brian Cushing and hope he can mimic Cushing’s rookie season.

McIntosh is a tackling machine on a mission. Haslett moves him to inside linebacker, a change that might mitigate Rocky’s liability in coverage. The Redskins gave him a one-year contract. That is one more year to prove to Washington, or anyone, that he deserves the multi-year, multi-million deal he really wants.

LaRon Landry’s absence from the secondary…I think it will be a long one…will stress the secondary and linebacker coverage. I am curious to see if the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys test them with four wide and two wide-two tight end offensive formations.

Greg Trippiedi: Defense could be tough against the run

I think the best way to sum up the 2011 Redskins offseason with regards to defense is “better late than never.”  This is a better unit than last year, particularly in the front seven where Andre Carter/Lorenzo Alexander have been upgraded into Kerrigan, and Cofield and Bowen have been brought in to make the defensive line something of a strength.  It’s hard to understate the unfortunate nature of the Jarvis Jenkins injury because it really tests the Redskins depth (primary backups: Kedric Golston, Chris Neild, Darrion Scott), and does so at the expense of a promising rookie season.  But the news that Jenkins should be back next year with no complications makes it easier to swallow.  It could be worse: we could all be Giants fans. But the improvements are just too late to be that worthwhile.

The Redskins look like they could be one of the toughest defenses in football against the run this year.  It looks like they will not need to bring a safety into the box to stop the run.  And it sure looked like in the preseason that Jim Haslett was playing significantly less cover three in the secondary because he didn’t feel the need to have a safety in the box to help a leaky line.  Pending some positive development at the ILB level: we didn’t see much of 36 year old London  Fletcher in the preseason, and we saw plenty of poor play from Rocky McIntosh, this could be one of the better front sevens in football. From the OLB level straight through the DEs and Cofield, the Redskins have the right guys.

I need to point out that one of the takeaways of the preseason is just how much more dominant Brian Orakpo looked to be compared to last year.  Orakpo has been to pro bowls in both of his seasons in the pros, but has been there mostly for his sack production, not his complete game.  If the preseason is any indication, Orakpo is the complete player the Redskins thought they had when they drafted him. He could have a monster defensive year for a team that absolutely needs it.

It’s the secondary that looked lost out there in the preseason, and given its performance over the last two seasons, I think we all have tempered expectations for this group.  Simple improvement over last year’s debacle would be nice, though it’s hard to see where the improvement will come from.  From 2004-2007, the Redskins spent three first round picks in the defensive secondary.  For the first time

since 2004, not one of those picks will take the field on Opening Day for the Redskins.  Keep this in mind: for most teams, 2004-2007 draft picks make up the very core of their teams.  The Redskins will only take Rocky McIntosh and Chris Cooley onto the field with them from any of those years.  The secondary hasn’t struggled for lack of investment, but for lack of development.

Anthony Brown

About Anthony Brown

Lifelong Redskins fan and blogger about football and life since 2004. Joined MVN's Hog Heaven blog in 2005 and then moved Redskins Hog Heaven to Bolguin Network. Believes that the course of a season is pre-ordained by management decisions made during the offseason. Can occasionally be found on the This Given Sunday blog and he does guest posts.