Washington’s Defensive Isn’t Enough to Offset Offense’s Problems
Mark R. Bacon—Main Event Sports DC
The 2019 NFL season is just weeks away, so here’s a few predictions for the Washington Redskins, who finished 7-9 and third in the NFC East last year. Granted, it’s based on being up there for a lot of Training Camp, and absorbing DC Media’s obsession with the Skins’ Legacy, seeing two pre-season games, and well, experience as a long suffering fan.
Dwayne Haskins takes over (sooner or later) and struggles. Almost any rookie QB would, and especially one who started just 14 collegiate games. Washington’s system is crafty and well-coached, with its bevy of intertwined receiver releases and multi-option route combinations. But executing that requires a knack for detail that a QB can’t develop overnight. Haskins does have a laser focused, rocket of a pass, even under pressure, which was both evident versus the Bengals, and nice to see.
O-line problems sink the offense. Even as Haskins’s field vision improves, his performance wavers behind unsteady pass protection, particularly on his left. Tackle Trent Williams’s holdout hurts, as late veteran signing Donald Penn looks too old and 2018 third-rounder Geron Christian looks too young and has lost a lot of experience due to injury last season. Instability here ultimately compromises the efforts to save ex-Giant Ereck Flowers, who, though unusually long-bodied for the position, had shown hopeful signs at his new guard spot under O-line professor Bill Callahan.
Balls go inside. With one of football’s worst perimeter receiving corps, the passing game continues to operate mainly over the middle, relying on receiving back Chris Thompson (an ace option- and swing-route runner), swift tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, and intriguing new starting slot receiver Trey Quinn.
Middle-field defensive concerns persist. Mega free agent signing Landon Collins is a high-caliber, ascending fifth-year pro who consistently locates the ball and contends with quality backs and tight ends in coverage. However, his versatility goes only so far in a Redskins scheme that’s light on blitzing and built on traditional man and zone coverages. Collins isn’t enough to offset the problems created by the team’s unpolished linebackers and free safeties. Opponents continue to attack this D down the middle.
The D-line saves the day. First-round rookie Montez Sweat provides flashes of the edge-rushing oomph that has long been missing opposite unheralded star Ryan Kerrigan. Inside, young recent first-round Alabama products Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne form one of football’s best interior tandems. Both play with strength, effort and advanced technique. They’re a testament to stud D-line coach Jim Tomsula, who also gets great mileage out of little-known young backups Tim Settle and Caleb Brantley. To highlight this strength, Washington frequently aligns the D-tackles over opposing guards, creating what football wonks call an “even” front—an uncommon look in the NFL and one that makes it difficult for an offense to execute outside zone and pull-blocking runs.
BOTTOM LINE: It’s a better defense than what meets the eye, but that’s not nearly enough to overcome the offense’s inevitable struggles through the air. I predict a 5-11 season… Gruden fired at season’s end.