Jim Haslett: yardage rankings are ‘kind of for losers’


(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

When fans and media members criticize Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, they often turn to the NFL rankings of his defenses, as judged by yards allowed, which is the NFL’s default ranking system. Haslett, though, does not think that’s the best measuring stick. (And I think plenty of statheads would agree.)

Here is the coach on ESPN 980′s “Inside the Locker Room”  on Thursday afternoon, when asked what needs to change for his defense moving forward.

“The year before, we were third in the league in turnovers,” Haslett said. “And the offense was number one in the league; they only turned it over 14 times. So if that ratio comes up, you’re gonna win a lot of games. Yardage? People look at that. That’s kind of for losers. Because the teams that are winning and got big leads, you give up yards at the end of the game. Offenses that aren’t very good, they get yardage at the end of the game, so they can rank high. That’s not the object. The object is to get the ball back for the offense, let them score points. Offense, [the object] is obviously to control the ball, keep us off the field, don’t turn the ball over so we’re on the field 15, 18 possessions like the last game of the year, and then win games.

“And that’s what we did down the stretch the year before, that’s why we won the seven in a row and all that stuff,” Haslett continued. “So obviously that’s our goal: we want to create more turnovers again, get back to that. The year before that [2011], I think we were third in the league in sacks. [Actually tied for 10th -ed.] I don’t think we’ve done as good a job the last two years in sack total; I think we were the second-most in Redskins history two years ago. So those two things are things that we want to do better on defense: we want to get some more turnovers obviously, and then we want to get sacks, which creates turnovers obviously.”

Now, this “yardage totals are for losers” stuff is reminiscent of defensive backs coach Raheem Morris’s declaration last month that “stats are always for losers.” And maybe they are.  Just for fun, though, the top five teams in the NFL’s yardage-allowed category in 2013 — Seattle, Carolina, Cincinnati, New Orleans and San Francisco — all made the playoffs. No. 6 was the Cardinals, who finished 10-6. No. 1 was the world champion Seahawks, and by a wide margin.

In 2012, five of the NFL’s top seven defenses — as ranked by yards allowed — made the playoffs. The Super Bowl champion Ravens ranked just 17th, but the runner-up 49ers were third.

(You could, of course, counter this by pointing out that in 2011, the Patriots and Giants made the Super Bowl despite both ranking in the bottom six in defense. This past year, the Broncos were 19th and the Patriots 26th.)

In any case, Haslett was also asked what it’s like to remain with a team when so many of his fellow coaches were let go.

“Well, it’s hard, because you feel for the guys that were let go, not retained,” he said. “Obviously you want them all to get jobs and you try to help them whatever way you can. I think four guys didn’t to this point, but you know what kind of coaches they are. There’s good football coaches on this staff. It’s unfortunate, the things that happened. The thing that you appreciate as a coach is — and the fans don’t really sometimes understand it — but we went out the year before with $100 million on the salary cap, playing against everybody else that had $122 million on the salary cap, and [won] the division for the first time in 14 years. If nothing else, I think that’s something when you leave here you can be proud of.

“Now, the way it ended [in 2013]  was an ugly situation. Never been through anything like that in my life, coaching, playing. Don’t want to ever go through anything like that again. I said before, if something happened and I wouldn’t have been retained, I would have been proud of the way we had all the turnovers the year before, the way the offense didn’t turn the ball over, that we got into the playoffs and really should have won the first playoff game. And I think we would have beat Atlanta and had a chance to play San Francisco for the whole thing. So it’s unfortunate what happened last year, but it’s part of the deal.”

Doc Walker also asked Haslett if the 2014 defense will more closely reflect his personality.

“I think you’ll see more of what we want to do from a standpoint of coverage,” he said. “I think the big thing in the NFL is you’ve got to get these guys doing the same thing over and over and over and over, where they get good at what they do. And we kind of bounced around early in the season. We had a heck of a preseason. We were ranked like No. 2 in defense, and we thought we were good, but that’s preseason. Four-and-oh, and you got your hopes up a little bit, but it really wasn’t what we wanted to do. And I think you’ll see more of something that we’re gonna be good at.

“Whatever we do, we’re going to be good at it,” Haslett promised. “It doesn’t make a difference what you’re running; you run a four-man line, run a three-man line, it really doesn’t make a difference. You’re in a four-man line 62 percent of the time last year anyways, so it really doesn’t make that much of a difference. But we’re going to be good at what we do, and we’re going to do it over and over and over until we get good at it.”

Dan Steinberg writes about all things DC sports at the DC Sports Bog.
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Dan Steinberg | February 14