Yesterday we took one final look at the Redskins’ offense, and now for the defense and the unit’s needs going forward.
A year after owning the 31st-ranked defense in the league, the Redskins made strides after an offseason dedicated to upgrading the personnel. Washington in 2010 gave up 23.6 points (21st) and 389.3 yards per game. But in 2011, they improved to 13th in the league in total defense (339.8 yards allowed) and got slightly better in the scoring department, giving up an average of 22.9 points per game.
The Redskins’ numbers would have been even better had it not been for a late-season fizzle, which saw them give up 30 or more points in four of their past five games.
But defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s group did do a better job of getting to the quarterback. A year after mustering only 29 sacks all season, the Redskins generated 41 sacks in 2011 thanks to an upgraded front, which featured rookie outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, veteran defensive linemen Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield and an improved Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker.
Takeaways ranked among the unit’s deficiencies, however. Washington recorded just 21 — third-fewest in the NFL — with 13 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries.
The defense could have had a greater impact had it not been for the injury-plagued seasons by safeties LaRon Landry and Oshiomogho Atogwe. And because of that, and the low interception total, the secondary could see changes this offseason.
Here are five questions facing the Redskins’ defense:
1. Should they/will they re-sign Landry? When healthy, Landry ranks among the most impactful defensive players in the league. In the first half of the 2010 season, he flew around, made plays all over the field and was in the running for defensive player of the year. But a strained left Achilles’ tendon forced him out of the final seven games of the season. Landry opted for alternative medicine instead of surgery, and by Week 9 of the 2011 season, the Achilles’ started acting up again, and Landry ended the year on Injured Reserve and in need of surgery. As of Jan. 2, Landry had yet to have that surgery, and he faces an uncertain future. The Redskins, or any other team, would hesitate to give the five-year veteran a big contract, so Landry likely will have to settle for a one-year deal and prove that he can return to his dominant form, and then go for the payday next offseason. The Redskins like fifth-rounder DeJon Gomes (who can play both strong and free safety), and veteran Reed Doughty is a steady, reliable veteran, but neither are the talent that a healthy Landry is. Do the Redskins roll the dice on Landry, or do they look for another strong safety in free agency or the draft?
2. Does Atogwe return? Signed last spring to join Landry in creating a Troy Polamalu-Ryan Clark type duo, Atogwe never lived up to expectations in 2011 because of a variety of injuries that hampered him all year. Gomes ended up replacing him in the starting lineup, and down the stretch of the season, Atogwe would come off the bench. He ended up playing better as he started to heal up while handling a limited workload. Atogwe will carry a cap figure of roughly $4 million next season, and the Redskins must decide if they believe he can return to the form that made him a turnover machine, or if the seven-year veteran’s body has begun to fail him.
3. Will they re-sign London Fletcher? Both sides say they want to get a deal done. Fletcher wants to be a part of the rebuild in Washington, and both Shanahan and Haslett have called re-signing the 36-year-old Fletcher a priority. But will the two sides be able to agree on a dollar amount that suits them both? The Redskins likely will look to work out a front-loaded deal, so they’re not stuck with a bad contract as Fletcher ages (if he ever does). Washington could face some competition in trying to sign the league’s leading tackler, however.
4. Will they seek a new nickelback? The Redskins opened the season with Kevin Barnes in that role, but started giving Byron Westbrook playing time late. Both players struggled with consistency. Barnes is entering the final year of his contract, and Westbrook was playing on a one-year deal. Washington’s secondary needs an upgrade, but it’s unlikely that either DeAngelo Hall or Josh Wilson (who came on strong in the second half of the season) departs. So it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Washington bring in another corner at this position.
5. Which of their other free agents do they re-sign? In addition to Landry and Fletcher, the Redskins have six defensive players with expiring contracts. The team will be getting 2011 second-round pick, defensive end Jarvis Jenkins back from season-ending knee injury, and he is expected to help bolster an improved defensive front. But Carriker is coming off of a career year and it would probably be wise to re-sign him. The same can’t be said for Rocky McIntosh, who never was a natural fit as an inside linebacker in the 3-4 and got replaced in the lineup by Perry Riley. Meantimee, fellow backup inside linebacker Keyaron Fox, a strong special teams contributor, also is a free agent.
Defensive players due to become free agents in 2012
ILB London Fletcher
SS LaRon Landry
DE Adam Carriker
DE Kedric Golston
ILB Keyaron Fox
ILB Rocky McIntosh
CB Phillip Buchanon
CB Byron Westbrook