After the 2010 season saw the Washington Redskins struggle mightily as they installed the 3-4 defense – ranking 31st out of 32 teams – the mission of the 2011 offseason centered largely around acquiring pieces to upgrade Jim Haslett’s unit.
Along the front seven, only linebackers London Fletcher and Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker remain from last year’s starting lineup. The team drafted outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and signed free agent nose tackle Barry Cofield and defensive end Stephen Bowen. And three games ago, second-year pro Perry Riley – drafted in the fourth round in 2010 – took over as inside linebacker next to Fletcher. The Redskins also drafted defensive end Jarvis Jenkins in the second round, but he has spent the year rehabbing from a season-ending knee injury and surgery. Washington also drafted nose tackle Chris Neild in the seventh round, and he is used to spell Cofield throughout games.
Through 11 games, the Redskins rank 11th in total defense, limiting opponents to 330.6 yards per game. Haslett always harps more on limiting points more than yards, and in that category, Washington ranks 10th in the NFL, holding foes to 20.2 points per game
Surveying the revamped front and statistical improvements, Haslett likes what he sees.
“I think the group is really an outstanding group,” Haslett says. “I think it’s going to get better the more they play together because [Cofield], every day he’s out there, he gets better. [Bowen is] the same thing. [Carriker], you can ask Adam, gauge how he played last year and what he did this year. You get another young guy coming back next year [in Jenkins], and Chris Neild coming back. With [Kerrigan], Orakpo, [Fletcher] and [Riley] – it’s a pretty good group.”
Of that group, only Fletcher and Carriker are playing in the final year of their contracts. Fletcher is on record saying he wants to return to the Redskins, and at 36, he remains productive, ranking second in the NFL with 107 tackles. Carriker feels like he has found a good fit in Washington as well and already this season has posted a career-high five sacks.
In the last three weeks, the Redskins’ front seven has shown improvement against the run. After getting gashed for just more than 151 yards a game in four straight losses, Washington has done a better job of containing opposing backs in the last three games, limiting them to 105.3 yards per game.
“Like last week, watching the film, I was proud of the guys because you watch 67 snaps, 57, 58 of the snaps, there are eight guys in the frame -- guys diving on piles,” Haslett said. “It’s not exactly perfect in everything that we did, but it was unbelievable effort. If you get that effort every time and you do the right things, you’re going to have a heck of a football team.”