A defense ranked 31st in the league in 2010 heads into the season finale this weekend with the NFL’s 13th-best unit, one that allows an average of 336.5 yards per game — a 53-yard improvement over last season. The Redskins have allowed 22.2 points per game (14th in the NFL) this season, also better than 2010, when Washington was ranked No. 21 and allowed 23.6 points an outing.
During the last offseason, the Redskins focused on giving Haslett the parts he needed to properly run his scheme. They chose defensive players with their first two draft picks, and four of their biggest free agent signings were defenders.
While Haslett says the team is no longer trying to force 4-3 pegs into a 3-4 holes, the scheme has been far from perfect. The Redskins produced 27 turnovers in 2010 but only 19 this season; they are ranked No. 24 in the NFL.
There are some major questions the team must address this offseason — none bigger than re-signing linebacker London Fletcher and making a decision on safety LaRon Landry. But coaches like the infusion of youth and believe the defensive unit is pointed in the right direction.
“You watch a couple teams that do run this type of scheme [and] you see they play fast,” Haslett said. They make up for a lot of things because they know where they’re going and what they’re doing and they’ve been together for a while and they just fly around. That’s where we’ve got to get to.”
The right pieces
In his 14th season, Fletcher doesn’t look — or play — his age. He entered the final week of the season with 18 more tackles than any other NFL player.
“I guess a lot more people get caught up in my age than I do,” Fletcher said. “At the end of the day, I’m going to be judged the same way these 20-something-year olds are gonna be judged.”
Fletcher will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. Though he’ll be 37 when the 2012 season begins, both he and Redskins coaches have said they want him to remain in Washington.
“From my perspective, I think he’s the perfect guy to help to keep building this defense,” Haslett said. “He’s got a lot of time left in him.”
The Redskins began Mike Shanahan’s first season as head coach with the oldest roster in the NFL. Since then, he’s been able to strike a better age balance on defense. DeJon Gomes is a rookie starting at safety, and Ryan Kerrigan is a rookie starting at linebacker. Second-year linebacker Perry Riley replaced veteran Rocky McIntosh at midseason. Coaches think defensive linemen Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield have plenty of good years ahead of them.