Starting with defense, I compared the Redskins’ production at each position to each of the other 13 defenses that primarily employ a 3-4 scheme. The best showing was from the linebacking corps, which ranked third out of the 14 squads. But much of that production came from London Fletcher, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.
The defensive line ranked sixth at defensive tackle and seventh at defensive end. Teams that run the 3-4 can be inconsistent with how they designate defensive ends and tackles, but in this case it’s clear that as a whole, the line rates right in the middle of the pack of their 3-4 cohort.
Both cornerbacks and safeties are middling as well, ranking seventh out of 14 at both positions. Much of the production at safety, however, belonged to impeding free agent LaRon Landry.
In total, the defense is average to slightly above average, ranking 13th in total EPA and in EPA per play.
Turning to offense, the Redskins ranked 23rd in total EPA and 22nd in EPA per play. The cause was primarily thanks to ranking 29th out of 32 teams at the quarterback position. This showing should be a surprise to absolutely no one except possibly Mike and Kyle Shanahan, who bet the season on the Rex Grossman-John Beck duo. If anything it should underscore the team’s dire need at quarterback.
The offensive line ranked 24th in allowing defensive front-sevens to wreak havoc on the offense, including sacks, tipped passes, quarterback hits, unsuccessful runs, forced fumbles, and so on. Quarterback and line performance is inextricably linked, but the fact is if a team doesn’t have a mobile quarterback, it needs an excellent line. And if it doesn’t have a good line, it needs a mobile quarterback. The Redskins had neither. Injuries played a very large role in the sub-par performance of the line, but injuries need to be expected and the depth just isn’t there yet.
Wide receivers and tight ends ranked 19th and 18th respectively. Although receiving production is also obviously linked to quarterback play, the fact that they over-performed their passers is a credit to their potential with a better quarterback under center. Chris Cooley’s return from injury will bolster the tight end position.
The Redskins’ production at running back ranked 14th in the league, which is surprisingly strong considering the state of the line. This has been one of the bright spots for the team in 2011.
Assuming Fletcher and Landry are absent, the numbers would put the team’s needs in the following order: QB, OL, S, ILB, WR, CB, DL, TE, RB. Place kicker is a need as well, but it’s a position hard to slot with the others in terms of impact. It should never be a primary need, however, because the true skill of the league’s best and its replacement-level kickers are not as far apart than at the other positions.
If the team is able to retain Fletcher and Landry, the needs are almost purely offensive passing needs—quarterback, offensive line, and wide receiver. A passing attack is what’s most important when it comes to winning in the NFL, and it’s what the Redskins lack most. Obvious, yes, but also very true.
Brian Burke is the creator of Advanced NFL Stats, a Web site about football, statistics and game theory.