The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

NFL over/unders: What the Redskins need to do to win eight or more games this year

(Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins are once again a team in flux. Jay Gruden, the former offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals, is the team’s eighth head coach since Daniel Snyder purchased the franchise in 1999 and inherits a team that allowed 478 points (30th of 32 in the NFL) and 5,665 yards (18th) and went 3-13 last season.

According to the latest Las Vegas Hilton’s futures odds, the over/under for Washington wins in the 2014 season is a lofty 7.5. Surprisingly, that may be within reach.

Offensively, the Redskins were on par with the teams who have accumulated eight or more wins since 2011. They averaged more rushing yards per attempts (4.8) than the average for those teams, and the passing game should improve with a  healthy Robert Griffin III.

The defense, on the other hand, was not so great. The eight-win teams since 2011 yielded 5.3 yards per play while Washington gave up 5.7 yards per play last season. The main culprit for Washington: poor tackling.

Football Outsiders charted plays from the 2013 season and found that the Redskins led the league in percent of plays with broken tackles.

We define a “broken tackle” as one of two events: either the ballcarrier escapes from the grasp of the defender, or the defender is in good position for a tackle but the ballcarrier jukes him out of his shoes. If the ballcarrier sped by a slow defender who dived and missed, that didn’t count as a broken tackle. It also doesn’t count as a broken tackle if a defender gets a hand on the ballcarrier but is effectively being blocked out of the play by another offensive player.

In fact, all four of Washington’s starting defensive backs had double-digit broken tackles last season: Brandon Meriweather (16, led league for all defenders), Deangelo Hall (13), Josh Wilson (13) and Reed Doughty (10). All of them were in the top 25 in that category, with no other team having more than two defenders in the top 30.

Plus, London Fletcher had the 12th-highest broken-tackle rate among linebackers at 10.2 percent (9 of 79 tackles). Fletcher has since announced his intention to retire.

Vince Lombardi said, “Some people try to find things in this game that don’t exist, but football is only two things – blocking and tackling.” If the Redskins want to take a big step forward, they are going to have to do a better job at stopping the ballcarrier.