We’re back with another edition of the Redskins Mailbag. Meanwhile, the Redskins themselves are in the process of trying to find their next defensive coordinator, evaluating the talent that they have remaining on the roster, figuring out which free agents to retain, and also are in the early stages of draft evaluations.
And so, we’ve got a little bit of everything in this week’s mailbag. Defensive coordinator questions, Kirk Cousins talk, offensive play-calling and more.
Thanks, as always, for taking part in the Mailbag. Keep the questions coming! E-mail me at email@example.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and we’ll do it all over again next Tuesday.
We’ve seen a lot about the Redskins’ interest in defensive coordinators, from Mike Pettine to Gus Bradley to Wade Phillips to Greg Manusky to Paul Guenther and probably a bunch of people who are being paraded in there who aren’t on the radar. From the standpoint of those five, since they seem to be the top candidates, can you give a breakdown of their systems (3-4 vs. 4-3, blitz tendencies, linebackers’ assignments in coverage vs. rushing, etc.) and how you think the Redskins’ current defensive players would fit with what they want to do?
– Mike Randolph, Chesapeake, Va.
You can cross Guenther off the list because Cincinnati isn’t giving him permission to interview. Steve Wilks from Carolina is, however, on the list. The Redskins have received permission to interview him. But as of now, it sounds as if Pettine is the only candidate who has actually had his interview already.
It’s interesting because all of these guys have 3-4 backgrounds, but none of them are pure 3-4 guys. Wade Phillips is known for his creativity and aggressive schemes. He’ll open up in a 3-4 front, but on third downs, it’s not uncommon to see a seven-man front comprised of nothing but ends and linebackers rushing from two-point stances. His varied looks make it hard for an offense to identify exactly what’s coming. Bradley and Manusky both run hybrid schemes that use both 3-4 and 4-3 principles. Bradley primarily used 4-3 fronts, but mixed in some 3-4 philosophies, going with some one-gap and two-gap alignments. He goes cover-three in the secondary predominantly, with a single high safety. He needs versatile, rangy linebackers. Manusky, meanwhile, went with a 3-4 base and mixed in 4-3 fronts. Manusky, like Pettine, is viewed as a really good teaching coach, stressing not only technique, but an understanding of the concepts of plays. Pettine has run both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses depending on the team he has worked for. But even when running primarily a 4-3, Pettine has thrown some 3-4 looks given the situation. Wilks is a bit of an unknown because he has served only as a defensive backs coach. However, the Panthers have run a 4-3 defense while Wilks has been on staff, and the Chargers also ran a 4-3 when Wilks was there as defensive backs coach.
That’s a good question about which current players could fit well with these schemes. The Redskins obviously do a lot of flipping back and forth between 3-4 and 4-3 looks. Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Murphy and Preston Smith can rush out of three-point stances as 4-3 ends, just like they can out of two-point stances as linebackers. Many of the defensive linemen can play 3-4 end, or defensive tackles in the 4-3. But, then you have guys like Su’a Cravens, who could seemingly thrive as an outside linebacker in the 4-3 defense better than he could an inside linebacker in the 3-4. But Cravens could be moving back to strong safety. It’ll be interesting to see if he has the range to handle those downfield coverage responsibilities. He seems to think so. But, obviously, all of this depends largely on what defensive coordinator the Redskins hire. To run Bradley’s style of defense, the Redskins need some more athleticism at inside linebacker. They could use that regardless. But definitely in that kind of scheme.
If Sean McVay does end up leaving the Redskins for a head coaching gig with either the 49ers or the Rams, who will take over play-calling duties on offense? Will Jay Gruden seek an offensive coordinator, and if so do you think it will be someone within the organization or outside?
– Jason Coreas, Arlington
I would imagine that Gruden probably would either promote someone in-house to offensive coordinator and play-caller, or hire someone else that he has worked with in the past. Gruden tried to juggle play-calling and head coach duties his first season, but then decided that it was too challenging to devote the amount of attention to that task as well as all of the other responsibilities he has as a head coach. In-house candidates? Hard to say. But Bill Callahan has been an offensive coordinator both in Oakland and Dallas and is heavily involved in the game-planning, particularly in the run game. A guy like tight ends coach Wes Phillips is involved in the planning for various passing packages, as is wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard. But, that’s not to say that those would certainly take on a new role.
It’s still a little premature, though. McVay did well in both of his interviews, people familiar with the situation say. But he is just 30 years old, and that youth and limited experience could work against him. It’s pretty typical for a guy to go through the interview process an offseason or two before landing a head coaching job. However, it still wouldn’t surprise me to see McVay land a head coaching job at some point. He’s got a great football mind and is a polished and effective communicator. People around the league think it’s just a matter of when, not if.
Why have you chosen to give Gruden a pass concerning his ineffectiveness with a running scheme that works since he has been here? Also why hasn’t there been more scrutiny on the lack of balanced play calling when it comes to running the ball? Who is actually calling the plays?
– Steve Weaver
I think you might’ve missed a few stories and press conferences. Every beat reporter who covers the Redskins has at multiple points questioned Jay Gruden about the lack of a commitment to the run. We did it last season, we did it again this season. I wrote about it last season and this year multiple times, including after the loss to the Giants. It’s well documented that Washington’s offense works better, and Kirk Cousins is more effective when the play-calling features around 25 to 30 runs a game and 30 to 35 pass plays a game instead of 15 to 20 runs or fewer, and 40 to 50 passes.
Gruden has acknowledged that the Redskins need to do a better job at remaining balanced. But he and McVay tend to get a little impatient with the run game, scrapping it too quickly. Gruden has admitted as such.
The Redskins for the season averaged 4.5 yards per carry, which ranked ninth in the NFL. There were times where yards were hard to come by. But it at times takes living with those two-yard gains while working to wear down the defense, and then by the third and fourth quarter, those two and three-yard gains turn into four-, five- and six-yard gains. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Gruden prefers the pass over the run. One of his main criticisms while offensive coordinator in Cincinnati involved a half-hearted commitment to the rushing attack. But, it’s definitely something the Redskins need to do a better job of.
The way the Redskins lost four home games is perplexing and worrisome. For the first two games, the team’s play showed it was unprepared for the start of the season relative to most other teams. For the last two home games, the Redskins team was inexplicably flat and out-executed when they had more to play for than their opponents. What did not work well in both the preseason approach and in preparing the team for moments when the chips are down? What changes do you think need to occur to rectify the team’s play at home in these two instances?
– Tim Foisie, Westport, Conn.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer for this. It’s not like the Redskins didn’t want to come out and play well. They looked just as fired up during pregame warmups in those four home losses compared to the four home wins. The Redskins didn’t want to come out and embarrass themselves. They didn’t want to go home for the season in that Week 17 loss to the Giants. So, it’s not just a matter of “want to” or desire or motivation. The Redskins have to find a way to improve their focus and approach during the week of preparation leading up to games. They have to pay even greater attention to detail. Coaches need to demand more. Team captains need to demand more and set a better tone. Perhaps that will help.
If Kirk Cousins signs elsewhere during free agency, do you see the Redskins going after Tony Romo or drafting their starting quarterback in this year’s draft?
– Greg Sykes
No. I don’t envision this being an option for the Redskins. Romo has appeared in just five games in the past two seasons combined. What makes you think he’d suddenly become a viable, durable option for a team that has playoff aspirations? The Redskins would be more inclined to roll with Colt McCoy, or even give Nate Sudfeld a shot. McCoy remains under contract, is younger than Romo, knows the offense and has had some success under Jay Gruden. Management would rather surround him with as much talent as possible on offense, bolster the defense for real, and draft their quarterback of the future instead of going after Romo.
Don’t you find the ceaseless whining by fans and columnists for perfection, well frankly, tiring and dumb? Shouldn’t we be grateful that the team is competitive and ascending in a league as tough as this?
– Don Crehan, Darnestown, Md.
Ha ha, it’s a tough crowd! The Redskins have made significant strides in the past two years. I think everyone would agree that 9-7 and 8-7-1 is way better than 3-13 and 4-12. But, I think the frustration stems from the fact that Washington had the potential to finish with an even better record than 8-7-1. And had that happened, the Redskins would have reached the playoffs. Most Redskins fans have shorter memories than NFL cornerbacks, though.
At the start of the season, when we were all stacking up the slate of opponents and looking at the tough stretches of travel, plus formidable foes, a lot of people predicted 9-7. I remember having conversations with fellow reporters or fans, and everyone felt like, ‘Hey, this team might narrowly miss the playoffs, but even so, that doesn’t necessarily mean regression.’ But things played out differently, and the Redskins could have done more, so all of that talk was forgotten. It’s definitely good to appreciate the growth that the franchise has made while also acknowledging a lack of perfection. Your fellow fans would be a lot less miserable if they shared your mindset. And as far as the journalists, it’s our job to nitpick. But, at the same time, I try to report and analyze with fairness. Praise the good, call out the bad, point to progress, point to concerns.
Many seem to forget that the question about Kirk Cousins is a two-way street. Sure, the team has to look at possible alternates to KC, but Kirk has to look at alternates to the team. What are the possibilities for a new team for Kirk? Where else could he go that runs a system so suited to his abilities? Where else has an offensive line that’s good enough to keep defensive players off of him? Where else has such a great group of receivers? The teams that have these already have good quarterbacks and don’t need him. A huge contract is a wonderful thing, but not if the player’s health doesn’t survive the new team’s incompetence.
– Allen Read, Gaithersburg, Md.
Well, unless Cousins and his agent tell the Redskins “Do. Not. Franchise. Me.” and raise a huge stink, the Redskins do still have the power. Cousins has leverage. But the Redskins still can use the franchise tag to retain him if he doesn’t accept their offer or offers.
But, say there was a falling out and both sides agreed to move on, Cousins would certainly have options.
Kyle Shanahan is in the running for a head coaching job. Cousins would love to play for him again, and Shanahan would love to have Cousins. He runs a very similar system and would tailor it to take advantage of Cousins’s strengths and mask his deficiencies. Then, even if Shanahan went to a place like the Rams, and liked prospects of working with their young quarterback, there are other teams: Cleveland, the New York Jets, San Francisco, Chicago, Buffalo (maybe), Arizona and Jacksonville all figure to be in the market for a quarterback. Remember, Houston was so desperate for a quarterback that they gave Brock Osweiler $18 million a year after starting just seven games with Denver.
Cousins is a smart guy. Very calculated. He would want to go somewhere that has the best possible situation for success. So, he’s not just going to bolt for the biggest bag of cash. He knows continuity is huge. But, he doesn’t feel beholden to the Redskins, and so, if it came to it, he would go somewhere that will both pay him what he feels like he’s worth and also give him a good chance to win and have a long career in this league.
Email a Redskins question to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered next Tuesday.
More from The Post