November 10, 2010

Redskins Report Card: Defensive Grades At The Halfway Point

My bi-weekly column for SB Nation DC.
While the Redskins offense has yet to emerge as consistent unit, it's the defense that continues to keep this team afloat week in and week out. Jim Haslett's guys may be ranked 31st in overall defense, but the numbers don't even begin to tell the story. The Redskins have sacrificed some extra yards and their usual top-ten defensive ranking in favor of an aggressive, turnover-creating machine, featuring the rejuvenated LaRon Landry and the DeAngelo Hall we were all hoping to see last year when he signed a $56 million deal.
The success of Landry and Hall is just a small glimpse at how well Haslett has catered his schemes to his personnel. He has played to the strengths of each of his players and the confidence each guy has discovered has made this one of the hardest-hitting defenses in the NFL. While former coordinator Greg Blache refused to alter his gameplans for the sake of his players, Haslett has bent over backwards to ensure the entire defense is put in a position to succeed.
The current swagger on defense has made Haslett's unit exciting, but also a group that no opposing offense wants to deal with as the midseason grades will indicate.
Defensive Line: Probably the weakest link, but with the resurgence of Albert Haynesworth, the line will improve down the stretch. Haynesworth has really adapted well to a scheme in which he initially refused to play. Haslett has gone out of his way to include calls that play to Big Al's skill set, and the cooperation between the two has once again made Haynesworth a presence on the line.
However, the lack of a consistent nose tackle has been a huge problem for the Redskins. Haslett admitted no 3-4 defense will live up to its potential if the nose tackle can't control the line of scrimmage. Ma'ake Kemoeatu still hasn't fully recovered the torn Achilles he suffered last year, and Haynesworth has split time between NT and defensive end.
Phillip Daniels is having a strong season in limited action, particularly in goal line work, while Adam Carriker has proven to be a solid acquisition at DE. Andre Carter has seen increased snaps at DE, where he is more natural.
Despite some strong individual play, the line as a whole has been mediocre at controlling the line of scrimmage and filling gaps. The Redskins rank 21st against the run and give up 4.6 yards per rushing attempt. The defensive line has just 10 tackles for a loss, and half of those belong to Haynesworth. They have also surrendered first downs on 23.1 percent of the rushing attempts by opposing teams, which puts them in the bottom ten in the NFL.
Though the defensive line hasn't been strong, they have steadily improved, and if Haynesworth can continue to emerge as a catalyst, the defensive line will be better. But through eight games, they have lacked consistency.
Overall Grade: C-
Linebackers: Haslett has done a masterful job in moving Lorenzo Alexander to outside linebacer and Rocky McIntosh to the inside linebacker position. Both players have been reliable and Alexander has made the OLB a strength when many saw the position as a weakness coming into the year.
Both McIntosh and London Fletcher have been tremendous run pluggers, as they have combined for 135 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles. Fletcher's leadership abilities are difficult to factor in, but his presence raises the level of play across the defense.
And of course, you can't forget the play of Brian Orakpo. The second-year pro isn't experiencing much of a sophomore slump, as he has seven sacks, putting him on pace to surpass his rookie total of 11. Orakpo has also made a living off of being held this year. Some may be skeptical when they hear Redskin fans complaining about Orakpo being held, but they have a valid point. Orakpo has drawn seven holding penalties on the year, including the infamous Alex Barron infraction, which spelled the beginning of the end for the Wade Phillips era in Dallas.
The linebackers have racked up 13 of 18 sacks the defense has accumulated this season. In a 3-4, the LBs are expected to be the ones applying pressure so mission accomplished. Alexander has been better than expected in coverage and the other are playing their roles nicely. You would like to see a little more explosion and lateral speed, but in their first year playing with a new defense full of exotic looks, the LBs have met expectations.
Overall Grade: B+

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