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Where did the sacks go?


Where did the sacks go?

As noted here earlier this week, the 2012 Redskins have allowed more passing yards through their first five games than they have in their history. Although the secondary carries much of the blame, they haven’t been getting much help in terms of pass rush.

The Redskins have only eight sacks through their first five games. Since they started keeping sacks as an official statistic in 1982, only seven editions of the Redskins have had fewer sacks than this one at this point in the season.

Ryan Kerrigan has 3.5 sacks, the only player on the team with more than one. Last year the defensive line contributed 18 sacks. Against the Falcons, Barry Cofield picked up the line’s first sack of the season.

Certainly the losses of Brian Orakpo (9 sacks last year) and Adam Carriker (5.5) to injury haven’t helped things. But their replacements haven’t performed at nearly a fraction of the levels of the players they are replacing. End Jarvis Jenkins has no sacks, linebacker Rob Jackson has none, and linebacker Chris Wilson has a half.

Wilson’s inability to get pressure is particularly puzzling. He is the one in there in nickel situations and he is one the team because of his supposed ability to get to the quarterback.

The pass rush problems are a big factor in the pass defense problems but consider that the 2005 team had only five sacks through the first give games but had allowed only 891 passing yards, a little more than half of what the current team has allowed.

In other words, it takes a total team effort to have a pass defense this leaky. Either the front or back end is going to have to step up and get it done.  

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Redskins one of the best in NFL at preventing long plays

Redskins one of the best in NFL at preventing long plays

The Redskins do not have what anyone would call a dominant defense. They are last in the league in rushing defense, allowing 5.0 yards per carry. Despite recent improvement they still are 30th in the league in opposition third-down conversions. But, somehow, they have managed to keep the opposing team out of the end zone in the second half of each of their last four games and have allowed only one touchdown in their last 10 quarters.

One of the things that they are doing right is not allowing many big plays. They have given up only four plays that gained 30 yards or more. Only the Vikings, who have one of the top defenses in the league, have allowed fewer such plays.

To compare, there have been 277 plays of 30+ yards this year, so the average team has given up 8.6 long plays this year. Last year through six games the Redskins had given up 13 long plays.

Last Sunday in the fourth quarter the Eagles’ Carson Wentz threw to Jordan Matthews for 54 yards. That was first play to gain more than 50 yards against the Redskins all year. The Patriots are now the only team that has not given up a 50+ yard play.

Taking away the long play forces offenses to steadily drive down the field. Each snap in a drive increases the possibility of a drive-killing mistake like a penalty, a dropped pass, or a turnover.

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry had a simple explanation for the team’s ability to take away what he calls explosive play.

“When we have gotten hurt it's because of missed tackles, we've talked about that especially in the run game,” he said. “We preach, let's not beat ourselves. Let's not give them anything, make them earn everything.”

Another factor has been an improved secondary, the last line of defense.

“We've been very consistent not only have good young players but also veteran guys that understand football,” said Barry. “Even though Will Blackmon is playing a new position, he's played a lot of football. Same thing with Donte [Whitner] coming in here, brand new to the system, he's still hearing things on a daily basis that are still new to him but he's a football player. He's played a ton of football, so that helps in that regard.”

In addition to the field position gained, big plays are often momentum swingers. If the Redskins can keep preventing other teams from getting explosive plays they can go a long way towards becoming a solid unit.

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Redskins without two key offensive players at Thursday's practice

Redskins without two key offensive players at Thursday's practice

After joining the team for practice on Wednesday, star tight end Jordan Reed did not hit the field for the Redskins on Thursday. More puzzling, neither did DeSean Jackson. 

Dealing with a concussion sustained two weeks ago while playing the Ravens, few expect Reed to play this Sunday against the Lions, though head coach Jay Gruden did not rule out the possibility. Reed has sustained a number of concussions, at least six, dating back to his college days at the University of Florida and Gruden said the earliest he could be cleared for action would be Friday by an independent doctor. 

Jackson missed practice on Wednesday, which was not a surprise, with a shoulder injury. At various times this season Jackson has gotten days off for various ailments. That happens in the NFL, often labeled a veteran's day off.

Missing a second day of practice carries a different level of significance, even if both Gruden and Jackson do not seem worried about the shoulder.

"I think he’s sore," Gruden said Wednesday of Jackson. "I think he’ll be okay, I hope."

Jackson told reporters on Wednesday, "I'll be ready to go on Sunday."

The Redskins proved capable of moving the ball without Reed - piling up nearly 500 yards of total offense against the Eagles last week. But not having Jackson and Reed would be a serious hurdle for the offense, and while it's unlikely to be the case for the Lions, that scenario unfolded Thursday.

Check back later for updates after Gruden addresses the media. 

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