Plenty will be written over the next six months or so about what the Redskins need to do to take the next step and become true Super Bowl contenders. But the biggest factor in determining if they rise up NFL power rankings or slide back into their losing ways is their ability to take the ball away on defense and to protect it on offense.
Washington did pretty well in turnover margin in 2015 they finished at a plus-five, with 27 takeaways and 22 giveaways. That was tied for 10th in the NFL. As Scot McCloughan tries to build the team’s talent base, the Redskins will have to continue to be on the plus side of the turnover ratio in order to stay competitive.
Yesterday we looked at fumble recoveries. Today we’ll look at interceptions by the defense, how they performed in 2015 and what they’ll need to do going forward. Later we’ll look the giveaway side of the equation.
The Redskins intercepted 11 passes in 2015, tied for 21st in the NFL. Three players, Bashaud Breeland, Will Blackmon, and Perry Riley, tied for the team lead with two picks apiece. Is that good? Well, 47 other players had more interceptions than anyone on the Redskins did so you can figure that out for yourself.
How much did the interceptions help the Redskins? Here is their record broken down by the number of interceptions they had in the game:
So as we saw with fumble recoveries yesterday, they were able to get along fine in games where they did not get an interception. Only when they got multiple picks did the results show on the scoreboard.
Perhaps one of the reasons that interceptions were not much of a factor for the Redskins is that they didn’t do much with them when they got them. They went through 15 regular season games without getting an interception and then driving for a touchdown. They finally did it in the meaningless season finale in Dallas.
In all, they scored one touchdown and two field goals on drives following interceptions plus Dashon Goldson had a pick-six against the Saints. Add it up and that’s 20 points generated off of interceptions.
Compare that to the best team in the league in maximizing interceptions, the Chiefs. They were second in the league with 22 picks. They returned four of them for touchdowns, drove for eight more TD’s and four field goals on possessions that stated with INT’s. I’ll do the math for you; they scored exactly 100 points off of interceptions. If you want to know why they were able to rank ninth in scoring while ranking 27th in yards gained, there’s your answer.
It should be noted that the Redskins did have a critical interception. At FedEx Field the Giants were threatening to get back into a game the Redskins led 17-0 as they drove into Washington territory. But on third down at the four, Quinton Dunbar picked off Eli Manning’s pass in the end zone to kill the drive.
As noted yesterday, the Redskins are likely to recover fewer opponents’ fumbles than they did last year due to the element of luck that is involved in fumble recoveries. If they are going to stay around the top 10 in takeaways, something that would help them in their effort to stay competitive while Scot McCloughan rebuilds the roster, they probably will need more interceptions.
One thing McCloughan could do is add a ball hawk or two the secondary. Of the secondary members likely to return in 2016, Bashaud Breeland has four interceptions in two seasons, Dashon Goldson has 2 in the last three years and DeAngelo Hall has not picked off a pass since 2013. Maybe Breeland can snag a few more (he did drop some that were in his hands last year) and Hall can regain the form that saw him pick off a total of eight passes in 2012 and 2013. Still, finding a draft pick or free agent with a knack for making interceptions would be great.
There are two other things that could help in the interception department. One is an improved pass rush. Of the top five teams in interceptions last year, four were in the top 12 in sacks. And scoring more points and playing with a lead forces quarterbacks to throw more and to take more chances.