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Ballhawks wanted at Redskins Park

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Ballhawks wanted at Redskins Park

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.

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Redskins interviewed Greg Manusky for defensive coordinator

Redskins interviewed Greg Manusky for defensive coordinator

The Redskins interviewed current outside linebackers coach Greg Manusky for their defensive coordinator opening, the team announced yesterday.  

Manusky has a long history with the Redskins organization. He served as outside linebackers coach this past season, and was also linebackers coach back in the 2001 season. In his playing days, Manusky was a Redskins linebacker from 1988 to 1990. 

He has held three separate defensive coordinator positions in his coaching career, including with the San Francisco 49ers (2007-2010), San Diego Chargers (2011) and Indianapolis Colts (2012-2015).

For more on his defensive philosophy and background, check out Rich Tandler's profile of Manusky

The Redskins have confirmed four interviews for the defensive coordinator position: Manusky, Rob Ryan, Gus Bradley and Mike Pettine

MORE REDSKINS: Projecting the Redskins' 2017 roster—Defense

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Projecting the Redskins' 2017 roster—Defense

Projecting the Redskins' 2017 roster—Defense

The Redskins are looking at potential free agents and continuing with the draft process as they try to move team from residing in the middle of the pack in the NFL to becoming annual contenders to go deep into the playoffs. The process is all about trying to build a solid 53-man depth chart. Let’s get out the crystal ball and see what that depth chart might look like.

Earlier this week we looked at the offense; today the defense is up. Although there could be a change to a 4-3 base defense in the making depending on who the coordinator is, we’ll line them up in a 3-4 until there is word to the contrary.

*Pending unrestricted free agent

Defensive line

Starters: Chris Baker*, draft pick/free agent X 2
Backups: Matt Ioannidis, Ricky Jean Francois, Anthony Lanier

It seems that Baker wants to stay and give that the Redskins would be starting their D-line virtually from scratch without him the chances of coming up with a deal seem strong. I will spend the entire 99 days between now and the draft saying that it’s not a given that they will take a defensive lineman, or any defensive player, with their top draft pick. But someone like Malik McDowell of Michigan State sure would fit in well here along with a free agent like Bennie Logan of the Eagles. The organization will be looking for leaps forward from Ioannidis and Lanier.

Related: Redskins defensive coordinator resume: Jason Tarver

Outside linebacker

Starters: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith
Backups: Junior Galette, Trent Murphy, Lynden Trail

Although nothing is certain until pen is put to paper, the chances of Galette giving it another go after two torn Achilles in two years are strong. Trail and Houston Bates will battle for a fifth spot, if there is one. Given Smith’s inconsistency and the uncertainty of Galette’s health it wouldn’t be surprising to see them draft an edge rusher.

Inside linebacker

Starters: Will Compton, free agent
Backups: Martrell Spaight, Mason Foster, draft pick

I’m putting Compton there in dry erase marker, not in Sharpie. They love his leadership and work ethic but he must make more plays. I have a free agent starting beside him because it’s a tough position for a rookie to learn. But if they spend a high draft pick that player could jump into a starting job quickly.  Foster moves into the nickel role that he performed well after Su’a Cravens went out with an injury. Steven Daniels, a 2016 seventh-round pick who spent the year on injured reserve, could push Spaight for a job.

Cornerback

Starters: Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar
Backups: Kendall Fuller (nickel), Tharold Simon, free agent/draft pick

This could go in a lot of different directions. The only spot set in stone is Norman’s. I have Bashaud Breeland moving to safety, which is something of a speculative hot take. If they make that move, they could spend a high draft pick or substantial free agent money on a corner or they could stay in-house with Dunbar or Fuller. Simon could make the team and contribute or he could be cut.

More Redskins: An early look at first-round draft possibilities

Safety

Starters: Su’a Cravens, Bashaud Breeland
Backups: Will Blackmon, Deshazor Everett, draft pick

Safeties are hard to find. In college, potentially good safeties gravitate towards cornerback, where the NFL money is better. If a good one hits the free agent market, the laws of supply and demand push the price up beyond the value of the position. For those reasons, the Redskins might try Breeland at safety. Some in the organization have believed for a couple of years that safety is his best position. Cravens announced that he would be moving to safety so that change is firm. Duke Ihenacho, who is a free agent, could be back but I think he moves along. Blackmon is a good veteran reserve who can play nickel also. Even though he made a key interception when forced into duty against the Eagles, it still seems that they don’t trust Everett at safety and perhaps a mid-round pick will replace him.

Specialists: LS Nick Sundberg*, P Tress Way, PK Dustin Hopkins

I predict that Sundberg will be the first of the team’s pending free agents to agree to a contract. Hopkins may get some camp competition but it is unlikely to be of more than the token variety.

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/RealRedskins and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.