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Need to Know: How much will the Redskins defense improve?

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Need to Know: How much will the Redskins defense improve?

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, July 3, 25 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago. It will be 71 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Franchise tag contract deadline 12; Preseason opener @ Falcons 39; Final roster cut 62

Fan questions: How much will the defense improve?

I figured I would take these two Facebook questions together since they are closely related.

When talking about improvement we have to look at last year and see how the defense played. I believe they were better than the popular fan perception said they were. Yes, they were “ranked” 28th but that just looks at yards allowed, at best a rough measure of the quality of a defense. They were 13th in red zone efficiency, 12th when it came to preventing touchdowns in goal to go situations and 8th in takeaways.

Those numbers are a big part of why they were 17th in points allowed. Due to their playmaking with the takeaways and coming together in key situations I'd put them in the lower middle of the pack; not awful but with plenty of room for improvement.

They certainly can get a lot better against the run. They were 26th in rushing yards per game and 31st in yards allowed per carry. Improvement in the defense will start there.

If they do get better against the run they are going to have to do it without a significant upgrade in talent on the defensive line. They added some interesting players in free agent Kendall Reyes, who worked with the first team at right end a lot during the offseason practices that were open to the media, and draft pick Matt Ioannidis. Trent Murphy, who was moved from outside linebacker, will contribute. But none of those players is going to transform the defensive line into a run-stuffing machine.

And they will have to try to get better against the run without a true 3-4 nose tackle. They let Terrance Knighton walk as a free agent and they don’t have a replacement.

I don't want to pin all of the team's rushing defense woes on the line. They allowed 55 runs of 10 yards or longer; only three teams allowed more. That tells me that when ball carriers got past the first line of defense they weren't getting much support from the second level. That needs to improve as well.

They might get better against the run with a second year in Joe Barry’s defense but I still see opposing offenses testing them early and often.

I do, however, think the pass defense will improve. They were 25th in yards allowed per pass play and that should get better. They are adding two potentially transformational talents in free agent CB Josh Norman and pass rusher Junior Galette, who is back from an injury. Another year of growth for OLB Preston Smith and CB Bashaud Breeland could give the defense two more Pro Bowl caliber talents. Both the pass rush and the coverage will be better.

Since teams pass more often than they run some improvement in pass defense will go a long way towards making the overall defense better. They are a couple of drafts away from being anything close to dominant but there should be improvement.

Feel free to hit me up with your questions at Facebook.com/RealRedskins or on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

In case you missed it 

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Jay Gruden disappointed by firing of Scot McCloughan, yet optimistic for 2017

Jay Gruden disappointed by firing of Scot McCloughan, yet optimistic for 2017

It's never easy to say goodbye to a well-liked coworker, especially when that employee has been fired. In the NFL, that's no different. Redskins head coach Jay Gruden opened up about the departure of former GM Scot McCloughan while speaking with reporters at the NFL Owners Meetings in Phoenix.

"I was disappointed. I liked Scot. I liked working with Scot. He’s a good person, and a great talent evaluator," Gruden said.

The highly publicized demise of McCloughan as Redskins general manager made plenty of headlines, but as far the organization goes, Gruden believes the team is still in good shape.

"Any time you lose somebody that you become close with, whether it’s a coach or a GM or a player it's disappointing but at the end of the day in pro football, anybody that’s been around it long enough understands, change is going to happen and you have to react and adjust to it and move forward with a positive outlook," Gruden said.

Part of that positive outlook stems from moves the team has made this offseason.

Offensively the franchise brought in a big new weapon in receiver Terrelle Pryor. Paired with 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson, assuming he's healthy, the Redskins could have two dynamic pass catchers to offset the loss of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. On the defensive line, Gruden thinks new players Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee can emerge as solid players with high upside. Further, Gruden made clear he thinks new defensive line coach Jim Tomsula will make the players on the 'Skins roster into better defensive linemen.

For many fans it's hard to remain optimistic after the controversy that surrounded McCloughan's ouster, but on the field, there's little reason to expect the 'Skins to slide.

In 2016, the team finished one game out of a playoff berth, losing a disappointing final game to the Giants to seal that fate. In 2017, Gruden expects to be right back in the playoff hunt.

"I think everybody in this organization has a positive outlook," Gruden said. "We are going to miss Scot, obviously, but we’re also positive that we can get things we need to get done to be successful."

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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Peter King, Ian Rapoport say Redskins can't afford to let Kirk Cousins get away

Peter King, Ian Rapoport say Redskins can't afford to let Kirk Cousins get away

After he signed the franchise tag a couple of weeks ago, the speculation, rumors and, for some fans, panic around Kirk Cousins has largely quieted down.

The Redskins can ink their quarterback to a long-term deal any time between now and July 15, but talks may not pick up until summer rolls around. A trade can also occur, but no recent reports have indicated that one is in the works.

Therefore, it currently looks like Cousins and the franchise that drafted him back in 2012 will be together for at least one more season. And according to Sports Illustrated's Peter King, that's a wise choice by the Burgundy and Gold.

"I think they did the absolute right thing in making sure Kirk Cousins is gonna be their quarterback this year," King told CSN Redskins Insider JP Finlay at the NFL owner's meetings in Phoenix. "I absolutely, unequivocally would not trade him. That's a white flag." 

As for why King wouldn't move on from No. 8, his explanation was very simple.

"You don't get rid of a guy who's got the second-most passing yards in football over the last two years," he said.

MORE REDSKINS: WILL JAY GRUDEN'S ROLE IN DECISION-MAKING EXPAND THIS YEAR?

Finlay also gathered input on the Redskins' and Cousins' relationship from the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, who's another major voice in the league's media. Rapoport first stated that he would be "beyond stunned" if the 28-year-old was not in D.C. for the 2017 campaign and then laid out how he envisions the year unfolding.

"I do not believe he will sign the extension before the season," he said. "So, he's going to go out there, play on another one-year deal, bet on himself like he did last year. You hope it's the same thing. And then we'll see, because I know there's some talk about him not signing an extension — I'm not so sure about that. Everyone has a price, right?"

"If they offer him $25 [million] a year, Andrew Luck's deal, I would imagine plans would change pretty quickly, right?" Rapoport continued. "So you get to the end of the season, assess where you are, assess the value and see if you can make a business deal. It's terrible to have to pay so much money to your quarterback. The only worse thing is not being able to pay so much money to your quarterback." 

King and Rapoport are clearly both in agreement that losing their rising signal caller would be a huge blow to the Redskins. But while King says Washington should keep Cousins because of his production, Rapoport took a different route when concluding how the negotiations will end up.

"Really good quarterbacks never leave their team. It just never happens," he said. "So I would think there's a way to work this out."

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