Last week, I took a broad look at the three areas that Jay Gruden said that his team was “terrible” in during the 2016 season, issues that cost the team a chance at the playoffs.
We looked at one of those, red zone offense, earlier.
Today, it’s time to examine the problems the defense in the red zone.
If the Redskins’ defense was going to survive the 2016 season they had to be a “bend but don’t break” unit.
They were not built to stop teams cold. It would be OK to give up some ground as long as they could force an error, get a takeaway or, at worst, make them settle for field goals more often than not.
That didn’t work out so well for the Redskins.
They were just OK in the turnover department, getting 21 takeaways to ranks 17th in the NFL in that department. Even then they were inconsistent. There were seven games where the defense forced no turnovers and a 10-game stretch where they produced only seven.
However, it was in the red zone and in goal to go situations where the defense truly had issues. They allowed opponents to score touchdowns on 59.3 percent of their red zone trips, 26th in the league. When they let the other team get a first and goal, they got touchdowns 80 percent of the time.
Goal to go situations are a subset of the red zone so let me just point out one note on that before moving to the bigger group. The Redskins went the entire months of October and November plus a game in December without keeping an opponent from getting a touchdown in goal to go. That was 14 straight times that a first and goal was just as good as a TD.
The breakdown on the red zone numbers looks like this.
Opponents had 54 drives that had at least one play inside the Redskins 20 yard-line. They scored touchdowns on 32 of them.
How do those numbers stack up compared to the rest of the league? The team that led the NFL in red zone defense was the Giants. They faced 43 red zone drives and allowed 17 touchdowns, a 39.5 percent rate.
If the Redskins had the Giants’ red zone rate, opponents would have scored 21 touchdowns instead of the 32 that they actually did. Assuming the other team would have kicked field goals in those situations the Redskins would have allowed 44 fewer points. That difference would have moved them from 20th in the league in points allowed to 12th.
Of course, the points are meaningless without some context so let’s provide some here. The Redskins tied one game and lost three games by three or four points (including the last Giants game, which only became a nine-point loss on a last-play touchdown as the Redskins desperately tried to lateral the ball around).
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—The tie was against the Bengals, who were 4-4 in the red zone. One stop inside the 20 likely would have meant a Redskins win.
—In the first Dallas game the Cowboys were 3-5 and the Redskins lost by four. Good red zone defense could have at least sent that game into overtime.
—The Lions were 2-3 in the red zone and the Redskins lost by three.
—The Giants were 1-3 in the season finale. That’s good enough red zone D on a percentage basis but there’s no rule saying that you can’t shut the other team out in the red zone for a game. The Redskins did that only once in 2016 (Eagles went 0-7 in Week 6).
You can play with those numbers however you’d like. But if one of the losses and the tie had been wins the Redskins could have been the No. 5 seed.
What went wrong in the red zone? Washington’s opponents’ passing stats in the red zone were only slightly worse than the league average in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating. The league allowed 2.5 yards per rush on plays inside the 20 while the Redskins allowed 2.8. That’s significant but not decisive. Although nothing was glaring it added up to a fatal flaw in the Redskins’ defense.
The new defensive coordinator will have to get this figured out. The other issue that cost Joe Barry his job was the team’s problem stopping the opposition on third down. We’ll put those problems under the microscope in the next part of this series.
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