The primary difference between the Washington Redskins and the NFL's Final Four seemed rather apparent heading into championship weekend and even clearer after the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers advanced. Cliche or not, defense wins championships.
Sure, Cam Newton did his thing for the Panthers while the Broncos moved the chains just enough for the win, but the defense fueled both victories.
Here's the most basic truth when it comes to dealing with quarterbacks. Pressure them and even the greatest like Tom Brady can look ordinary. Denver's outside linebacker combination of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware will haunt the Patriots' dreams considering how often they got a hand on the Golden Boy. Now, the Redskins have those elements, particularly the outside pass rush with Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith.
What Washington lacks, especially depending on who returns next season, is the ability to get the quarterback without heavy use of the blitz. Denver destroyed New England's offensive line with base looks. Granted, the Broncos' performance was great even for stout defenses, but the Redskins lack pass rush push played a key role in their playoff loss to Green Bay. All three of Carolina's sacks came from its defensive line.
The other advantage of having a strong pass rush is that it makes the back-7 better almost automatically. Quarterbacks have less time to find open receivers and so on. However, Denver and Carolina (plus New England and Arizona) have difference makes on their back two levels. All essentially have a strong corner combination with hard-hitting options at safety.
Carolina has six interceptions in two playoff games. Washington had 11 all season. Even with impressive work against the pass, the Panthers and Broncos also shut of the opposing run games. The Redskins run defense sprung a leak against the Packers.
The good thing is Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan knows all of this. He addressed the defensive line last season, even if only with largely short-term solutions. He signed cornerback Chris Culliver to a multi-year deal. If healthy, Culliver and Bashaud Breeland can form one of those ball-hawking corner combos. Whether Culliver returns is the question. Same goes for several others, including free agent nose tackle Terrance Knighton and safety Dashon Goldson, a possible cap casualty.
Even if those veterans return, the Redskins defense needs more for a shot at the Lombardi Trophy.
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