By Jacob Troxell, special to Breaking Burgundy
Although the Washington Redskins had consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1996-1997 (when they also went 9-7 and 8-7-1) their 2016 effort fell short on New Year’s Day at home against the New York Giants.
The lasting imagine NFL fans will have of the Redskins for the entire offseason is Kirk Cousins throwing an all-but game sealing interception in New York Giants territory with less than two minutes to go in a three-point game. The only reason the Redskins’ offense had that opportunity is because Washington’s defense was able to hold the Giants to 13 points, but over the course of the entire 2016 season, what do the key statistics tell us about the Redskins defense?
It is easy to see the Redskins 28th in the NFL in yards allowed per game (377.9) and point to that as the reason for an unsuccessful season, but other statistics put the Redskins’ 2016 defensive performance in better perspective.
18.75 opponent points allowed in final four games
This number excludes the pick-six and fumble return for a touchdown the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants were given by the Redskins’ offense.
If any single unit is solely to blame for the Redskins late-season collapse, it would be difficult to pin that on the defense. The NFL’s 26th worst red zone defensive in terms of touchdown percentage (59.26) improved to eighth (40.00 percent) over their last three weeks, keeping the Redskins in tight games against the Carolina Panthers and Giants.
While the Redskins defensive surrendered more than 90 rushing yards in all but three games and gave up over 400 passing yards in six games this season, the argument can be made that they improved towards the end of the season.
The Redskins allowed opponents to score 14 points or less in the second half in eight of their last nine games, giving their second ranked passing offense plenty of chances for a comeback.
46.63 opponent third down percentage, last in NFL
Even though the Redskins did seem to make better defensive adjustments in the second half of games, the splits tell the whole story here. The Redskins allowed opponents to get into third and short (1-4 yards to go) territory more often than not (3.8 times per game), which failed to give their offense the ball back at crucial times.
Out of 209 third downs this season, nearly 30 percent had one to four yards to gain.
- Third and 1-4 to go: 61 plays, 29.19 percent of third downs
- Third and 4-6 to go: 41 plays, 19.62 percent of third downs
- Third and 7-9 to go: 50 plays, 23.92 percent of third downs
- Third and 10+ to go: 57 plays, 27.27 percent of third downs
Additionally, their average yards allowed on third and short plays was 8.47 per play. On third down and 4-6 yards to go they allowed 7.57 yards per play, and on third down with 7-9 yards to go Washington allowed 9.26 yards per play. The 24th-ranked Washington run defense (119.8 yards per game) allowed 5.0 yards per carry on first down, which gave opponents freedom to open up their playbook and keep the Washington defense guessing on second and third downs.
Opposing quarterback’s quarterback ratings flourished on third down as well.
- Third and 1-4 to go: 111.1 quarterback rating
- Third and 4-6 to go: 101.6 quarterback rating
- Third and 7-9 to go: 92.9 quarterback rating
- Third and 10+ to go: 122.5 quarterback rating
The Redskins were 20th in the NFL in opposing quarterback passer rating (91.1) and forced just one of their 15 interceptions on third down with one or more yard to go.
Eight interceptions forced, six touchdown passes allowed in the fourth quarter
While the defense gave up many big plays this season, they came up with a fair share of clutch plays. In Week 3 and Week 4 the Redskins defense forced a combined six turnovers, four of which came in the fourth quarter, which allowed them to even their record at 2-2.
Opposing quarterbacks totaled an 80.0 quarterback rating in the fourth quarter this season, the lowest of any other quarter
Although some turnovers were game-sealing, the Redskins did not force enough to have a defensive score (one of 14 teams with no defensive scores this season) and recovered just eight of 19 fumbles forced.
Considering these numbers – some flattering, some not so much – the defense perhaps deserves some blame, but also credit for keeping Washington’s season alive at times. Over half (10) of the Redskins 16 games were against offenses in the bottom half of the NFL, but they had the fifth-lowest funded defense in the NFL (with about 64 percent of payroll going towards the offense), so maybe expectations should not have been too high.
Follow Jacob on Twitter @trox3.
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