What went wrong/How to fix it: pass defense

What went wrong/How to fix it: pass defense
February 11, 2013, 1:30 pm
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Over the next week, Redskins reporter Tarik El-Bashir will examine what went wrong in 2012 and weigh possible solutions to the issues. Go here to see the other posts in the series.

Today, we’re looking at the Redskins’ pass defense.

Key players: Josh Wilson, DeAngelo Hall, Madieu Williams, Reed Doughty, Cedric Griffin, Richard Crawford and DeJon Gomes.

The problem: Although the Redskins’ pass defense was better down the stretch, the final numbers weren’t pretty. In fact, the unit ranked 30th in yards allowed (4,511) and tied for 29th in pass touchdowns permitted (31), despite a second half uptick.

In the nine games prior to the bye, the Redskins yielded a league-worst 301.7 yards per game through the air. After the bye, they surrendered 256.6, an improvement spurred by defensive coordinator Jim Haslett tailoring personnel to specific situations and increasing the frequency and complexity of his blitzes to spark an inconsistent pass rush. 

Better, to be sure. But it’s impossible to ignore the secondary’s first half struggles or its misadventures in the second half.

The secondary’s problems actually began before the opening kickoff in New Orleans. And while all teams must cope with losing key players, the Redskins’ secondary was dealt a particularly cruel blow when starting strong safety Brandon Meriweather injured his knee and free safety Tanard Jackson was suspended indefinitely for failed drug tests. Meriweather ended up playing only two quarters in 2012.

The backend never recovered. Free safety Madieu Williams struggled against the run and pass, while missing more tackles (17) than any other Redskins’ defensive back, according to ProFootballFocus. Reed Doughty was strong against the run (and on special teams) but it’s a reach to consider him starter material. Reserves DeJon Gomes and Jordan Pugh showed flashes but weren’t consistent enough to warrant full-time roles.

At cornerback, starters DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson were better in the second half than the first. Cedric Griffin exceeded expectations (when he was on the field) and rookie Richard Crawford showed potential. But given how poor the safety play was at times, it’s tough to know how much blame to assign the corners for the secondary's struggles.

The potential fix: Adding talent at safety and possible cornerback through the draft and/or free agency.

That, however, won’t be easy. For a second straight year the Redskins are facing an $18 million salary cap penalty. They also do not have a first round pick.

If Meriweather recovers from a torn ACL, he figures to be a starter in 2013. But his status might not be known until mid-summer.

Williams, meantime, is a pending unrestricted free agent and it’s entirely possible his tenure is over. Even if he’s re-signed, it’s a near certainty that he’ll face strong competition in training camp. Jackson, meantime, remains listed on the Redskins’ roster under reserve/suspended by commissioner, but his NFL future remains uncertain.

The team also must make a tough decision on Hall, who is due to count $7.5 million against the salary cap next season. But if the 29-year-old agrees to a pay cut, it’s possible he’ll start opposite Wilson again next season. 

Griffin, the nickel corner, is also a pending unrestricted free agent. He was the secondary’s most physical player, but he appeared in only nine games because of a hamstring injury and a drug suspension.

Affordable upgrades will be available on the free agent market, and this year’s talent-laden draft could also yield what the Redskins need.

The only option Coach Mike Shanahan and Co. won’t have in the coming months will be standing pat.