Drops, penalties, and lack of run defense destroyed the Washington Redskins’ playoff chances on Monday night vs the Carolina Panthers. In this game, veteran running back Jonathan Stewart amassed 132 yards on 25 carries. The Panthers were relentless with their running game calling power plays and inside zones to defeat the Redskins run defense.
Halfway through the third quarter, Carolina called an inside zone to the right from shotgun with Stewart in the backfield. After the snap, Stewart reads (92) Chris Baker and starts to cut backside. By the time Stewart reached the edge of the formation, he ran from the strongside A-gap to the backside E-gap based on the two tight end formation the Panthers were in.
The man on the edge responsible for this large gain was Washington cornerback (20) Greg Toler. Looking at the blocking scheme, the Panthers have seven blockers vs the Redskins’ seven defenders in the box so they have every man covered. What this means is that Toler is responsible for Stewart on the backside one-on-one.
Not only did Toler not play this run defense correctly, standing 11 yards behind the line of scrimmage after the snap, he grabbed Stewart’s facemask for an additional 10 yards penalty.
What was Toler thinking? Was he playing this far off the line of scrimmage because he feared a tight end burning him on a deep pass? He needs to play in the box and set the edge properly.
On multiple occasions Monday night, Washington trapped Stewart in the backfield for a loss, but they couldn't finish the play. It happened with both linebackers and safeties.
In the first play, Trent Murphy misses the tackle for loss even when the tight end was late off the snap. While in the second play, the Panthers run lead sweep to the left and Duke Ihenacho misses the tackle deep in the backfield. The run play is guarded well playside, but Stewart uses his expert elusiveness to dodge Ryan Kerrigan and escape up the field for an 11 yard gain.
Let’s move onto Stewart's longest run of the day with 3:42 remaining in the 4th quarter. The Redskins are down 26-15 and need to make a crucial stop. Fearing the run, they place nine men in the box to counter Carolina’s run-heavy formation.
The Panthers run Power-O Weak with three lead blockers to the right. After the snap, linebacker (50) Martell Spraight recognizes it's a power play and fills the A-gap following the guard. Since Carolina overloads the right side outnumbering the Washington’s defenders, Stewart easily sets up his block to gain 34 yards on first down.
With this loss, the Redskins now only have a 21% likelihood of making the postseason since the Giants have almost wrapped up the 5th seed in the NFC. Washington desperately needs to upgrade their defensive line this coming April. A stout defensive lineman like Jonathan Allen from Alabama or Malik McDowell from Michigan State would go a long way to improving this team’s run stopping ability.
Outside of poorly defending the run, the Redskins defense actually wasn't horrible. Sure, Donte Whitner allowed a deep touchdown to Ted Ginn in a busted coverage, but beyond that, they forced multiple field goal attempts even after the offense turned the ball over on Washington’s side of the field.
After two seasons many wonder if the team should part ways with their defensive coordinator Joe Barry; a defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions’ infamous 0-16 season, he has now led the Redskins defense to two bottom half finishes according to FootballOutsiders.
Should he be fired?
In my opinion, no, however there are reasonable arguments to firing him. Washington will have $47 million in cap space next offseason. Most of that should be tied to Kirk Cousins' inevitable extension and with the average quarterback pricing around $23 million/year, the Redskins should be left with significant cap space to target defensive help in free agency. If you combine that with a projected draft pick in the middle of the first, a new defensive coordinator should be given the chance to pick his own team unless Washington wants to dedicate another two plus seasons to Barry.
To counter that argument, Barry didn't exactly adopt a defense with talent and depth. The Redskins defense currently has a dearth of talent in every position besides edge rusher. The defensive line is filled with aging veterans who don't play consistently, while the inside linebackers, outside of rookie Su'a Cravens, aren't exactly awe inspiring. Really, the only players on this team that aren't semi-replaceable are Josh Norman, Ryan Kerrigan, and Chris Baker. You can throw in Trent Murphy and some of the other younger players like Preston Smith and Kendall Fuller, but you get my point: The team needs upgrades badly everywhere you look.
Is a bottom-tier defense two seasons in a row factoring in the lack of talent and depth on the team a reasonable amount of time to fairly evaluate a coach?
Again, I think no, but I would not be surprised if they did fire Barry this offseason. Former Seahawks' Senior Personnel Executive Scot McCloughan has a lot of work cut out for him this offseason as Washington’s GM. The team seems to be heading in the right direction, but fixing the front seven aiding in run defense should do the team wonders going forward.
As for Carolina, Seattle fans should be rooting for them this weekend as they face the Atlanta Falcons. A win by the Panthers will help the Seahawks secure the number two seed and a bye week — Seattle can earn the bye week simply by winning their last two games, but a loss by the Falcons and Detroit Lions could expedite the process.