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What you need to know about the Redskins’ defense and special teams

Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Redskin Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks face the Washington Redskins on Sunday. In this two-part series, I’ll be looking at Washington’s offense and defense/special teams to catch you up to speed on everything you need to know before the game.

To start the season, the Washington Redskins looked like a team to be wary of. While they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1, they beat the Los Angeles Rams in LA and then completely destroyed Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders (video). In Week 4, after sustaining a multitude of injuries, they barely lost to the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football. According to FootballOutsiders, they had a top five defense after the first four weeks.

After starting the season promising, they barely beat the San Francisco 49ers, then suffered two painful losses to the Eagles (second time this season) and the Dallas Cowboys dropping them to 3-4. While they are certainly not out of playoff contention, little has gone right in the past few weeks.

Injuries, for starters, have completely sapped this team. Going into their Week 8 match versus the Cowboys, here was the official injury report.

For Week 9, the defense will also be missing Matt Ioannidis, who broke his hand and has already been ruled out of the game. Honestly, it has gotten so bad that on Reddit’s Redskins community, members started playing “Injury Bingo” during the games.

Note: Yes, that IS Washington’s owner, Dan Snyder, at the bottom with Devil horns.

From a schematic standpoint, Washington’s base defense uses a three-man front. In nickel packages, the outside linebackers line up in three-point stances and rush the pass rusher in a 4-2-5 alignment. In the secondary, they primarily play man coverage. They also play a mixture of Cover 3, Cover 2 Zone, and Cover 4, but this represents roughly a 25-30% of their defensive snaps. Versus the Seahawks, I expect them to use man coverage.

Additionally, while many teams use “shadow” or “star” coverage, the defense plays “sides” coverage with Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland. This is similar to how Seattle’s defense plays with Richard Sherman defending his side of the field. For the Redskins, Norman primarily lines up on the defense’s left. Breeland was a surprise scratch last weekend and his status remains unknown at this point. He is having a good season so far, but if he can’t dress for the game, expect Quinton Dunbar to play opposite of Norman with Kendall Fuller in the slot.

As far as the safeties, D.J. Swearinger is easily the best safety this team has had since Sean Taylor passed away. He did not play well versus the Eagles two weeks ago, but he has had a very good season so far and has solidified this defense. Rookie fourth round pick Montae Nicholson has looked surprisingly good in deep coverage and should get more playing time assuming he’s healthy (also injured).

In the front seven, Ryan Kerrigan is the name you know. He is a consistent force off the edge and is having a very good season so far. As discussed previously, Ioannidis, who was ranked in the top five for interior pass rushers, broke his hand and has already been ruled out of the game. Other notables are Junior Galette, who looks like a shell of himself since his last complete season in 2014 and Zach Brown, who is great run defender, but has looked awful in pass coverage; Mason Foster, the team’s best inside linebacker, and rookie first rounder, Jonathan Allen, were both placed on injured reserve.

Speaking of injuries, they have even affected the special teams unit. Washington’s kicker, Dustin Hopkins, was placed on injured reserve after suffering a partially torn hip muscle. Rookie Nick Rose was signed and has been decent in limited attempts. He’s made three of his first four field goals and has made four of his first five extra point attempts.

After eight weeks, Washington is ranked 14th in total DVOA, 12th on offense, 13th on defense, and 25th on special teams. Broken down further they are 16th against the pass and 11th against the run, but as mentioned, dealing with a myriad of injuries at the moment.

Based on my study of this team, here are the keys to a Seahawks’ victory:

  1. Double team Kerrigan. He already has six sacks in seven games. He mainly rushes from the defense’s left (82% of his pass rush snaps), so helping Germain Ifedi stop him will be important.
  2. Use motions and move Doug Baldwin to the opposite side of Norman. Norman, who has been dealing with a rib injury himself, should be healthy in this game. While Baldwin is a great receiver, there is no reason to test him considering they play “sides” coverage.
  3. The Redskins should play a lot of man coverage on Sunday. The defense as a whole has struggled with quarterbacks that can scramble. Expect Russell Wilson to run for a few first downs.

Here is the video I created after the Redskins dominated the Oakland Raiders in Week 3:

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