Breaking Down the Struggling Washington Redskins Run Defense

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2013

Dec 8, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) carries the ball past Washington Redskins strong safety Bacarri Rambo (24) and Redskins outside linebacker Rob Jackson (50) in the third quarter at FedEx Field. The Chiefs won 45-10. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Redskins run defense has been exposed several times in recent games. The unit has surrendered numerous big gains on the ground thanks to a failure to win up front and poor tackling.

Both of these weaknesses were on display against the New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs. Against the Giants in Week 13, the defensive front was overwhelmed by straight-ahead blocking, while the second-level defenders couldn't stand up to power running.

With the Giants at their own 43-yard line in the second quarter, 250-pounder Peyton Hillis battered his way to a 27-yard gain. The play began with the Redskins in a nickel alignment, but their four-man line was soon manhandled and pushed away from the ball.

Notice how Ryan Kerrigan (91) and Kedric Golston (64) were easily brushed aside to create a huge lane for Hillis. That left inside linebacker London Fletcher (59) to stand up to a block from tight end Brandon Myers.

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Fletcher couldn't elude Myers and close on Hillis, who soon made his way to the secondary.

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That is where mediocre safety play once again proved the bane of the Washington defense. Brandon Meriweather made only a passable excuse for a tackle, which Hillis simply swatted away as a minor irritant.

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It was too easy for the Giants to create this big gain. They comfortably won the battle in the trenches and Hillis bulldozed past would-be tacklers who appeared less than keen to bring him down.

That gain was soon followed by another punishing long run, this time by fellow bruiser Andre Brown. The 227-pounder was given an inviting hole by blockers who again found it easy to beat the Redskins front.

Not one of Jarvis Jenkins (99), Chris Neild (95) or Chris Baker (92) could beat single blocking. Their failures meant the Giants quickly got linemen to absorb inside 'backers Fletcher and Perry Riley Jr.

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Worst still, outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan was comfortably handled by Myers on the edge. This should show how dangerous it is to assume Kerrigan and fellow rush end Brian Orakpo could seamlessly transition to a 4-3.

In a four-man scheme, defensive ends should beat tight ends every time. That Kerrigan couldn't is one reason why Brown had a huge lane to attack.

He capped his 23-yard scoring surge by nudging through more token tackles by the safeties.

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On both of these plays the Redskins couldn't penetrate the line of scrimmage or even create movement to string a run out to the sideline.

Once Hillis and Brown reached the second level, nobody seemed to want—or was capable enough—to tackle them.

These problems were even more obvious the next week against the Chiefs. Star rusher Jamaal Charles had been wearing down the Redskins from the start. By the fourth quarter, those efforts took their toll on the Washington defense.

On this play, the three-man line was easily handled one-on-one.

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That again let an offense quickly get blockers to the linebacker level.

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Charles was then allowed to break three tackles on his way to a 33-yard run.

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That scamper, created as much by the generosity of the Redskins soft run defense as it was by Charles' brilliance, was followed by another big play on the ground.

This time it was rookie Knile Davis who was the beneficiary. The Chiefs again won up front.

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Leaving them free to once more absorb Fletcher and Riley with little trouble.

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As Davis cut back, he broke a tackle from cornerback Josh Wilson and escaped the grasp of Kerrigan. That capped a 17-yard touchdown run.

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It was little wonder the Chiefs gained 193 yards on the ground and Charles averaged an eye-watering 7.9 yards per rush.

The Redskins failures against the run show what their 3-4 defense is missing. It needs more beef and dynamism along the front.

The scheme cannot work if defensive linemen aren't absorbing multiple blockers and keeping linebackers free to chase plays down. Behind the front, the back seven have to hit with greater intensity as well as more disciplined technique.

Playing without these things has led to a rush defense that has slipped from fifth in 2012 to 18th this season.

While the pass defense has been an issue all season, the Redskins deteriorating run defense is no small problem. It reveals a unit that is failing on every level.


All screen shots courtesy of NBC Sports, CBS Sports and Game Pass.