Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Redskins defense shines in first half

The Redskins offense ranks seventh in the NFL in yards per game at 364.3 but is scoring just 20.6 points per game, 23rd in the league. In 2007, the Redskins scored a few more points, 20.9 per game (t-18th), but gained around 31 fewer yards per game (333.4, 15th). Keep in mind, this is the team's first year in Jim Zorn's new offense, and the team is scoring just about the same amount of points and is gaining more yards. With Jason Campbell continuing to take care of the ball, Clinton Portis putting up MVP numbers, and Santana Moss having a solid season, the Redskins offense should keep improving each week.

However, though the offense appears to be in good shape, the defense has actually been the key to an impressive 6-2 start. The defense is 8th in scoring (18.1), 6th in total yards (278.1), 5th in rushing yards allowed per game (82.8), and 11th in passing yards allowed per game (195.4) -- all solid numbers, but let's examine those numbers further.

Here are the points and yards allowed by the defense in the first eight games of the season, followed by that team's current NFL ranks in both categories:

Game 1 vs. Giants: 16 points, 354 yards -- 6th in scoring (27.3), 3rd in yards (378.9)
Game 2 vs. Saints: 24 points, 250 yards -- 7th in scoring (27.0), 1st in yards (403.1)
Game 3 vs. Cardinals: 17 points, 313 yards -- 1st in scoring (28.6), 5th in yards (369.3)
Game 4 vs. Cowboys: 24 points, 344 yards -- 10th in scoring (25.3), 6th in yards (365.5)
Game 5 vs. Eagles: 17 points, 254 yards -- t-4th in scoring (27.7), 8th in yards (361.1)
Game 6 vs. Rams: 19 points, 200 yards -- 29th in scoring (16.0), 28th in yards (267.1)
Game 7 vs. Browns: 11 points, 236 yards -- 27th in scoring (16.4), 30th in yards (265.7)
Game 8 vs. Lions: 17 points, 274 yards -- 28th in scoring (16.3), 29th in yards (266.3)

To summarize, the defense held five of the NFL's top 10 scoring offenses below their season averages in points and yards per game despite ranking 28th in sacks (10) and forcing only 8 turnovers (only Detroit and Seattle have fewer in the NFC). Also, the defense performed even better than the numbers indicate; the Saints' Reggie Bush returned a punt for a touchdown in Week 2, the Eagles' DeSean Jackson returned a punt for a touchdown in Week 5, and the Rams defense recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown in Week 6. Those three plays account for 21 points that the defense did not allow.

Intriguingly, the defense has faced a Cardinals offense with a healthy Anquan Boldin, a Cowboys offense with a healthy Tony Romo, and an Eagles offense with a partially healthy Brian Westbrook; all three players have missed several games for their respective teams.

If Shawn Springs and Jason Taylor are able to get healthy after the team's bye week (Week 10), it's scary to think exactly how strong the defense could finish the season.

Most of the credit, so far, goes to: Defensive Coordinator Greg Blache, DE Andre Carter, DT Cornelius Griffin, MLB London Fletcher, CB Carlos Rogers, CB Fred Smoot, S Chris Horton (fourth-to-last pick in the 2008 Draft), S Laron Landry, and LB Rocky McIntosh. Horton may be the early favorite for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and a much-improved Rogers could be the NFL Comeback Player of the Year after recovering from a torn ACL and MCL.

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