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What the Redskins are Missing on D to Play Like the Patriots!

February 2, 2017
The Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots are getting set for Super Bowl LI or 51 for those of us that have trouble reading roman numerals. Yeah that's a cheap shot at myself. Is that allowed? 

The Redskins had plenty of chances to punch a ticket for the playoffs and give themselves the unlikeliest of chances to play this Sunday in Houston, and failed miserably. Time and time again.

So while the Redskins hope to make it next year and must  re-shape their roster & specifically their defense by you know, actually investing in it by design and not because of some completely unforeseen and unlucky break (Josh Norman), here’s three things they are missing that the  New England Patriots are bringing to the  “Super Sunday” stage. 

Yes they have Bill Belichick, the greatest coach and defensive mind of the modern NFL era. However, as the Patriots have evolved over the years, I’ve seen them do more with less in terms of scheme.

Of course, they are still multiple and versatile – but they used to run more crazy looking fronts and packages under Romeo Crennel in their early run of championships. If you remember all of those glorious matchups against the Colts and Peyton Manning, mostly dominated by New England who often befuddled Manning, the Patriots used to run packages and fronts that sometimes included just one down defensive lineman and sometimes they would come with modified two-man fronts.

Maybe I am missing some of their creativity because I don’t watch them as much as I used to but I think they’ve simplified things over the years.

There are three main things that the Patriots have or present that the Redskins do not, at least in my eyes.

1 – They have a natural, athletic free safety that they groomed in Devin McCourty. The Redskins tried to convert DeAngelo Hall on the plus side of 30, but he’s been hurt for much of the last three years. Washington also has tried to convert Will Blackmon (also over 30) and Deshazor Everett.

Many teams convert cornerbacks to safeties and yes, it is something that can be done when you are a bit long in the tooth, but it is harder in a lot of ways.

The angles are different, the space and vision is different and the game has changed. It used to be that corners were switched to safety when they lost a step. In today’s NFL, you need to still have elite athleticism as a free safety especially if your team is going to play a lot of single-high safety looks.

I believe you have to do what New England did with McCourty. He’s 29 now but he started his NFL career as a late first round pick out of Rutgers, as a cornerback. He’s made the Pro Bowl at both positions. This is what the Patriots do (at a younger age) that many teams and certainly the Redskins haven’t done with a high-level talent.

McCourty has 19 career regular season interceptions.

2 – The Patriots can let talented players leave. The Redskins can't. 

The Patriots have been doing this forever. Last winter, they let go of their best pass rusher  Chandler Jones in a trade with the Cardinals because he was coming up on free agency. They traded him a year early and he had 11.0 sacks in his first year in the desert. He also now has 47 career sacks.

New England doubled down this year by trading free agent to be, Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns. In the matter of months, the Patriots traded away two of their best defensive players and did not get an immediate or good return in exchange. 

The Patriots bring in players that fit what they are looking for, players who flourish in their system (Kyle Van Noy, Chris Long). Seemingly, there’s little drop-off.

Some are going to give credit exclusively to Bill Belichick the coach or Matt Patricia, their defensive coordinator. That’s all fine. Of course, media and fans would never actually give credit to the players who have to execute at a high level, physically and more important mentally.

I think the biggest difference between what the Patriots do and what a lot of other teams do, including the Redskins, is this: They find players with a tremendous football IQ. They find players who are more interested in playing than complaining about officiating or taking 15-yard penalties.

The Patriots have solid players all across the board and build depth with cheap, versatile free agent signings along with solid drafts. They rarely over-invest in one particular area and players that don’t work hard or understand the game of football on a higher level, are often let go. Or if they are due a big pay day.

Having a higher football IQ allows you to play faster, even if you are not ‘fast.’ The Redskins have become much better in this area under Scot McCloughan but they still have ground to make up, especially because they lack team speed.

3 – The Patriots are also a terrific tackling team. Watch any game and you see it. They rarely miss tackles.

The Redskins, in some games, were abysmal. Specifically, the Browns win and a week one loss to Pittsburgh.

They weren’t very good in week three, a win over the Giants that saved their season and struggled significantly in losses against Dallas, Arizona and Carolina.

There were times that the Redskins tackling wasn’t bad but there were so many cases where it killed them. Another area of concern along these lines? The Redskins often had a quarterback in a very dicey spot behind the line of scrimmage with pressure and way too often allowed them to break the pocket and either scramble for a nice gain or complete a pass.

Many critics of Joe Barry said his defense did not generate enough pressure. I disagree with that, as I did throughout the season. They had opportunities and often plenty of them. Did they executive enough? No.

To provide some extra but different context to this point. the Patriots were the best team in the NFL in allowing the fewest yards-after-catch at 1,463 yards allowed. An average of 91.4 per game.

The Redskins were 30 th at 2094 yards after catch allowed or an average of 130.9 per game.

You know who was the worst team in the NFL in this category? The Atlanta Falcons at 132.9 allowed per game. The Falcons also missed 136 tackles this season according to ProFootballFocus.com (PFF) which was 2 nd most in the NFL.

It should be noted that yards after catch allowed are not the same as missed tackles but it certainly is a strong indication of bad or poor tackling along with angles and pursuit.

This is what the Patriots have or bring to the table. This is what the Redskins need. This is why the Patriots are playing on "Super Sunday." This is a huge part of the reason why the Redskins are playing golf. 

Chris Russell has covered the Washington Redskins for six seasons for multiple media outlets and was a part of the Redskins Radio Network broadcast team for the last five. He covers the Redskins for Monumental Network (www.DCHotRead.com), WashingtonTimes.com, BreakingBurgundy.com & Warpath Magazine. Listen to Chris on Washington D.C.'s # 1 sports radio station, 106.7 The FAN    


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