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Redskins X’s and O’s: Offense vs. Defense

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

There’s nothing like a good debate to get your adrenaline going. It’s even more fun when respect and admiration (i.e., “X’s and O’s) are part of the equation.

Lake Lewis and I will be debating a topic weekly throughout the Washington Redskins 2016 campaign including during training camp, the preseason, the regular season and perhaps even the playoffs.  This is our first edition so let us know who wins this spirited — but always friendly — debate!

This week we discussed the moves that General Manager Scot McCloughan made — or didn’t — during this past off-season. We ended up having a spirited debate on whether it would be the team’s offense or defense that would carry it this season and the conversation was interesting, to say the least. To follow is a recap of the, um… “discussion” (to put in mildly) that we had. We’ll start with my thoughts on why the offense will be the reason the team is successful in 2016 and then get Lake’s thoughts on why the opposite will be the case.

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DIANE’S CASE:

Lake, you feel that, if the team has a successful season, it will be at the hands of the defense because, as any professional football fan knows, “defense wins championships.”

I respect and admire your knowledge and experience. That said however, a bunch of the team’s victories last year were a result of another age-old adage that reflects Washington’s 2015 season:

“Offense scores points.”

Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins and the team did not work out a long-term deal by the NFL’s league deadline and that is important to my argument. Regardless of how the Redskins offer was portrayed to him during negotiations, i.e., “We can’t give you $80 million because we need to see more from you,” or “We can’t give you $80 million because we need to leave room to re-sign (DT) Chris Baker and (LB) Junior Galette next year;” Cousins is going to be motivated to have a great year.

By having to play on the franchise tag the QB has essentially said, “No problem… you’ll see.”

He is now playing for a big deal next year. It’s no secret that hunger and competition are important keys to getting the best out of professional football players.

The importance of Cousins going into this 2016 knowing he is the starting QB should not be underestimated… nor should the fact that he will have had the entire off-season to be “The Man.” By the time the regular season begins, he will have been working with the first-team during all of the Organized Team Activities (OTAs), mini-camps, training camp and the entire preseason. He displayed clear leadership on the practice field and in the huddle during the off-season drills and has said he is more comfortable speaking up in meetings as the starting quarterback. It’s a big deal that he knows the job is his.

As Cousins develops in his role, the entire offense is entering its third year in Head Coach Jay Gruden’s system and its second with Cousins under center. This is another factor that should not be undervalued. Considering the fact that the team was ranked 10th in the league last year in scoring even after Cousins not getting the nod until right before the season began, just think what is possible after an entire offseason of working with his starters.

The timing between Cousins, his receivers and the offensive line will be sharper in their second season together. In turn, the offensive line’s timing with the running backs, receivers and tight ends should be better as well. For the young guys on that line — like right tackle Morgan Moses and right guard Brandon Scherff — another year will only solidify the entire unit’s confidence in and communication with two young and promising linemen.

Guys that will be providing depth along that line also have the advantage of being in the same system for consecutive years. Offensive linemen Spencer Long, Arie Kouandjio and Josh LeRibeus have all had quality playing time due to starters getting hurt and this will go a long way should the injury bug hit the team again this year. Veteran Shawn Lauvao said during OTAs and mini-camp that he will be back for training camp. He was playing really well last year before he hurt his ankle and was put on IR. The running game was much better with him starting as well. His experience, along with center Kory Lichtensteiger’s and Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams can only help Moses and Scherff.

Washington’s run game was close to nonexistent last year once Lauvao went out but that did not stop the offense from being extremely productive.

Then-starting RB Alfred Morris was never quite able to get into a groove last year, averaging just 3.7 yards per attempt and less than 47 yards per game. Then-rookie Matt Jones showed some real talent, especially catching the ball out of the backfield (something Morris never shined doing). But the 6’2” bruising back also had some issues holding on to the ball (he fumbled five times) and with his game-plan preparation. He also had some injury concerns in 2015.

The shifty and versatile Chris Thompson — now the veteran of the group — had a pretty good season statistically, averaging 6.2 yards per rush and catching 72 percent of the balls thrown his way but he is more of a change-of-pace back than a 25-carries-per-game running back.

Morris has moved on to the Dallas Cowboys and Jones has been named the starter for 2016. Gruden seems to have a lot of confidence in him and expects a huge leap from the former Florida Gator in his second year. Jones and Thompson both stand to improve with another year under the same system with the same quarterback and if Lauvao does return, expect the running game to be more productive.

As well, there is every possibility that, even with seventh-round draft pick Keith Marshall along with UCFA and fellow-rookies Mack Brown, Robert Kelley and Kelsey Young all vying for roster spots, the Redskins may bring a veteran RB into the fold (like Pierre Thomas ) to add some depth and experience.

But the pass-catching unit is where the Redskins will amaze in 2016 and it is this group that will carry the team.

Veteran wide outs DeSean Jackson (19.7 yards-per-reception last year)and Pierre Garçon (72 catches, six TD’s last year); second-year man Jamison Crowder (59 catches — the most by a rookie in Redskins history) and tight end Jordan Reed (952 yards and 11 TDs in 2015) all provide untold value to the Redskins.

Jackson’s speed and Garçon’s willingness to make the tough catches in traffic are talents any team would covet.

Come see Lake Lewis Jr, Diane Chesebrough and Redskins running back Chris Thompson Friday at 7:30

Come see Lake Lewis Jr, Diane Chesebrough and Redskins running back Chris Thompson Friday 7/22 at 7:30. Great seafood and good times!

Crowder’s shiftiness and the receiver-caliber route-running, mismatch nightmare that is Jordan Reed make this one of the most talented pass-catching groups in football. Combine these players and their talents with Cousins’ quick ball release and continued development and the result will be an offense that will be tough to stop.

All of the above doesn’t even take into account McCloughan drafting wide receiver Josh Doctson in the first round this year to add to an already impressive group of players. The move was genius.

The 6’2” Texas Christian University wide out adds a serious red-zone threat to an extraordinarily talented segment of an offense that seems to be a pass-to-set-up-the-pass system… no matter how much Gruden says he wants to run the ball.

And to drive the point home, tight ends Niles Paul, Vernon Davis, Logan Paulsen and Derek Carrier are all quality players for whom defenses must account. All of these guys have above-average (and in Paul’s case, waaay above average) abilities and will, at some point, make plays.

Each and every team in the NFL strives for excellence on all three of its units (offense, defense and special teams) but it’s unusual for a ball club to have elite talent in all three. Out of an excellent defense, an excellent offense or excellent special teams, the most obvious production usually comes from the excellent offense.

Lake, I hate to tell you this but the winner of any competition is the one with the most points.

Scoring more points is what the Washington Redskins began to do really well by the end of last season and it is what they’ll get better doing in 2016.  If the defense can just get the ball to them a couple of times more than the opposition has it, Cousins and his group will do the rest.

LAKE’S CASE:

As much as I respect and value my trusted and loyal colleague Diane Chesebrough’s opinion on all matters, we recently had a conversation about the important of defense versus offense and I need to set her straight on some things.

While the Redskins have a potentially potent offense led by QB Kirk Cousins, I truly think that this year the defense will be the team’s calling card. At least it had better be if Washington wants to defend its position atop the NFC east.

Every team within the division can boast of high-scoring offenses, including the much-maligned Philadelphia Eagles. The New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys surely will be revitalized on offense with star players such as WR Victor Cruz (Giants) as well as QB Tony Romo and WR Dez Bryant (both Cowboys) returning from injuries that all but ended their team’s chances of making the playoffs.

Because of the aforementioned star power, defenses within the division could be on their heels playing against these high-powered offenses.

Dallas feels rejuvenated and excited about the draft-day addition of running back Ezekiel Elliot out of Ohio State. Fellow back and former Redskins Pro Bowler Alfred Morris will also be one to keep an eye on.

However everything starts with the combination of Romo and Bryant in Big D. When they are on top of their games they are a hard tandem to stop.

The Giants are led by QB Eli Manning and over the past two years he has missed Cruz — an All-Pro himself — who has had a tough go of it coming back from a serious knee injury.

Pairing him up with league-phenom wide out Odell Beckham, Jr. and the Giants feel they can go up against anyone from a sheer playmakers standpoint.

The Eagles, under first-year head coach Doug Pedersen, will be in a rebuilding year and, although they feel they will be able to compete, they are more than likely a year away. By that time they should have their No. 2 pick in the draft, quarterback Carson Wentz, under center.

Look for the Eagles to run the ball a lot this year utilizing the system Andy Reed and Pedersen ran in Kansas City which was a run-first, high-percentage pass system with less gambling down the field.

With all of this said, this is where I think the Redskins can separate themselves from their division foes.

Washington’s defense, as it’s currently constructed, boasts more playmakers than any other defense in the division.

With Pro Bowl LB Ryan Kerrigan returning for his fifth year and the emergence of the player that looked the most disruptive during OTA’s and minicamp — Preston Smith — the pass rush could be trouble for opponents.

And all of this doesn’t even take into account linebacker/pass rusher Junior Galette who is fresh and ready to get back at it after a year off due to an Achilles tear.

These three players should wreak havoc on opposing offenses and give the defensive line a chance to make plays as they collapse the pocket straight on.

Another young player that could have a true breakout season is middle linebacker Will Compton.  His instincts on the field make up for whatever discrepancies in speed and size he may have.  He understands what defensive coordinator Joe Barry is trying to accomplish on the field and knows where to be most of the time.

It’s the secondary though that should put the Redskins back in the playoffs this year.

Over the years this has been a much-maligned group because of poor play. Whether it was due to lack of talent, injuries or lack of depth, the unit has been roasted by division receivers. The Cowboys Bryant, Terrance Williams and tight end Jason Whitten have had huge games against the Burgundy and Gold in years past.

And who can forget Cruz getting past the Redskins secondary late in a game to win it? Beckham has had his three of his most productive outings of his career against Washington.

Even Jordan Mathews of Philadelphia has had some success against the Burgundy and Gold.

General Manager Scot McCloughan and Head Coach Jay Gruden have addressed that issue — at least on paper.

They brought in the free agent catch-of-the-offseason by signing former Carolina Panther cornerback Josh Norman to a long term deal. Norman gives the team a true No. 1 corner who has had success covering, and at times, shutting down Bryant and Beckham.

His addition should allow fellow cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who has struggled against Beckham in the past, a chance to develop into an elite corner by watching one who is still in his prime day-in and day-out.

Throw in pleasant surprise corner from last year, Quinton Dunbar, and 2016 third-round draft pick Kendall Fuller, and the team should be set at the position for many years to come.

At safety the wily veteran and former Pro Bowl corner DeAngelo Hall looks like a natural as a free safety. He has always been a ball hawk and can now see the full field to make up for whatever speed he may have lost. Having a playmaking safety is something the team has missed since the late, great Sean Taylor was roaming the center of the field.

Depth at the safety spot will be key as Duke Ihenacho returns from a Week 1 season-ending hand injury last year. Add in Will Blackmon who is converting from the corner position and big, physical David Bruton who signed as a free agent from Denver, and depth will no longer be an issue.

Other players to keep an eye on are defensive backs Deshazor Everett, Dashaun Phillips and Greg Toler. Safety Kyshoen Jarrett, another young player for whom the team had high hopes, is having a tough time recovering from a severe nerve-damage injury to his shoulder and arm. Unfortunately, his 2016 campaign — if not his career in football — looks to be on hold for the foreseeable future.

Overall, if this team gets above-average production from their defensive units then the sky is the limit… not just within the division, but for making some noise in the playoffs.

Outside of the Giants, who spent a lot of money on cornerback Janoris Jenkins, former Redskins linebacker Keenan Robinson, and defensive lineman Olivier Vernon, to shore up their porous 2015 defense, the Redskins clearly have the better allotment of talent on that side of the ball than any divisional foe.

Remember Diane… defense wins championships. The offense may simply get you in position to get there.

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Comments from readers would be welcome below!

About the Author

Diane Chesebrough
Diane Chesebrough is Chief Editor and a reporter for Sports Journey and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Accredited media with the NFL, she has been a feature writer for several national magazines/periodicals. Follow her on Twitter: @DiChesebrough

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