Reporting Grant Paulsen
Ranking the Redskins’ Biggest Needs: Nose Tackle
1. Nose Tackle
3. Offensive Line
5. Wide Receiver
The Redskins did not win the battle for the line-of-scrimmage nearly enough in 2010. For that to change this fall, Washington has to upgrade its personnel on the interior of the team’s defensive line, where Ma’ake Kemoeatu didn’t provide the impact the team had hoped for and Anthony Bryant is more serviceable than he is a difference maker.
Washington ranked 26th against the run in 2010, yielding 128 rushing yards per game. (As a comparison, the Pittsburgh Steelers only allowed 63 rushing yards per contest). Issuing 4.6 yards-per-attempt like the Redskins last season is not acceptable. Not if you want to be a stout defense.
The nose tackle position must be upgraded to give the Redskins’ front a better chance to stuff the run and eat space. But adding a game-changing presence at nose tackle could also help Washington generate more pass rush. The Redskins saw their sack count dip from 40 in 2009 to 29 in 2010. That shouldn’t have happened when switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4.
Acquiring a nose tackle who can take on double-teams and attract extra attention from blockers could free up Washington’s defensive ends to penetrate an opponents backfield.
It would also help the Redskins to create quarterback pressures from blitzing linebackers, who might be able to come free from up the middle more often.
If you watch the Patriots or the Packers and see what Vince Wilfork or BJ Raji do to impact games from their nose tackle positions, you know how badly the Redskins are missing a dominant force up front.
Albert Haynesworth could have provided what the team lacks but he didn’t want to and that isn’t going to change. Kemoeatu was signed after missing the entire 2010 season to anchor the position. He wasn’t healthy enough to perform at a high level. Bryant played well late last winter but he is more a reserve than he is a starter.
Chris Neild was drafted out of West Virginia in the 7th-round and has added valuable experience as the only nose tackle who has participated in Washington’s player-run mini camps. He helped the Mountaineers rank 3rd in the nation against the run last season and he will work hard enough to compete for a roster spot. But he shouldn’t be expected to start.
I had a chance to talk with Ron Rivera at the NFL Combine. Now a head coach, Rivera designed and coordinated the NFL’s top ranked defense last season in San Diego. I asked him what the most important position is for a team that wants to run an elite 3-4. His answer? Nose tackle.
You just can’t operate an upper echelon 3-4 defense if you don’t have a nose tackle changing the line of scrimmage and driving offensive linemen into the backfield. The Redskins have to find a true nose tackle who can do that.