ASHBURN — Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry knows how this works.
When a defense doesn’t perform up to hopes or expectations there are questions that demand answers: Is it personnel, scheme, coaching style or game-day decisions? A combination of all four?
It’s hard to find a defensive metric that values the Redskins highly. Just look at the ugly numbers: They rank 29th in yards allowed per game (380.9), 24th in yards allowed per play (5.82), 25th in rushing yards (117), 28th in rushing yards per play (4.58), 28th in passing yards per game (263.9), 21st in passing yards per play (7.04) and dead last in third-down percentage (32nd – 46.64 percent).
Even in the red zone things aren’t great (26th – 47.64 percent). And move on to the advanced metrics and things remain dire: Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings place Washington 25th in pass defense and 25th in rush defense – 27th overall in weighted defense.
So where does that leave Barry’s status after a season where Washington still can make the playoffs with a win this weekend against the New York Giants? He’s not worried about it even if life for any NFL coordinator or head coach is tenuous at best. Improvement is necessary in 2017. Barry, who was the defensive coordinator in Detroit in 2007 and 2008 before being fired, acknowledges that. Now isn’t the time to think about exactly how that happens, though.
“That’s a good question,” Barry said when his future was brought up on Thursday. “Those are things that we will obviously address, but right now, I’m just 1,000 percent on the Giants, and I’m not even thinking a day past that right now.”
To be fair, Washington measures well in sacks per pass attempt (10th – 2.31 percent) and interception rate (14th – 2.31 percent). And Barry has pointed all season to the most important stat to him: Points allowed. The Redskins still rank tied for 22nd in that category (24.3), but aren’t far behind the middle-of-the-pack NFL teams. Redskins coach Jay Gruden has been publicly supportive all year. Barry joined his coaching staff after the 2014 season.
“We’ve had some adversity as far as personnel’s concerned – guys getting hurt and losing your captain early in D-Hall [DeAngelo Hall] and the safeties we’ve had to kind of mix and match a little bit,” Gruden said. “We’re transforming corners into safety and all that good stuff and signing a guy late. Linebackers, we’ve had our issues the last few weeks. But, overall, I think he’s done a good job.”
The argument that Washington has to invest more in the defense holds weight. General manager Scot McCloughan’s investment on that side of the ball have been limited other than cornerback Josh Norman. Three of the team’s safeties this year were converted cornerbacks.
Eight of the 17 draft picks the past two seasons have been on the defensive side, but only three of those players were taken in the second or third rounds (outside linebacker Preston Smith, inside linebacker/safety Su’a Cravens, cornerback Kendall Fuller).
Two of those eight defensive players are no longer with the organization (safety Kyshoen Jarrett, cornerback Tevin Mitchel) and another was on IR all season (linebacker Steven Daniels). Two others were fifth-round picks who are reserves in their second year (linebacker Martrell Spaight) or rookie season (defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis).
The 2015 free agent class included nose tackle Terrance Knighton, defensive end Ricky Jean Francois, safety Jeron Johnson, cornerback Chris Culliver, defensive end Stephen Paea and Washington traded for safety Dashon Goldson. Only Francois is still with the team.
The 2016 class has had limited impact beyond Norman – the one shining light on that side of the ball in free agency in two years. Defensive end Kendall Reyes signed in March and was cut by October. Safety David Bruton, Jr. went on IR (concussion) after Week 4, linebacker Terence Garvin is primarily a special-teams player and Greg Toler is a reserve cornerback. Any argument that Barry deserves more time to turn around this defense starts there: The front office hasn’t given him much help. There’s been a lot of duct tape used the last two offseasons.
“It’s tough when you don’t have the same 11 in there all the time,” Gruden said. “But I think for the most part there are things we obviously have to get better at. Third down conversions, red zone, obviously are issues, two-minute drills at the end of the half. But I like the way the guys compete and they play hard. That’s very, very important. And teams are going to make their plays, but I feel like we’re getting them in the right spots and giving them an opportunity to make plays.”
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