WASHINGTON — The Super Bowl was a matchup between the league’s top defense and the league’s top offense, the latter run by the league’s MVP and top offensive player.
The defense won. Again.
Cam Newton was sacked six times and completed just 18 of his 41 passes, he threw one interception without any touchdowns, and he lost a pair of fumbles. Peyton Manning completed just 13 of his 23 passes for 141 yards and an interception, and the Denver Broncos managed just 194 total yards.
But Denver won largely because it forced four turnovers to Carolina’s two, and it never let Newton and the Panthers get into any sort of rhythm. Two years earlier, when the Seattle Seahawks routed the Broncos in a surprise blowout, the story was similar. The Seahawks had the league’s best defense and the Broncos had the league’s best offense, perhaps of all time. While the Broncos managed 306 yards, they committed four turnovers to Seattle’s zero, and it led to a 43-8 Seattle win.
The Redskins gave up the fifth most yards in the NFL this season. They forced 27 turnovers, tied for the eighth most, and recovered 16 fumbles, the most in the league. But they intercepted just 11 passes, tied for the 21st most while allowing 4,128 passing yards, the eighth most.
According to Pro-Football-Reference, the Redskins defense contributed -75.97 total points in the 2015 season. The Broncos defense led the NFL with 146.71 points contributed, and the Panthers defense was second with 98.67 points contributed. Of the top eight teams by defensive points contributed, seven made the postseason — only the New York Jets, who went 10-6, didn’t make it.
Carolina allowed a score on just 26.5 percent of its defensive possessions and Denver allowed a score on just 26.9 percent, the two best marks in the league, also according to Pro-Football-Reference. Washington allowed a score on 35.4 percent of its defensive possessions.
General Manager Scot McCloughan revamped the Redskins defense in his first year in Washington, adding important veterans who helped on and off the field, such as Dashon Goldson, Terrance Knighton, Chris Culliver, Ricky Jean-Francois, Stephen Paea and Jeron Johnson. He also parted ways with underperforming cornerback David Amerson and let Brian Orakpo leave, and he added rookies Preston Smith, Kyshoen Jarrett and Deshazor Everett on the defensive side of the ball.
As a result of McCloughan’s overhaul, the Redskins defense improved from one of the worst in the league in 2014 to a simply below average unit, despite a bevy of injuries to players such as DeAngelo Hall, Junior Galette, Culliver, Paea, Perry Riley and Keenan Robinson. Ryan Kerrigan was also recovering from an injury and didn’t play at his typically high level early in the year.
McCloughan is expected to continue to build the defense in the 2016 draft and perhaps add a few more veterans in free agency. If quarterback Kirk Cousins is signed to a long-term extension, Washington will have taken care of its top need on offense. The Redskins have a handful of weapons in Jordan Reed, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, and they boast one of the top left tackles in the league in Trent Williams. They could stand to improve their offensive line, and they need to shore up some depth, but otherwise the Redskins are unlikely to dramatically change their offense.
The defense, on the other hand, needs work. The Broncos and Panthers proved that this year, the New England Patriots (eighth in points allowed in 2014) proved it a year ago and the Seahawks proved it in 2013. It might be a passing league, but defense remains important.