At the halfway point, the Redskins are 4-4. Team metrics see them somewhere between an average team and a below average team. Systems that focus more on getting first downs and controlling the ball really don't like the Redskins on either side, but systems based purely on the ability of the team to get and prevent yards per play really do think there's more here than meets the eye. This team sports an excellent turnover differential, and would be even stronger in that facet of the game if the offense hadn't been hit with a rash of turnovers in the last three weeks.
Those are the team figures. Redskins Hog Heaven is an analysis blog focused on the Redskins, which means that you can expect us to go past the team ratings to really separate the contributors from the non-contributors. We have stats that look at the Redskins offensive linemen, we have stats that look at the Redskins coverage units, and we have stats that look at the pass pressure. Combine all of that, and while we can't give you a perfectly complete picture of how individuals are doing, we can give you a pretty good look at how certain players are doing at well-defined, specific jobs related to winning football games.
These individual stats do not attempt to show every contribution about the players. The coverage stats show that DeAngelo Hall falls into a category where just about 70% of NFL defensive backs are performing better in coverage than Hall, a player in the prime of his NFL career. That's helpful to know. It's also necessary to understand that most every defensive back in the league hasn't directly contributed to two wins with big play ability this year. It's hard to imagine beating Dallas or Chicago without Hall's contributions in that game. Now, could the Redskins have beaten the Rams or Colts if they had a better performing cornerback out there instead of Hall? These statistics cannot answer that question, but honestly, it couldn't have hurt. With Hall, you just have to take the good with the bad.
Without further delay, lets examine some of the individual Redskins numbers at the mid-season break.
Lineman Yard Average
The Lineman Yard Average totals show a strong split between the performance of the run blockers on the right side of the offensive line and those on the left side. Derrick Dockery had poor figures last season, and he's been replaced at left guard by Kory Lichtensteiger, who is not any better, sporting a 3.52 total, and last visiting 4.00 LYA in a game in Week 3 against the Rams. Visual evidence of Lichtensteiger's play suggests that he's a fairly good fit for the zone blocking scheme, as he really doesn't get significant push on the OL. His best run blocks tend to be stalemates with the defensive linemen, and too often, Lichtensteiger doesn't get up at the linebacker level, which is the difference between his total and Casey Rabach's total, with Rabach doing almost a yard better on average.
Lichtensteiger and Rabach both excel at screen blocking, which is where Derrick Dockery may have been weakest. It's odd though, because this team doesn't throw very many screens. Artis Hicks struggles to find someone to block on screen plays, but Trent Williams is actually pretty good when they let him release downfield and go hunt. However, as LYA suggests, Trent Williams just isn't much of a run blocker at this stage of his career. Here's a quirk of the NFL official game book records: Football Outsiders collects and tracks the information in the official play-by-play data. That data lists the Redskins as a team that runs off left end 25% of the time, by far the most in the NFL. The Redskins don't actually run to the left that much. What happens is because the Redskins rarely run the ball between the guards intentionally, the zone blocking scheme creates natural cutback opportunites. About half of the charted "left end runs" are actually zone plays to the right where the defensive line overpursues and the cutback goes off the hip of the left guard with Trent Williams engaged inside with the backside defensive end. As the NFL describes it, thats a "left end" run. In reality, the play was to the right, and the left tackle was engaged three yards in the backfield away from the point of attack. Hence, off the left end. Those same plays also have a tendency to bounce to the middle when Rabach and Hicks open an alley, which is how the Redskins "conditionally" run to the middle.
What LYA tells us is when the Redskins do actually get that stretch play to the right and get to run off the right, which usually involves quality blocking by the tight ends and fullback, that's where they really make their effort pay off in the running game. The cutback runs tend not to amount to much yardage wise as the Shanahan scheme is famous for, mostly because the Redskins do not have a running back who can really make the opponent pay for overpursuit. They are merely good enough on the cutback runs to keep defenses honest. When they get to the edges with Ryan Torain and with Clinton Portis, and with Keiland Williams, that is when the Redskins are at their best in the running game.
While there hasn't been a significant difference between Will Montgomery and Artis Hicks at right guard on runs, it does look like Stephon Heyer has a slight advantage in run blocking over Jammal Brown in an ever-increasing sample. Brown is much more disciplined than Heyer prior to the snap, and should retain the starting job based on that alone, but after the snap, Heyer has clearly been the superior player through a half season of playing the same position on the same team.
Your leaders in large-sample LYA over 8 games: 1) Stephon Heyer, 2) Artis Hicks, 3) Casey Rabach, 4) Jammal Brown, followed immediately by the contributions of Chris Cooley, Mike Sellers, and Fred Davis, who all have performed above expectation.
On the back of a season-high 13 targets in the Lions game, DeAngelo Hall's coverage numbers have reverted from unreliably high based on a small sample to a very large sample (Hall is on pace for 128 defensive targets, which would have led the NFL in 2009) where Hall's numbers at least fall within the range of a starting NFL corner. From about week 5 through week 7, Hall's coverage numbers were so bad that they fell outside of the range of an NFL level corner. 5 INTs in 21 targets later, plus another 3 incompletions, those eight "0s" have brought Hall's success rate and YPA numbers roughly in line with a 25th percentile corner, and his completion percentage against is under 80% for the first time this year (and is less inflated by early season smoke passes).
If you're looking for a reason why the Redskins defense still ranks 31st despite it's production in terms of turnovers and points against, you can just look at the completion percentage against Hall and Rogers this year, a combined 74.8% against. Drew Brees leads all quarterbacks in completion percentage this year. He's completing 71.1% of his passes this season. When you allow as many completions as the Redskins do, you need to be a great tackling team to prevent first downs. The Redskins are good, but not great, at tackling with their back seven.
As far as success rate against the pass goes, Hall's numbers are holding the other defenders back, but Reed Doughty (vs. 3rd WRs) and Rocky McIntosh (vs. RBs) are easy targets for offenses to exploit as well. As good as Carlos Rogers has been this year, you'd like to see him prevent first downs more than 49% of the time, but the results suggest he's been merely adequate this season in a category where he is usually excellent.
Three guys who actually have exceeded all expectations 1) London Fletcher, 2) LaRon Landry, and 3) Phillip Buchanon. With the long TD to Pierre Garcon allowed by Landry (and Hall) adding more than a yard to his season YPA, we could be talking about three players in the top 25% in NFL coverage players at their positions, three players who are helping to end drives that don't end in turnover. London Fletcher is almost primarily responsible for defensing tight ends in this defense. For a job that has fallen to the safeties in modern NFL defense, you can consider it an awesome feat that our 35 year old star linebacker is doing a better job covering tight ends than most safeties are. You may have noticed the improvement made in pass defense by LaRon Landry (and probably have), but Buchanon has quietly locked down the role of nickelback, and is doing it at an elite level as far as fifth DBs go. Those numbers he sports are absolutely sparkling considering his role in coverage is absolutely identical to the struggling DeAngelo Hall.
Pass Pressure and Sack Shares
I created a sack shares formula to mimic the sack totals of the Redskins this season without actually counting sacks. Based on the pressure the Redskins are getting on opposing quarterbacks, the system estimates that the team would have 20 and a half sacks through 8 games. The Redskins have 18 sacks in those games, so the estimate is pretty close. The three outside linebackers with the most playing time are Brian Orakpo (7.0 sacks), Lorenzo Alexander (1.5 sacks), and Andre Carter (1.0 sacks). That's 9.5 sacks attributable to outside linebackers, where the sack shares system projects 10.5 Redskins sacks from the position once you factor in the half sack projection from package player Chris Wilson. That's really, really accurate if you consider that actual sacks are not an imput into the system: only hurries, hits, and holds are being used to predict sacks.
If you assume playing time is identical in the second half of the season, you can take the red-lined sack shares total from eight weeks and add it to the current sack totals of individual players to project how many sacks they will finish with. I will now project sacks for the Redskins at the end of the year, using this formula:
- Brian Orakpo, 12.0 sacks
- Andre Carter, 4.0 sacks
- Albert Haynesworth, 3.5 sacks (assumes only 8 games played instead of 12)
- Lorenzo Alexander, 3.5 sacks
- LaRon Landry, 3.5 sacks
- Rocky McIntosh, 3.0 sacks
- London Fletcher, 1.5 sacks
- Vonnie Holliday, 1.5 sacks
- Adam Carriker, 1.5 sacks
- Phillip Daniels, 1.5 sacks
- Kedric Golston, 1.0 sack
- Carlos Rogers, 1.0 sack
- Chris Wilson, 0.5 sacks
- Jeremy Jarmon, 0.5 sacks
I am projecting the Washington Redskins to finish with 38.5 sacks as a team if they do not change their rushing patterns from the first half, and assuming they face as many passing attempts in the second half as they did in the first half. They had 40 sacks as a team in 2009, while facing many fewer passing attempts. There has been a decline in the pass rush ability of this unit since last year and it's name is Andre Carter. The way we are using Carter and Alexander, we would have expected them to combine for 10 sacks together consistent with last year's production. Right now, I am expecting them to combine for only 7.5 sacks this season.
I don't track anything that would project turnovers, but the Redskins rank 11th in turnovers per drive. That might be closer to the middle of the pack than you were expecting, considering the Redskins lead right now in total turnovers forced. That's true, but the Redskins also lead the league in total drives against our defense with 102 in eight games. If you are wondering why the heck the Redskins are 31st in yards per game against while giving up just 6.1 yards per passing play, it's because when you multiply that 6.1 by a greater number of plays than any other defense has faced (thanks to an offense that ranks 28th in the NFL in converting first downs into more first downs).
Both the Eagles and the Giants rank ahead of the Redskins in forcing turnovers per drive, though the Redskins force more punts and give up fewer TDs per drive than the Eagles.
Our one competency that we have over the Eagles and the Giants that we can rely on to beat them head-to-head in the second half of the year is our special teams units. Philadelphia's biggest hire in the offseason was Special Teams coach Bobby April...so it's a bit surprising that they are average or below average in every facet of special teams play this year. The Giants are even worse than that, though they are kicking off at an acceptable level. The Redskins have struggled with their punt unit this year, but neither the Eagles nor the Giants are a threat to capitalize on that weakness. For the Redskins, their kickoff unit and return units have been among the league's best this year, and as soon as the field goal unit begins to convert kicks into points, this is going to be a strength of the team. Danny Smith has been our best coach this season (not to underrate the work of linebackers coach Lou Spanos, a big pickup).
One thing to keep an eye on: the two units that are weighing down our special teams are our punt team and field goal kicking team. Those are the two units that long-snapper Nick Sundberg plays on. Correlation is not causation, but it's something to watch for in the second half of the year.