Why the Cowboys will Blow Out the Skins (Part 1)

I know we're down on this team after last year's debacle, but are we that down?  Are we suddenly afraid of the 2-0 Redskins?  Article after article, touting the stiff match up between the Redskins' defense and the Dallas offense.  Or the difficulties we'll face with their new and improved Shanahan led offense.

Well, if nobody else will say it, I will.  This won't even be a game.  Dallas will destroy this team on Monday Night Football, assert itself as top dog in the NFC East and take a step toward redeeming Romo in the eyes of the national audience, upon leading his team to a decisive win against a division rival, one week removed from a gutsy come back win.  In part one, let's look at this supposed defensive juggernaut versus the Dallas offense.

Washington Defense

How much better do we think this Washington defense is?  I've heard the Redskins' fans' opinion on the matter, and I've seen articles all over the place giving credit to them as well, but really?  This is a defense that ranked 2nd to last in pass defense, 26th in run defense, and 25th in sacks in 2010.  It's Week 3 in 2011, and by the sounds of it, this defense would compare with the Jets and 49ers teams we've already played, but that's not the case.

Last year teams had their choice of how to attack the Redskins, and for the most part you couldn't go wrong.  They couldn't stop the run, they couldn't stop the pass, and they couldn't sack your quarterback.  So what is it that's giving this defense so much credit in this early 2011 season?  Well, what seems to come up most often is that they've been run on the least amount of times in the league: 35.  This seems to be one of the major arguments for their "much improved" defense, the other being their sack totals so far.  Let's start with the run defense, and then look at some of the other aspects of this over-hyped Monday night punching bag.

There's only a few reasons not to run on a team; you're a team that relies on the pass, you're playing from behind, or you give up because their run D is so good (or pass D is so bad).  Let's have a look:

Their Run Defense is That Good or Pass D is That Bad

Well, with a 4.8 rushing yard average, that wouldn't seem to be the case (24th in the league).  The worst rushing defense in the league last year (Buffalo) just so happened to give up 4.8 yards per carry as well.  The Redskins 26th ranked run defense from 2010 gave up 4.6 yards per carry, so it's not as though teams are scared off of their numbers from last year either, which may be the case this early in the season.  And so far, it hasn't improved from their 2010 numbers either.

When teams have gone to the pass this year, they've had success against Washington, just like last year.  The Redskins have given up 8.4 yards per pass, again comparing to last year's worst passing defense in the league, the Jaguars who gave up 8.3. 

So certainly teams aren't afraid of their run defense, but they're still going away from the run, which must be the result of another factor.  And once abandoning the run, they're finding success with the pass, only confirming their decision to throw.  Essentially, their run defense is not that good, and their pass defense is that bad.

Teams Are Playing From Behind

They were tied at halftime against the Giants, and then went up 7 in the third, and scored again in the 4th to win by 14.  In the first two quarters, the Giants ran 12 times and passed 14 times.  Pretty even split, and at the half the game was tied.  Washington went up by 7 in the 3rd, then 14 in the 4th.  The Giants ran only 7 times in the second half, and passed 22 times, since they were playing from behind much of the second half.  They were definitely playing from behind and abandoned the run in the second half.

Against the Cardinals in Week 2, it was a different story.  It was a back and forth game that had the Cardinals leaning more on the pass than the run, throwing 30 times and rushing only 15.

In this case, the Giants certainly abandoned the run in the second half, trying to get back in the game, but the Cardinals simply leaned on what they do best: throw the ball.  Which leads us to the next consideration.

They Played Teams That Rely on the Pass

Certainly the Cardinals fit into that category, and it's no surprise that in a close, back and forth game, they went to the pass more than the run, turning to their shiny new ex-backup Eagle at QB and best receiver in the league.  It's hard to say the Cardinals do much of anything well lately, but they've certainly been a pass first offense.

The Giants however tend to be a little more run heavy.  They wouldn't seem to fit the mold of a team that relies on the pass, and in this case, their reason for avoiding the run seems to stem more from the fact that they played from behind.

So it's safe to say that we have some explanation for why teams have run so little against the Redskins, and neither seems to point at their superb run defense (although their terrible pass defense plays a small role).  The Cardinals quit running on them because they got caught in a dog fight, and being a team that tends to have more success in the air, it's no surprise that's the direction they leaned in.  And the Giants had a nearly 50/50 mix up until the second half, when they fell behind and gave up on the run to play catch up.

So it's pretty clear that their run defense has not improved much over last year, despite the misleading statistic of being run on so few times.  Let's look at another area that seems to be improved this year: the sack totals.

They have 7 sacks so far; 3 on the Cardinals and 4 on the Giants, giving them the 4th most in the league so far this year.  As stated above, they were 25th in the league last year, with 29.  A couple questions that come to mind here.  Have they played teams that give up a lot of sacks?  Were these "garbage time" sacks, where everyone in the stadium knows the next several plays will be passes?  Or have the Redskins legitimately gotten better in this area?

Have They Played Teams That Give Up Sacks?

Well, the Cardinals gave up the 2nd most in the league last year, but the Giants gave up the fewest.  The Redskins sacked the Cardinals 3 times and the Giants 4 times.  The sacks on the Cardinals could be expected.  3 sacks against a team that gave up an average of 3.125 sacks per game last year seems like a reasonable number for any defense in the league, but I wouldn't use that as a podium for the new and improved sack machine in Washington.  What's more impressive is the 4 against New York, at least considering how few they gave up last year.

Were They "Garbage Time" Sacks?

Well the Cardinals game really had no "garbage time", but even as legitimate sacks, they fail to impress as the Cardinals give up so many sacks anyway.  The Giants game however had plenty of passing plays late in the game, where the Redskins could pin their ears back, expecting the pass. 

All 4 sacks in the Giants game came in the 2nd half, where as we've seen, the Giants were passing an inordinate percentage of plays.  Not only do the chances of sacking the QB go up the more passing plays are run, the likelihood per passing play also goes up the more frequently passing plays are called.  In other words, most of these were "garbage time" sacks.

So it would seem that there's an explanation here too.  The 3 against the Cardinals were literally the average of what they gave up last year.  Nothing to hang your hat on there.  In fact a high pressure defense should expect to exceed that average.  At best we can say they were average in the Cardinals game, as far as sacking the quarterback goes.  With the Giants, all of their sacks came from when the Giants were playing from behind, and passing the ball three times more than running it.  Again, hard to definitively make a case for their pass rush improvement based on that circumstance.

And that leaves the passing defense.  Nothing much to argue here.  They weren't that great last year and they're not that great this year.  Last year they gave up the 9th worst percentage at 63.5 and the 5th worst average, at 7.5.  If you give up high percentages, you'd hope it's at least the underneath stuff, but that's not what those number suggest.  More of the same so far this year, with a 9th worst  8.4 average but actually an improved 56.5% completion rate.  Not a definitive improvement or regression here, facing two average quarterbacks.

So, in looking at the Washington defense, most of these "improvements" and "strengths" are really the results of situations in the games they've played thus far.  We can see that a case can be made just as easily that their defense hasn't improved, and depending on the tint of your navy blue glasses, perhaps even regressed, despite the statistics so far.  At any rate, there should be absolutely no reason to be afraid of this team's defense in any capacity.  They still can't stop the run, they still can't stop the pass, and they still can't sack the quarterback, despite what the statistics say after two weeks.  Dallas should absolutely light this unit up on Monday night.  The only thing keeping this offense from completely embarrassing the Redskins in front of a national audience is themselves (which isn't beyond them).  As far as the number go, this is by far a worse defense than the Jets and 49ers in every aspect.  There is no case to be made for the Redskins possessing any aspect of defense that is better than the teams we've already played, or better than the unit they fielded last year.  The Dallas offense will destroy this defense on Monday.

Thanks for reading my first fanpost here.  My next will focus on the Redskins' offense versus the Dallas defense and why that too won't even be a contest.  Don't believe the hype!  Dallas is back!

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