You know that football is a team game but most think of that concept in terms of the players on offense meshing together to execute a play or each defensive player taking care of his assignment, flowing to the ball, and making the stop.
But the performance of each unit cannot be viewed in isolation. Issues on one side of the ball can manifest themselves on the other side. A look at some of the numbers from the performance last year’s Washington Redskins reveals this concept.
The Redskins’ defense in 2010 was one of the worst in team history in terms of yardage given up. In fact, the 6,228 yards they gave up is the highest single-season total in team history.
The defense had its issues, from issues adjusting to the 3-4 defense to injuries to some players who just weren’t good enough. But to be that spectacularly bad you have to have some “help”. And there is some evidence that the Redskins’ offense helped drag down the team’s defense by making them work too much.
A quick glance at the statistics would make you believe that the Washington offense was garden variety mediocre. They were 18th in yards gained with 5,392.
But the Redskins should have done better offensively given the number of chances they had. Over the course of the year, they had 200 offensive possessions (Note: Kneel downs at the end of the half and game do not count as possessions or drives). That’s second-most in the NFL, just behind the Giants who had 201.
But the Redskins did not do much when they had the ball. They ran 1,002 plays, an average of five plays per drive. Only two teams—the Cardinals and the Panthers at 4.9 plays per possession—did worse.
Washington also was among the league’s worst in burning off the clock in each possession. The Redskins averaged 2.3 minutes of possession per drive, again the second-worst number in the league just ahead of Carolina and Arizona who averaged 2.2 minutes per drive. The average NFL drive consumed 2.7 minutes.
If the offense has a lot of possessions then it follows that team’s defense has to defend a lot of the other team’s possessions (since nearly every time an offensive possession ends the defense goes onto the field). The Redskins defended 198 possessions, second in the league only to the Raiders at 202.
Once the Redskins defense was on the field, they did a pretty good job of getting back on the sideline. Opponents averaged 5.3 plays per drive against them, tied for fifth fewest in the league. The other team burned off 2.7 minutes per drive, tied for 15th in the NFL.
The bottom line is that the Redskins’ defense did OK each time it took the field. But they had to take the field so often that the average performance per drive added up to a ton of yardage being given up.
Now, to be sure, the Redskins defense did not perform great in terms of yardage given up, even on a per drive basis. They gave up an average of 31.5 yards each time they took the field, 24th in the league. This defense would not be the 1985 Bears unit if not for an inefficient offense.
But football is the ultimate team game and any weakness will manifest itself in a number of ways. When looking at offensive and defensive statistics it is important to remember that each set of numbers does not result from performances in totally separate universes.
You can reach Rich Tandler by email at RTandlerCSN@comcast.net and follow him on Twitter @RealRedskins. Join Rich for a chat during both of the conference championship games this Sunday, Jan. 23. We can talk about the games, try to figure out how the Redskins beat both of the NFC finalists, discuss the Redskins’ prospects in free agency and in the draft, and anything else you want to chat about. Things will get underway at www.RealRedskins.com when the NFC game kicks off at 3:00 and go all the way through Jets-Steelers whenever that may end. See you there!