By Thomas Johnson at washingtonpost.com
Follow on Twitter @bythomasjohnson
It’s easy to think that things should get easier for the Washington Redskins next week simply because they are playing one of last year’s basement-dwellers, the perpetually underwhelming Jacksonville Jaguars.
However, this version of the Jaguars could be better than last year’s 4-12 record suggests. Going into the season, Football Outsiders calculated the mean wins for every team, by simulating the 2014 season 10,000 times. Jacksonville’s mean wins number was 6.9, while Washington’s was 7.6.
As Jay Gruden prepares the team for Week 2, the Jaguars’ defensive line could cause a fair number of sleepless nights. While Jacksonville doesn’t have a single player capable of causing J.J. Watt-level mayhem — and who else does? — they were able to effectively pressure Nick Foles all game, finishing with five sacks and forcing Foles into three turnovers, after he only coughed up the ball four times total last season.
Leading the Jaguars’ line pressure will be second-year defensive end Ryan Davis, who logged two sacks against the Eagles, after registering just one sack in his rookie season. Davis was the ninth-highest rated 4-3 defensive end in Week 1, according to Pro Football Focus. Davis will line-up opposite Andre Branch, who was ranked 11th and Red Bryant, ranked 12th.
There’s a fair chance that this iteration of the Jaguars is significantly improved in the one area that affects RGIII’s most glaring weakness— quick decision-making. Last season, the Jaguars finished 22nd in weighted defense, an adjusted metric that better reflects how the teams were playing at the end of the season, by decreasing the importance of early season games. The Texans? They finished 23rd.
For Washington, there are a couple of silver linings. For one, they could argue that as porous as their offensive line appeared at times, its still in better shape than Philadelphia’s. Last season the Eagles ranked second-to-last in adjusted sack rate (9.4 percent), which “gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent,” as per Football Outsiders. Washington was better (7.6 percent), but still mediocre compared to the rest of the league, finishing 19th. Meanwhile, Washington’s quarterback was hit 96 times last season, the tenth-highest number in the league.
One somewhat encouraging sign for Gruden is that Griffin threw the ball away four times, more than any other quarterback in Week 1, and something that Gruden has emphasized in practice.Griffin will face pressure again and for Washington’s offense to improve, he will have to continue to make the correct split-second decisions, even if that means repeatedly lobbing the ball into the sideline.