Washington Redskins: How Safe Is Joe Barry’s Job?

Aug 26, 2016; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry looks on against the Buffalo Bills during the first half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Redskins defense continues to sputter under Joe Barry. How much patience will the team have in him going forward?

The Redskins travel to Met Life Stadium this Sunday looking to avert an 0-3 start to the season in Week 3. A loss would drop them three games behind the New York Giants and effectively end their quest to repeat as division champions. This early-season road to perdition has many architects, and the most prominent of them is defensive coordinator Joe Barry.

Barry has had some serious troubles as the Redskins defensive coordinator this season. His job security could be in trouble as a result. With that in mind, here is a look at why Barry has been having trouble during the 2016 season.

Sep 8, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips before the game against the Carolina Panthers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Panthers 21-20. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Barry’s Lack Of Success As Defensive Coordinator

Barry’s tenure in Washington began last year with little acclaim and a dubious past. His only stint as defensive coordinator was a two-year stretch (2007-2008) with the Detroit Lions. The Lions went winless in his second year and its defense gave up an astounding 517 points.  Detroit fired him at the end of his second season, despite Barry’s protestations that he still deserved the job (per USA Today’s Sean Leahy).

Barry was not the team’s first choice to replace outgoing and ineffective defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. Its primary target was Vic Fangio, who ultimately chose Chicago over Washington. Unlike Fangio, however, there were no other suitors for Barry’s services, which was one of several red flags the team decided to ignore. In doing so, the Redskins passed on Wade Phillips, who also interviewed for the position.

At the time the team interviewed him, Phillips had led top-10 defenses in the past seven of eight years (per Mike Jones of the Washington Post). Pundits, including Bleacher Report’s James Dudko, also widely hailed him as a coordinator who could quickly turn defenses around.  Nonetheless, the Redskins turned down Phillips because he lacked the fiery persona Gruden desired in a defensive coordinator.  Phillips, of course, now coordinates a championship-caliber defense for the Denver Broncos.

The team quickly regretted the selection of its new defensive coordinator. Barry’s unimaginative defense ranked 28th overall in 2015. While he lacked talent in certain areas, his cover-3 scheme was ill-suited to his defensive personnel. Designed to prevent big plays and to force short passes, his scheme didn’t have the sure-tacklers to make it work.  Barry did little to make adjustments to his defensive scheme and the unit plummeted in the league’s defensive rankings.

Sep 18, 2016; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman (24) defends a pass intended for Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) in the first quarter at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Barry’s Original Gameplan For Norman

During the off-season, the Redskins added players of varying talent to bolster its defense. The biggest splash was Josh Norman, who signed a five-year, $75 million deal. Paired with upstart cornerback Bashaud Breeland, the team boasted one of the League’s best tandem of cover corners.

Fans anticipated quick use of Norman’s talents early in the season against receivers like Antonio Brown and Dez Bryant. But Barry had other plans for Norman on the Redskins Monday Night opener against the Steelers. And he made no secret of it by broadcasting that he would limit Norman’s coverage to one side of the field.

Steelers Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley reveled in the predictability of Barry’s coverage scheme. Haley, who frequently puts Brown in various positions in his offense, steered Brown clear of Norman. Breeland, as a result, took on the daunting task of shadowing Brown — arguably the league’s best receiver — all game long.

At the end of the night, Brown, to no one’s surprise, notched another All-Pro performance by victimizing Breeland on a prime-time stage. Critics assailed Barry for failing to matchup Norman with Brown. Speculation also mounted about Breeland’s morale after the game.

Breeland, however, faced the ensuing music admirably, defiantly proclaiming his confidence in his coverage abilities. Barry, in turn, doubled down on his original plan to continue deploying Breeland and Norman on opposite sides of the field.

Nov 29, 2015; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry on the field before the game between the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Barry’s  Lack Of A Coherent Gameplan

This sparked a battery of questions probing the wisdom of re-running his Week 1 gameplan. Barry quickly shot down suggestions that Norman shadow an opposing team’s best receiver. He explained that a scheme featuring a traveling cornerback would confuse the secondary’s other defensive backs.

Some commentators pointed out that other defensive coordinators have employed this same strategy in countless other games (per Pro Football Talk). Seattle, for instance, assigned a cornerback to trail Brown and limited him to six passes for 51 yards. Denver did the same, though Brown enjoyed a more productive night against them. Norman himself, when asked about Barry’s comments, crudely retorted “Who really freakin’ cares?” (per CSN Mid-Atlantic).

Barry’s ineffectual Week 1 game plan didn’t get any better when he recycled it in Week 2. Breeland failed to provide effective press coverage on Bryant, who converted several key third downs. It was unclear whether Breeland’s struggles were a result of giving Bryant too much cushion or if he wasn’t getting enough help underneath. Whichever it was, Barry’s insistence on relying on Breeland cost the team points and valuable field position in the first half.

Faced with the possibility of another subpar performance from Breeland, Barry directed Norman to follow Bryant in the second half. While this proved to be productive, the confusion Barry forecasted about using a traveling cornerback never materialized. Confusion of another sort, however, emerged when Barry responded to questions about the adjustment he made. According to Barry, there was, in fact, no such change (per the Washington Post’s Mike Jones). Instead, Norman’s coverage of Bryant was simply a product of his original coverage scheme.

Barry’s shape-shifting explanations of his game plan turned another corner earlier this week. Barry announced that Norman would now tail the opposing team’s number one pass-catcher. Reports then surfaced that this was the original plan to begin the season. Barry, however, supposedly refrained from implementing it to accommodate Breeland’s feelings.

Whatever the truth of this may be, Barry’s worth is measured by how he can optimize marquee players like Norman in his defense. Up until now, he’s shortchanged Norman’s star power by allowing offenses to sidestep him in coverage. This is especially troubling where his gameplan shuts off Norman from matching up with another team’s best receiver. While he’s supposedly changing that, Barry’s lack of a coherent strategy for Norman is symptomatic of the disarray he’s brought during his term as the Redskins defensive coordinator.

May 26, 2015; Ashbury, VA, USA; Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry stands on the field during the Redskins OTA at Redskins Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Dissension Creeps Into The Lockerroom

At least one player has publicly complained about Barry’s inability to make in-game adjustments during the Cowboys game (per Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post). One could apply this criticism to the Steelers game as well, when Barry refused to provide Breeland any help with Brown. In addition, Barry couldn’t draw up a gameplan in Week 2 to minimize the contributions of a rookie quarterback playing in his second career game.

It shouldn’t therefore shock anyone that Barry’s defense is ranked 26th overall, yielding 408.5 yards per game. It’s also allowed 28.5 points per game, which ranks it 28th in scoring defense. To be sure, the defense is not stacked with talent, especially on the defensive line. But it has enough players to make it a far better unit than its current rankings.

Meanwhile, the team is facing a quick end to a season which started with aspirations for another division championship. Rumors of locker room divisions are mounting amidst consecutive home losses to open the year. In order to quell this dissent, the Redskins must start their turnaround by winning this week. And one critical part of this will be Joe Barry and how he will gameplan for Odell Beckham, Jr. and the talented Giants’ wide receivers.  If he fails to make proper fixes and adjustments to his scheme, his stay here may also last two years.

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