The defensive line was a disaster in 2010 and improving it was a pretty clear offseason priority. The Redskins did not disappoint, signing two free agents (Stephen Bowen and Bary Cofield) and throwing in a second round pick (Jarvis Jenkins, who looked outstanding in preseason before tearing an ACL).
The line is better than last year, but unfortunately that's not saying much. I had some doubts about how the free agent additions would fit into this defense, and so far they are unfortunately looking rather accurate.
Let's start with the run defense.
Stephen Bowen just hasn't held up well. He is the lineman most likely to be sealed of simply blown off the line. His job under Wade Philips was to shoot through a single gap and disrupt plays in the backfield, and it's easy to see that where is skill lies although he hasn't been too successful at that either. There have been a few times that he appeared to blow through the line to make a play, but in most of those case upon closer examination it is clear that a missed assignment by the opposing offensive line left him unblocked.
Barry Cofield has looked all along like what he is - a pretty good 4-3 tackle forced into the 3-4 nose tackle position. Since he obviously has more pure athleticism than you would expect for the position, he sometimes makes plays you wouldn't expect a nose tackle to make, such as chasing down a play from the backside.. But he in no way dominates the line and is prone to getting controlled by his blockers.
Adam Carriker, the stalwart from last year's otherwise disastrous line, appears to me to have taken a step back. He's not a liability, but he's not holding up against his blocks as well and gets pushed out of his gap assignment just as often as the other guys.
Things aren't much better against the pass.
The pass rush is once again almost entirely reliant on the outside linebackers or blitzers. I'm not too concerned about defensive linemen getting sacks, but they do need to disrupt the pocket sufficiently that if Ryan Kerrigan or Brian Orakpo don't get there the quarterback still feels some discomfort. But even the nickel front, in which the defensive linemen are aligned much like 4-3 DTs (with the OLBs as ends), penetration is rare. Carriker never was the guy to offer any pass rush, and Bowen and Cofield mostly just get hung up on their blockers.
The one bright spot on the defensive line would be the considerable improvement from Kedric Golston, who has played much stronger than last year and has generally done a good job of overpowering his blocker and shedding to make a play. He's been getting good numbers of snaps this year in relief of both Bowen and Carriker. I'm not sure that at this point he's still the third best player among them and I'm interested to see if his work load increases.
The uneven line performance also means that the recent addition of former first round bust Kentwan Balmer might - just might - be interesting. Of course he could be gone by Monday, and most of these mid-season bottom-roster moves never end up having much significance. The Redskins released the former back Darrion Scott, presumably be lacked much upside. This means they are not just looking for a warm body to fill a roster spot, as Scott seemed perfectly capable of filling in in an emergency. The coaches know they need some playmaking ability up front, and are taking a gamble on a talented underachiever.