Monday, April 19, 2010

The Curious Case Of The Redskins' Defense

In the last few months the Washington Redskins have made a lot of noise. They hired a future Hall Of Fame guy in former Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. They signed several big name former stars like Larry Johnson. They executed a blockbuster trade inside their own division for future Hall Of Fame quarterback Donovan McNabb and they own the 4th pick in this year's NFL Draft.

But not all of the noise has been positive. The guy they signed last year to be their franchise defensive player, Albert Haynesworth, has been in the news also for the wrong reasons. After signing a $100 million dollar contract last year and failing to live up to admittedly unreal expectations, Haynesworth came out and publicly disagreed with the Redskins' decision to switch to a 3-4 defense. Not only that, he vowed to stay away from voluntary activities and show up only to mandatory offseason practices, seemingly trying to force Washington to trade him.

Now there has been no shortage of sports pundits knocking him for this move. I admit its hard to feel empathy for a guy who just recently received an almost $20 million dollar roster bonus. But his point at the time is that he has never played nose tackle in a 3-4 and it wasn't something he felt comfortable trying to learn. I know most people would say for that amount of money he should be willing to learn how to drive the team bus. But considering the fact that the NFL truly IS a business there are also reasons to understand why he wasn't happy about the move. Yes he is getting paid an ungodly amount of money, but he also cares about his legacy. Just a few years ago he was being mentioned as a candidate for MVP of the whole league for his strong play with the Tennessee Titans and its highly likely that making a drastic move from a 3 technique to a head up nose tackle would further erode public opinion about his abilities.

I could go into a long dissertation about the pros and cons of him moving to nose tackle but that's not what this post is about. You see I happened to look at the Redskins' roster the other day and my interest was piqued. People have spent so much time knocking Haynesworth for his obstinacy and so much time focused on the holes that Washington needs to feel on their offensive line, that it seems nobody stopped to wonder just how switching to a 3-4 defense would affect a defense that was good enough to be ranked 10th in the league last year without much help from their offense.

Anthony Bryant

Phillip Daniels

Kedric Golston

Maake Kemoeatu

Anthony Montgomery

Greg Peterson

Are you familiar with any of the names on that list? Well if you are a Redskins fan you better get acquainted in a hurry because aside from Haynesworth those are ALL the guys on the current roster who are candidates to be the starting interior linemen in a 3-4 formation this year for the Redskins.

Know how many of them have played in a 3-4 defense in the last 3 years?


And through out their offseason spending spree the Redskins declined to being in even one guy who is experienced in playing in a 3-4 to at least help show the other guys the ropes.

To be sure it's not just a problem with the interior linemen. Two of the best performers last year for Washington, linebacker London Fletcher and defensive end Andre Carter, seemed to be poorly suited to a 3-4 defense. Yes, 2nd year player Brian Orakpo seems to be a perfect fit as a rush linebacker but as you look through the Redskins' roster who else seems to be a prototypical 3-4 defender?

But wait, its not just the players either.

Jim Haslett was hired to run the defense for Shanahan and as far as I can tell Haslett hasn't run a 3-4 defense since 1999 when he was the defensive coordinator for a Pittsburgh Steelers team that went 6-10. In the years since he has has stints as a defensive coordinator in both New Orleans and St Louis and in both of those stops he ran a 4-3. Now I'm not saying he can't do it, but its not exactly what you would think of as his forte.

So what gives?

Mike Shanahan never wasn't a 3-4 guy when he was a head coach out in Denver. His defenses consistently ran a 4-3 and generally were very good at it. I realize that lots of teams are transitioning to a 3-4 now for whatever reason but I would also remind people that both teams in this season's Superbowl ran a 4-3 and for that matter 3 of the final 4 teams ran a 4-3.

I readily admit that I personally prefer a 4-3 defense having played in that scheme most of my career, but by the same token I am a defensive scholar and with the right personnel I also know the havoc you can create with a 3-4. In this case however it would seem that the Redskins have round pieces that they are trying to stuff into square holes.
And lest you believe that the Redskins will use the draft to give their defense the extreme make over treatment, I would remind you that they only have 4 picks in the whole draft at the moment with no 2nd nor 3rd round pick at all.

At the moment Washington is in many ways blessed to have Haynesworth causing such a ruckus over playing nose tackle. It gives sports pundits a target to throw darts at and keeps them distracted. But what will happen after the draft is over and the smoke has cleared and Haynesworth is either traded or welcomed back into the fold? What happens when other people start noticing the obvious deficiencies I have just exposed? What happens if or when the Redskins take the field next year and instead of their offense being the weak link, its their once stout defense that can't stop anybody?

All I can say is stay tuned....

*Update: It turns out the Redskins made a big splash free agent signing yesterday signing former Ravens, Texans, Saints, Seahawks and Jets defensive lineman Howard Green to compete for the nose tackle position. FINALLY, a guy who has actually played in a 3-4, now the sky's the limit

If you aren't sure, yes that's sarcasm oozing through this update. You might think that the Redskins signing a guy to compete for a starting job off of a mini-camp tryout would be a HUGE red flag for the rest of the media to take notice of the state of their defense.

Guess we shall see...

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