Before getting into the defensive position reviews I wanted to very briefly lay out some thoughts on the rumored switch to a 3-4 defense.
The best thing about a 3-4 is that we are pretty much set at outside linebacker. The job shared by Brian Orakpo and Chris Wilson last year was remarkably similar to that of a 3-4 OLB stuffed into a 4-3 scheme. And don’t forget that Andre Carter began his career as an OLB in San Francisco, so I assume it won’t be too big an adjustment. That gives us a solid 3-man rotation at a key position, and I think the scheme would make these guys more effective.
At inside linebacker, we have another three-man crew: London Fletcher, H.B. Blades, and Rocky McIntosh. That McIntosh would play inside is a guess on my part and not based on any real information – but he is not a noteworthy pass rusher and wouldn’t hold up too well on the line, so I assume inside is where he would end up. I like the talent of this group. The problem, though, is that traditionally 3-4 inside ‘backers are expected to be on the larger side since they are likely to have to take on interior offensive linemen. None of them are going to be productive if they consistently have guards in their face. Fletcher is a Mike by trade and accustomed to running free, Blades is notoriously undersized (his Week 11 heroics against Leonard Davis show that he can play above his weight, but we would be foolish to expect him to consistently dominate much bigger players), and Rocky played weak side for a reason – he’s decent in space but isn’t going to overpower large blockers. Range is one of the strengths of each of these guys – and for obvious reasons a 3-4 would deemphasize that strength and highlight their weaknesses.
That, of course, brings us to the defensive line. As is clear to everyone on earth except Greg Blache, Albert Haynesworth is most effective when he’ s penetrating into the backfield and disrupting plays. 3-4s usually ask their D-tackes to hold ground against the interior linemen and keep the ILBs clear. (More on the potential roles of the other D-linemen in the upcoming position review; I will keep things brief here because Haynesworth is my primary concern with a 3-4).
So the problem as I see it:
The 3-4 can work well if blockers can be kept off our undersized ILBs.
The 3-4 can work well if Haynesworth doesn’t need to worry about absorbing blockers and is free to penetrate into the backfield.
I have no idea how to accomplish both. Hopefully, Jim Haslett does. If what we are looking at is more of a hybrid scheme that keeps opponents guessing about what our front seven is doing, then I’m all in favor of it. Maybe we shouldn’t overreact to this sort of rumors – the fact that the new coaching staff is thinking creatively to best utilize talent should only be encouraging, I suppose. It could also be much ado about nothing and the Redskins could stick with a base 4-3. I will be okay with any scheme… as long as it is built around Albert Haynesworth.
UPDATE: From Redskins Insider's account of Shannahan's press conference today:
"On defense: Shanahan says the team will use 3-4 defense but will use four-man front [sic]. He expects the defensive linemen to be very versatile "
Meaning... Haynesworth will be more than just a space-eater...? I hope that's what this is saying.