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Breaking Down the Redskins Defense

Posted Oct 26, 2013

Independent analyst Andrew Mason examines the Redskins' 3-4 alignment on defense.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- One of the first moves that Mike Shanahan made upon becoming Washington's head coach in 2010 was to hire Jim Haslett as his defensive coordinator and commit to a 3-4 alignment.

The differences between base 3-4 and 4-3 defenses have become far less significant as teams play more situational football. One need look no further than the 4-3 Broncos' occasional use of 3-man lines with Shaun Phillips and Von Miller standing outside the defensive ends for evidence; that look is a classic tenet of the 3-4 playbook. 

Washington will try to confuse offenses and disguise their intentions.

“Their team does a lot different things," said wide receiver Wes Welker. "They don’t just throw one thing at you; they throw different things at you, and you have to be ready for everything. 

"They complement a lot of their plays and blitz and different things like that, so you have to really be on top of everything."

From a numbers perspective, the results haven't been pretty for Washington's defense -- against either the run or the pass.

Against the run, Washington is fifth-worst in yardage per carry allowed (4.6), and is at the foot of the league in first-down percentage, allowing 28.2 percent of the run plays run against the team to go for first downs. 

Against the pass, only three teams have allowed more yardage per pass play than Washington's 7.27, and 38.2 percent of the pass plays they've seen have moved the chains, the sixth-worst percentage in the league.

But offensive coordinator Adam Gase sees something more in Washington.

“That front seven is tough," he said. "I know statistically people look at them, ‘Oh they’re in the back half.’ But they got behind a few times and they were playing catch up, and sometimes you get hurt on defense. 

"They’re a tough team to run the ball against. That front seven is good and that back end -- they’ve done a good job for the most part."

And Washington is just one game removed from allowing only 213 yards and 4.3 yards per play to the Cowboys. Dallas still racked up 31 points, but only one of the scoring drives Washington allowed covered more than 50 yards -- a 10-play, 80-yard march early in the first quarter. The rest averaged just 22.3 yards a possession, and one score came via a punt return.

In Washington's first three games, opposing offenses averaged 488.0 yards per game and 6.87 yards per play. In the last three, those averages have plummeted to 290.0 yards a game and 5.21 yards per play. Some of that can be attributed to the quality of offenses faced, but not all of it, and that bears out in the percentage above opponents' average for total yardage and production. In Weeks 1-3, Washington allowed its foes 17.4 percent more yards per game and 12.1 percent more per play than their season averages; since then, opponents have averaged 16.4 percent fewer yards per game and 9.1 percent fewer yards per play than average.

At Washington's percentages for the last three games, the Broncos would still gain 392 yards and 6.0 yards per play. But if the team's myriad coverages and pass rushes cause turnovers as the Colts' work did last week, then the Broncos could find themselves in peril once again.

"Coach Haslett does a good job of mixing up defenses," said Gase. "We’re going to have to be on it as far as what our assignment is.”


-- Washington's pass rush is in the middle of the pack; with one hurry every 3.19 pass plays, according to ProFootballFocus.com, the team ranks 15th in generating pressure. But the site also ranks Washington outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan tied for sixth in quarterback pressures with 29 apiece so far this season.

-- For all its other issues, Washington has a top-ten defense on third down (36 percent, 10th in the league).