So after all the attendant drama, the holdouts, the projected trades, and the conditioning test that seemingly would never end and finally did, the Washington Redskins took the Field on Friday night at FedEx field to face the Buffalo Bills with their new 3-4 defense, and its least happy participant, one Albert Haynesworth(notes). Haynesworth has said repeatedly that he did not want to plug holes as a standard nose tackle in a 3-4 front, leaving all the opportunities for everyone else around him. It took one game for Mr. Haynesworth to change his tune.As promised, new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett brought an amalgam of fronts --a lot of the hybrid stuff made famous in recent years by the Patriots, with a down linebacker finishing off what is basically a four-man front with three actual "linemen". Haslett would also use what I might call an "offset 3", i.e., three linemen set slightly to one side and the linebacker wide on the other side outside the tackle (the diagrammed formation). When the Redskins went with a straight 3-4 -- three down linemen and two linebackers -- the idea seemed to be to slant away from the protection at the snap, allowing more disruption at the line. This worked against the Redskins early on as they overpursued Buffalo's playmakers and gave up some big gains. But once things calmed down, the front seven looked very solid.
Perhaps the four-man front you'll see most often on passing downs is one with linebackers Brian Orakpo(notes) and Andre Carter(notes) outside, and a mixture of two different linemen inside. The Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers are two teams that have adopted this concept with great success over the past few years. You'll occasionally see the Dallas Cowboys break out of their 5-2 fronts and go with something like that when they want to move versatile tackle Jay Ratliff(notes) around. And the Seattle Seahawks are using 3-man fronts with 4-3 principles in Pete Carroll's new defense. Washigton seemed to like this kind of set with wider splits, which allowed linebackers and defensive backs to come to the line and fill gaps to blitz, or to drop and cover.
Haynesworth didn't see a lot of time, as he's still trying to get into game shape. But I saw him outside in a four-man front on at least one play, he was drawing false starts when he was inside, and it's pretty clear that he's starting to realize what the new defense could do for him.
"What I was told earlier was completely different from what we're doing now," Haynesworth said after the game. "Getting with Haslett these last few weeks has really cleared up a whole lot of stuff. I really enjoy it, and it's great to have him on my side to help me with the defense."
Getting the overall concept helped. "I've never really played the nose, straight-up nose, so it's a little different. But the one thing is, you do get double-teams, but you got linebackers coming downhill, so they're not going to stand there the whole time, which in a 4-3, they were going to stay on you. ...now it's a lot different. It's still going sideways, which I'm not used to. But after getting all that stuff down, I think it'll be pretty good."
But will he be able to make plays, as the Football Gods apparently intended? "Oh yeah, you can see in practice, you can see in the games and stuff. I'm going to have one-on-ones and things like that. So it's up to me to beat those one-on-ones and get back in the backfield."
So, after a lot of folderol, all is right with the world. The Redskins beat the daylights out of the Bills, 42-17, to open their preseason. The new look offense looked much better with Donovan McNabb(notes) and a new blocking system. And Mr. Grumpypants is now on board with the program. We'll see how long that lasts, but so far, so good.
- Jim Haslett