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Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the biggest weakness of the 2009 season for every team and explain how the franchise can address the issue. The series continues with the Redskins, who finished fourth in the NFC East (4-12).
Biggest problem in 2009: The Haynesworth contract albatross
The Washington Redskins have a long history of favoring expensive free agents over development through the NFL draft, and the franchise went all-out with the signing of former Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in February of 2009. The deal, which is worth $100 million over seven years, pays Haynesworth a guaranteed $41 million, including a $21 million option bonus he received in April of this year. When the Redskins wrote that particular check, the only remaining member of the front office was owner Daniel Snyder – after a disastrous campaign, Snyder cleaned house once again and brought head coach Mike Shanahan on board to run the football side of things. For his defensive coordinator, Shanahan hired Jim Haslett, a longtime coach who has put together many different kinds of defenses. Haslett will bring a 3-4 base defense to the nation's capital, replacing former defensive coordinator Greg Blache's 4-3. Four-man fronts are better for stat-conscious defensive tackles, and Haynesworth counts himself as one.
In defenses such as the one Haslett will run, there's a two-gap nose tackle who is primarily responsible for soaking up blockers so that ends and linebackers can make plays around him. Thus, fewer sacks and fewer tackles. Haynesworth, who has always made plays on his own despite handling double and triple teams on every snap, feels betrayed by an organization that "promised" him one kind of defense and is now presenting him with quite another. After finding himself the subject of several trade rumors and antagonizing the new coaching staff with his absence from voluntary OTAs, it would appear that player and team are stuck with each other.
Haynesworth may be unhappy with the 3-4 concept, but when the Redskins went with a three-man front in 2009, he was still able to get past offensive linemen and make things happen. Two plays from Washington's Week 15 loss to the Giants clued me into Haynesworth's potential in a 3-4, and how the overall scheme might work under Haslett.
The 2010 solution:
The first play (Figure 1) happened with the Giants at their own 37-yard line and 4:21 left in the first quarter. With New York up 7-0, Eli Manning(notes) lined his offense up in an I-formation set. The Redskins countered with a five-man front – four linemen with their hands down – and rookie "end backer" Brian Orakpo(notes) (98) standing up on the right side of the line.
On this play, Haynesworth (92) employed a swim move to jet inside as Manning threw an incompletion on a quick out to receiver Hakeem Nicks(notes). The Redskins were actually set up to stop the run, and they ran a slide to the right side with Haynesworth cutting back. He still has the ability to disrupt in the middle, able to hand-fight his way through blockers. Before Haynesworth shuts down the idea of playing the nose in this role, he should watch some film of Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff(notes), who has recorded up 21½ sacks since his rookie season of 2005 – just two fewer than Haynesworth has amassed since 2005 in supposedly more favorable settings for sack numbers.
The second play (Figure 2) came with 8:36 left in the second quarter, and showed how the Redskins can bring pressure with three linemen in a zone drop/blitz look. The Giants went five-wide from the Washington 10 on third-and-7. At the snap, tackle Lorenzo Alexander(notes) dropped into the mid-zone as all three linebackers backed out into coverage. While end Andre Carter(notes) dealt with a double team on the defensive left side, Haynesworth and Orakpo employed a simple-end-tackle stunt with Orakpo moving inside from a wide-end stance, the kind of thing Haynesworth did with Kyle Vanden Bosch(notes) in Tennessee a million times. Out of a three-man line, with the least amount of personnel pressure, Haynesworth was able to blast around the edge and sack Manning for a 10-yard loss.
Haslett has said that Haynesworth would play all over the line, which is par for the course with 3-4 teams these days – it's very rare that any defense will play with three down linemen all the time. While it's unclear where Haynesworth is getting his notions about what kinds of 3-4 fronts the Redskins will be employing, he's got the talent to do serious damage no matter the scheme. When he attends the team's mandatory OTA in mid-June, and training camp after that, perhaps he and Haslett will come to an understanding. Haslett could start by pointing out the fact that his best defensive linemen have already done good things in the defense Haynesworth professes to hate.