The Washington Redskins may run a base 3-4 defense under coordinator Greg Manusky, but they will be at their best in a four-man front in 2017.
The Washington Redskins continue to be referred to as a 3-4 defense. But a quick review of their personnel gives reason to believe that they would much rather be a unit that features a four-man front.
In 2016, the Redskins struggled defensively, ranking in the bottom third of the league in just about every major category except sacks (tied for 9th in the NFL with 38). They were particularly bad against the run, allowing an average of 4.5 yards per rush (25th). The team brought in big-bodied free agents this offseason like Phil Taylor and Stacy McGee. They are working in second-year player Joey Mbu to man the nose. In a traditional 3-4, those big, immobile guys clog the middle. But none of those players, despite their size, is a dominant presence up front. The 3-4 leaves productive players like linebacker Preston Smith uncovered against the guard. It forces him to take on a 300-pound lineman every snap.
An explosive player like first-round pick Jonathan Allen is able to play out on the edge. He can also slide inside and penetrate from the interior. Hence, it makes sense for the Redskins to consider a four-man front. They were in that mode 70 percent of the time last season anyway, when utilizing their sub packages. Allen recorded 73 plays behind the line of scrimmage at Alabama. He used quickness off the ball, strength, and athletic ability to beat guards inside. He may lack the ideal size to be an every-down defensive tackle, However, he has the tools to be a dominant 3-technique in a 40 front.
The alignment change would also allow 2016 sack leaders Ryan Kerrigan (11) and Trent Murphy (9) to move to defensive end. It will keep opponents from focusing their protections on Allen, And it allows a player like Ziggy Hood to move back inside – along with free agent Terrell McClain and 2016 draft pick Matt Ioannidis. That creates a nice rotation inside and gives the team a much more active front against the run. It’s also a group that can get to the quarterback from anywhere along the line of scrimmage.
It also helps at the linebacker level. Smith moves to the middle where he’s better protected and can be a more active sideline to sideline player. Zach Brown moves outside. And second-round pick Ryan Anderson can now get on the field as a blitzer from the outside linebacker spot.
If the Washington Redskins are looking to get their best personnel on the field, the 4-3 makes them a tougher unit to defend.
Ken Ilchuk is a Washington Redskins writer for Pro Football Spot. You can follow him on Twitter at @Keneye12. Looking for more Redskins news and features? Like our Facebook page HERE and also follow @spot_redskins on Twitter.