Will Haslett's "uncuffed" defensive scheme work for the Redskins?

Will Haslett's "uncuffed" defensive scheme work for the Redskins?
April 15, 2014, 10:45 am
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Tandler - Tarik

The 2014 Redskins are loaded with storylines. Between now and the start of the first veteran minicamp on April 29, Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir will examine 20 questions Washington faces as Jay Gruden pieces together the roster, finalizes his playbook and preps for his first season as a head coach in the NFL.

Will the Haslett-without-handcuffs scheme work?

Without being in the meeting rooms at Redskins Park and/or privy to conversations between coaches on the sidelines, it’s almost impossible to know exactly how much former head coach Mike Shanahan interfered on the defensive side of the ball. But we do know is this: since Shanahan’s departure, it’s been revealed that that defensive coordinator Jim Haslett did not always have full autonomy. During a February interview on ESPN 980, in fact, veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall said, “I’m excited after talking to Haslett …of him being able to just run his defense without anybody in his ear telling him what to call or what not to call. Haz is going to get to do what he does.” But the question remains: Will it result in better results for a defense that ranked 30th in points allowed in 2013?

El-Bashir: If Shanahan was a micromanager, then Jay Gruden’s management style appears to be the complete opposite. Indeed, Gruden has indicated that he’ll focus almost entirely on the offensive side of the ball, while allowing Haz and his staff to run the defense as they see fit. Based on what we know about Haslett, that likely means a greater emphasis on the pass rush and creating turnovers. Haslett has already said that he intends to “turn loose” outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan and “do more with them game-wise.” He’s also said, “You’ll see more of what we want to do from the standpoint of coverage”—a not-so-subtle shot at how business was conducted under the previous regime. In addition to more freedom, Gruden and GM Bruce Allen have also provided Haslett with more talent (Jason Hatcher, Ryan Clark, Tracy Porter, etc.) So while it remains to be seen if the bottom line improves, we’ll definitely know by the end of the 2014 season where the responsibility lies if things don’t turnaround on defense.

Tandler: For Haslett’s more aggressive scheme to work it has to, well, work. Mike Shanahan didn’t have Orakpo drop back into coverage over 100 times last year just because he felt like meddling. He didn’t have Orakpo and Kerrigan responsible for contain rather than rushing after the QB because he wanted to show Haz who the boss was. These are tried and true defensive principles that err on the side of caution. If Haslett is going to throw caution out the window on frequent occasions and throw everything but the kitchen sink at the opposing quarterback, the rushers need to get to their intended target. The Redskins’ secondary may not be as bad as many think it is but it’s no Legion of Boom either. If the rushers don’t get home we will see a lot of opposing receivers dancing in the end zone after getting past single coverage. Haslett may come up with some nice X’s and O’s but it will come down to the execution of the Larrys and Joes (and Brians and Ryans).

20 questions: