The wrinkles they added last year were, more or less, on their own faces. The season aged them all, from the owner down through the coaching staff.
Then came the changes in the staff. Then came, well, new wrinkles. This time in the form of the defensive playbook. The storyline this offseason for the defense: The Redskins will unleash the pass rush more, tinkering with the philosophy to generate more pressure. It’s not a 100 percent of the time issue; that would be a huge change.
But the opportunities will be more. Or so they hear.
“I can only hope so,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “I feel that’s where we’re starting now. You can go into it with the best intentions, but if you don’t get it done and you’re hurting the team, you have to make changes to generate pressure. It will come down to execution. But I can genuinely say that’s the plan. We’ll do different things up front, not just the line, it’s linebackers included, that should allow us to play in the backfield more and make big, disruptive plays.”
The Redskins have been a two-gap defense, with the line responsible for occupying blockers so the linebackers can make plays. They mirrored their 3-4 off of Pittsburgh, which also is two-gap. Some 3-4s are one-gap systems, like Arizona (which switched to this style last season).
Jason Hatcher, signed in free agency, fits the one-gap style well – it’s what he did last season in Dallas’ 4-3 front. The Redskins can use that style when they go to their nickel packages (as they have done in the past). Regardless, the players believe they’ll be doing different things to help this season. They need to as the pressure the past two years was inconsistent, especially when only rushing four. Hatcher’s ability to beat one-on-one blocking inside should make a difference – they hope. (More on him in another post.) And the secondary desperately needs the front to apply more heat.
It will help them that they’re facing a different level of quarterback in 2014. They will see Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick (in addition to Tony Romo and Eli Manning twice. Not to mention Nick Foles, if he can maintain his level of performance). Five teams have major questions at quarterback with a sixth (St. Louis) that has a big-money guy who has not performed at a high level at all (Sam Bradford).
Last season, they faced 10 of the top 14 quarterbacks in terms of passer rating. They’ll play six games in 2014 against quarterbacks who finished in the top 14 this past season (seven if Josh McCown starts in Tampa Bay). That doesn’t mean a whole lot right now because things change. But last season they faced a stronger group that included Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers and even Matthew Stafford (who finished 20th in passer rating, but still threw 29 touchdowns to 19 interceptions).
The oft-repeated storyline this offseason has been that minus Mike Shanahan in charge, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett finally has all the say. We don’t know if Shanahan made positive suggestions defensively; that never gets leaked.
But, the point is, there’s a belief that things will be different. How much that plays out won't be known until September. For now, it's April and that means we're about to enter about four months' worth of stories saying how it could be different. The players are hearing the same things.
“We’re not in on all the meetings so I can’t sit here and tell you who is dictating what," Cofield said. "I just know Coach Haslett is very excited and he has a lot of new wrinkles for us and has different things we’re going to do. Whether that’s him being more himself or whatever may be, I’m not sure. All I can tell you is he’s excited, we’re excited and the new wrinkles will help.”