Washington Redskins' defense: New scheme installed to increase turnovers

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 7, 2010; 3:46 PM

When he first addressed the team in early March, Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan emphasized the importance of producing more turnovers.

Although the Redskins had been among the NFL's top teams on defense, at least by yards allowed, for most of the decade, they had not excelled recently in takeaways. So Shanahan scrapped Washington's previous 4-3 scheme, switched to an aggressive 3-4 defense and made the pursuit of turnovers part of the ongoing culture change at Redskins Park.

As the regular season begins, the Redskins are confident in their new approach. There were some encouraging signs in the preseason despite the team revealing little about new blitzes and coverages that could help increase turnover totals, players said, and significant improvement should occur quickly.

Or at least that's the plan.

"When it came to us these past few years, we were ranked high on defense," said outside linebacker Andre Carter, who started at right end the past four seasons. "But when it came to other things like interceptions, caused fumbles, fumble recoveries, we were low. So that's something that has been emphasized that they want more of. So we practice and rep it. And when you practice and rep it more, when you work on it as much as we do, when it comes to the game, it comes naturally."

Since the 2000 season, the Redskins have had a top-10 defense eight times. The team ranked lower than 10th only in 2003 and 2006 (25th and 31st, respectively). During that span, however, the Redskins never were higher than 10th in turnover differential.

"We couldn't recover a fumble for anything," inside linebacker Rocky McIntosh said. "We were causing 'em, but we just couldn't recover 'em."

Last season, the Green Bay Packers led the league with 40 turnovers. The Redskins were last in the league with 17 (11 interceptions and six fumble recoveries) and ranked 28th in the 32-team league in differential at minus-11. The Cleveland Browns, St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions were the only teams with worse differentials.

"When you're talking about being behind those teams and still being a top-10 defense . . . something isn't adding up," said top cornerback DeAngelo Hall, whose team-leading four interceptions last season accounted for 23.5 percent of Washington's turnovers.

"That wasn't going to fly with Coach Shanahan. With what he's trying to create here in Washington, we had to be the type of defense that's going to get the ball back for our offense. That's why he brought in Has, who made the changes to make us the type of defense we need to be."

Jim Haslett served as the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive coordinator from 1997 to '99. He has incorporated many of the principles of Pittsburgh's successful 3-4 defense into the Redskins' revised approach.

Shanahan spent a lot of time talking about Pittsburgh's defense in the first team meeting and the scheme "plays a tremendous part in it," inside linebacker London Fletcher said. "We're playing a lot more zone, so to speak, where you've got a lot more guys being able to see the football. We played a ton of man-to-man in years past. When you do that, it's really hard to get interceptions.

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