Jay Gruden said yesterday that he plans to stick with the 3-4 defense. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

New Redskins coach Jay Gruden said that he plans to stick with the 3-4 defense as he takes over the team.

The direction of the defense has been a matter of debate ever since the Redskins fired Mike Shanahan and put defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s future in doubt.

The Redskins struggled on defense this season, ranking among the worst in the league early in the year, when they were on pace to set historically bad numbers. They improved down the stretch and finished 18th in the league in total yards allowed (5,665). (Dallas had the worst unit (6,645); Seattle ranked first (4,378).

Haslett is expected to remain on staff, although his title has yet to be defined, at least publicly.

But Gruden doesn’t plan on shifting from the 3-4 to a 4-3 front.

“This team is built for the 3-4. They’ve been a 3-4 for a while and I love the 3-4,” Gruden said. “I actually hate the 3-4 as an offensive coordinator. So I think with the players in place here, I would love to stay a 3-4. That’ll be evaluated. I just got the job here. But I know that when we played against the Washington Redskins, I know it’s very difficult to run against them. There were some issues in the back end here and there. But there is a core foundation in place. They’re well coached on defense and I’m excited to have a chance to talk to all of the candidates to still instill a 3-4 defense.”

In their meeting last season, Gruden’s offense racked up 478 yards in a 38-31 victory. On the first play of the game, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu lined up in the Wildcat formation and torched Washington’s defensive backs for a 73-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green. Quarterback Andy Dalton went on to pass for 328 yards and three touchdowns.

The Redskins did hold the Bengals to 93 rushing yards on 28 carries, a 3.3-yard-per-carry average.

Eight of the 11 starters in the final game of the season are not under contract for next season, so Gruden and his new staff have decisions to make as they look to upgrade the defense. Shifting defensive fronts does not appear to rank among those decisions, however.