Saving the Washington Redskins season requires decisive action from Mike Shanahan. He should axe defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and switch to a 4-3 front.
Shanahan changed the Redskins defense to a 3-4 when he was hired in 2010. The argument was that the 3-4 creates more turnovers.
That's a flimsy argument at best. Producing turnovers is not scheme-dependant. It is the result of the aggressive mentality of individual personnel.
The problem of finding suitable personnel for a 3-4 scheme has never been properly resolved in Washington. Haslett's defense ranked 31st in 2010, before improving to a modest 16th last season.
This year, Haslett's group has consistently undermined the strides made by the offense and rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. Washington's defense currently ranks 28th in yards and 27th in points.
They are 31st against the pass, surrendering 301.7 yards a game. Their 9th ranking against the run is deceptive, because most teams don't need to bother running.
That pass defense is the product of a patchwork secondary that was carelessly thrown together at the start of the season. Shanahan and Haslett have been content to rely on unproven players and mediocre veterans.
Yet despite featuring players like Madieu Williams and Cedric Griffin, Haslett hasn't altered his schemes. He still insists on operating a diet of heavy blitzing, supported by man coverage.
It doesn't seem to bother Haslett that neither of his corners, DeAngelo Hall or Josh Wilson, can handle single coverage.
The problems haven't been limited to the secondary. Injuries to Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo have ravaged a front seven, short on quality depth.
Shanahan's 3-4 experiment has failed under Haslett's hapless stewardship. The Redskins must make the move back to a 4-3 now.
Why and How the 4-3 can work in Washington
The Redskins don't have true playmakers at linebacker. That's despite the best efforts of 37-year-old leader London Fletcher.
They do however, have some useful players along the defensive line. Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield are an effective tandem.
They would fit as 4-3 tackles and provide an excellent inside push on the pocket. Moving 2011 first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan back to defensive end would help on the outside.
Kerrigan played the position in college and would get more pass rush opportunities. That's vital for a Redskins defense that has managed just 14 sacks.
Natural rush ends like Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson would also benefit from a similar switch.
At linebacker, Fletcher would be better protected by having two big tackles occupying blockers in front of him. Introducing fourth-round rookie Keenan Robinson would add more speed and athleticism on the edges.
With a regular rush provided by four linemen, the Redskins would create more pressure. This would better mask the deficiencies in the secondary.
More zone looks could be included in the coverage schemes, thanks to consistent pressure from the front four. This would help eliminate some of the big plays the Redskins are giving up.
The Redskins were a perennial top-10 defense playing a 4-3, before Shanahan and Haslett arrived. They have the personnel to resurrect the scheme and again make it a success.
Entering a bye week, gives the Redskins a great opportunity to begin a schematic change. Current linebackers coach Bob Slowik has run 4-3 defenses in the past and could succeed Haslett.
With Griffin under center and Alfred Morris gaining yards on the ground, the Redskins only need a complementary defense.
Axing Haslett and turning back to the 4-3, can give them that.