Breaking down the Redskins’ defensive line for the 2020 season

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LANDOVER, MD – DECEMBER 22: Washington Redskins helmets are seen on the sideline before the game between the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants at FedExField on December 22, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Our early Redskins positional breakdown series now moves on to the defensive side of the ball.

The last position breakdown was for the offensive line. No fun. This one is for the defensive line. Fun. Fun fun fun. It ought to be. In the past four years, the Washington Redskins have spent four first-round draft picks on defensive linemen. Of the thirteen players currently listed as either defensive ends or defensive tackles, five of them are former first-rounders. With that kind of investment, the Redskins’ defensive line had better not just be good. It needs to be dominant.

I really like the move to a 4-3 base alignment that Jack Del Rio will implement this season. It allows the Redskins to take advantage of the plethora of riches they have up front. And it allows large, athletic men to play far more aggressively.

In the 3-4, the linemen are merely showcases for the playmaking linebackers behind them. Their job is to occupy blockers. It requires a very particular athlete and mindset to play the nose – an immoveable man who will tie up multiple interior blockers and rarely make the play himself. The ends have to be bigger (simple math – there are fewer big men on the field so you need the ones who are there to be true giants). Of course there are exceptions, but 3-4 ends tend to be bigger run stoppers as opposed to dynamic pass rushers.

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In the 4-3, that gets flipped. The line attacks. The linebackers stay back and clean up whatever escapes the front four. Both defensive tackles and defensive ends in a 4-3 tend to be a little smaller and quicker than their counterparts in the 3-4.

Ryan Kerrigan had been a very good defensive end at Purdue when the Redskins drafted him in the first round back in 2011. At 6’4”, 270, he could have stepped in as a classic 4-3 end. But the Redskins were playing a 3-4, and they knew he couldn’t hold up as an end in that scheme. So they drafted him with the intention of moving him to outside linebacker in their 3-4, and he thrived. The team had recently acquired the ideal 3-4 end in Adam Carriker, a much larger player, who may have also thrived if injuries hadn’t brought him down. The point is, there was a plan. The Carriker/Kerrigan plan, if you like catchy names.

Compare that to the brain-dead move they were making around that same time. They paid huge dollars to acquire one of the most athletically gifted big men anyone had ever seen, and then told him to simply occupy blockers as a nose tackle in a 3-4. Albert Haynesworth was a classic 4-3 tackle, or perhaps a 3-4 end. But he was no nose tackle. His attitude was reprehensible, but it didn’t help that the team appeared to have no clue how to put the player and the scheme together.

Such is not the case this year. The Redskins have ideal personnel to build a first-rate defensive line. And if they play up to expectations, it makes the rest of the defense significantly better. Here’s what they are working with.

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