The Redskins New 3-4 Under Defense

Joe Barry was hired by the Redskins on January 20, 2015 to replace five year Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. Little is officially known on the actual scheme changes that the Redskins will make, but head coach Jay Gruden did give us some clues on the new defense the Redskins will run in an interview to the Washington Post:

“You know, we’re gonna mess with the way we do the 3-4, you know? There will be some different ideas that we have, as far as it’s not a two-gap 3-4. It might be more of a shoot-the-gap-type of 3-4, a get-up-the-field-and-rush-them 3-4, you know what I mean? There’s going to be some variety involved in that. In this day and age, with as much nickel as you see, there’s a lot of 4-3 elements anyway, but the way we do our base defense, it will be a 3-4 starting point. Once the ball is snapped, what we’re going to do is going to be different.”

A shoot-the-gap-type of 3-4 defense is mainly seen a one-gap defense, but there are multiple types of one-gap defenses. This is very different than the 3-4 Okie Two-Gap defense the Redskins were running under Jim Haslett. Here are a few examples of the Redskins defense under Jim Haslett in a 3-4 Okie defense:

As you can see in these GIFs, a two gap defense is very stout in run defense due to the defenders reading the play before acting, but it takes away from potential pass rush penetration. Based on Gruden’s clues the Redskins defense will look something similar to what the Chargers ran last year.

Joe Barry

Barry worked under San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano as his linebackers coach from 2012-2014. John Pagano actually worked under Wade Phillips as his linebackers coach in 2004-2006 when Wade Phillips was the defensive coordinator with the Chargers. During this time, Wade Phillips taught John Pagano the 3-4 Under defense, who consequently ran it with the Chargers when he became the defensive coordinator in 2012. Pagano then taught it to Redskins new defensive coordinator Joe Barry who will realistically install it as the base defense. This is also evidenced by the acquisitions the Redskins made and the current player personnel the Redskins have on their roster.

Next we will look at the specific player personnel and how they currently fit in this new defense. Here is a schematic overview of the 3-4 Under Defense:

Diagram of 3-4 Under. Courtesy of Matt Bowen [BleacherReport].
Image courtesy of BleacherReport’s Matt Bowen.

Defensive Line

The defensive line changes the most between the 3-4 Okie defense (Haslett) and the new 3-4 Under defense (Barry).

First, the nose tackle needs to be a player that is responsible for only the strongside A-gap (1-technique) and has quick burst off of the line of scrimmage to penetrate into the backfield. Quickness is more important than pure strength which is why a traditional bulky 330 lb nose tackle is not necessary. The Redskins have Chris Baker that can fill this spot, with Stephen Paea in the mix on 3rd downs. Additionally the Redskins signed Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton to their defense on a one year “prove-it” contact who should split snaps with Baker. Even though he is much more of a traditional two-gap bulky nose tackle, he has very underrated quickness which should make him valuable in 1 gap situations as well as give them interesting sub packages where he plays more like a traditional 2-gap nose tackle.

The strongside defensive end position is your pure defensive line pass rusher that rushes from the 5-technique through the strongside C-gap. The Redskins have Jason Hatcher who ranked #3 overall in pass rush productivity by ProFootballFocus so they should continue to rely on his expertise. Although he is aging and should get less snaps, the Redskins have veteran Frank Kearse behind him to rotate in. The Redskins should also look to draft Hatcher’s replacement in this draft or next year as this is a very important position in the new 3-4 Under defense.

The weakside defensive end position is your only two-gap defensive end position who rushes from the 3/4i-tech position. He is responsible for the weakside A-gap and the weakside B-gap on the defensive line. Corey Liuget played this role for the Chargers and Stephen Paea has the skill-set to play it for the Redskins going forward. Ricky Jean-Francois and Chris Baker will probably back-up Stephen Paea as they are much better run defenders than pass rushers.

Inside Linebackers

In the 3-4 Okie defense both of the inside linebackers “Jack” and “Mike” are responsible for the A- and B-gaps depending on which gap the respective defensive lineman take. They read-and-react on running plays and fill the gap. Currently the Redskins have Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley on the roster as the starters for inside linebacker. Robinson who played incredibly last year in his first full season since entering the league in 2012 as a 4th round pick should remain a starter. Perry Riley played poorly and showed multiple times throughout the season why he can’t be trusted in pass coverage duties especially on athletic tight ends like New York Giants’ Larry Donnell.

In the 3-4 Under, the weakside inside linebacker or “Mo/Jack” linebacker is responsible for flowing around the defense to make plays. He is a protected in this scheme and has the coverage specialty role of the 4-3 weakside linebacker where you usually have a smaller, speedier linebacker. Keenan Robinson fits this description perfectly.

The strongside inside linebacker or the “Mike” inside linebacker is typically a bulkier, two-down run thumping linebacker that needs to take on offensive lineman regularly. This role is similar to the Redskins “thumper” role that Perry Riley plays currently and should play it for the Redskins next season unless they draft Riley’s replacement. Additionally, this player is often used to blitz the strongside B-gap which Riley actually excels at.

Outside Linebackers

In Haslett’s defense the 3-4 outside linebackers were used to generate most of the pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Redskins let Brian Orakpo walk to the Titans due to his injury-concerns and lack of production during his franchise tag season. The Redskins have Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy on the roster and many believe the Redskins will draft an edge rusher to pair with them later this month in the 2015 NFL Draft.

The weakside outside linebacker “Will” is your pure pass rusher whose goal is to blitz freely around the edge. Ryan Kerrigan should fill this spot due to his great ability at getting to the quarterback. He showed countless times last season generating 13.5 sacks, 9 QB hits, and 51 QB hurries that he can be trusted to rush the passer.

The strongside outside linebacker “Sam” is responsible for edge contain outside of the tight end. He then rushes the quarterback second.Trent Murphy showed occasional potential in pass rushing his rookie season but showed great run defending skills and surprising fluidity in space in pass coverage to earn him the nod at this position. Brian Orakpo would have played the same position which he would have excelled at if he was to be retained by the Redskins.

As said above, the Redskins should look to add another outside linebacker to pair with these two going into next season to shore up their defense.


In the 2014 season, the Redskins played a lot of off-man coverage and Cover 3 defense with their cornerbacks and safeties under Jim Haslett. Unfortunately, the Redskins never had the personnel to properly run it as they were always lacking safeties with free safety Ryan Clark being too slow in deep coverage and cornerback David Amerson getting burned as well. In the new defense the cornerbacks would be required to play more press coverage and trail technique. This is the reason why the Redskins signed cornerback Chris Culliver who excels at this. Bashaud Breeland who showed promise during last season should earn the starting spot opposite of Culliver while struggling David Amerson and recovering veteran DeAngelo Hall should compete for nickle packages.

As far as safeties, Wade Phillips played a lot of Cover 1 Robber defense where he used his strong safety to shift over the middle of the field to cover the inside linebacker’s role if he was used as a blitzer. If the mike linebacker didn’t blitz, Wade Phillips used the strong safety to play in a Cover 2 shell. Last year’s starting safeties Ryan Clark and Brandon Merriweather are no longer with the team and the Redskins signed Jeron Johnson and aquired veteran free safety Dashon Goldson from Tampa Bay to help shore up the backfield.

Examples of the 3-4 Under Defense in San Diego

Here are a couple of examples of the 3-4 Under in action. These are both from last season with the first example against the Kansas City Chiefs and the second example against the Arizona Cardinals:

Here are a couple of examples in run defense versus the New York Jets in Week 5:

As said before, the main difference between the two defenses is the two gap versus one gap responsibility change between the 3-4 Okie and the 3-4 Under defense. This change affects the entire mentality of the front seven. A two gap requires you to read the offensive movement up front before you can penetrate which takes valuable time away from an intial burst off of the line of scrimmage to shore up the run defense. This change also forces you to have larger defensive lineman rather than one gap defensive lineman who are quicker, and more athletic that penetrate off the snap. Based on the Redskins personnel this new defense fits them much better than the previous 3-4 Okie defense which should improve them from last year’s abysmal results. Even though Joe Barry wasn’t my first choice at defensive coordinator – I personally wanted Vic Fangio or Wade Phillips – he should still be given the chance to succeed with Scot McCloughan at general manager for the Redskins. This defense is very aggressive and I’m excited to see it pay dividends next season to lift the Redskins.

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