I try not to be a snob when it comes to football, but the Redskins offense is boring.
Perhaps I was spoiled by the Sean McVay years. The now-Rams head coach coordinated some mighty fine offenses during his time in Washington—a talent from which Los Angeles now benefits.
Matt Cavanaugh, the ex-quarterbacks coach, and head coach Jay Gruden, have combined their heads to formulate Washington’s new scheme. It’s essentially McVay’s offense + one whole gallon of water. Vanilla ice cream, man.
A lot of Washington fans insist this team is a different squad than the Week 1 team the Redskins deployed—really, they’ve just faced worse defensive lines and ran the ball more effectively. Bad news, cowboy: It ain’t as easy to run the ball against Philly, who leads the league in rush yards allowed per game. And the front four? Deadly as ever.
As such, Washington will likely return to the schemes and looks that enabled them to move the football in Week 1. We’ll highlight those first.
On the flip side, to the same extent that this is a different Washington team, this is a different Philadelphia team: scheme hasn’t changed much, but the ship’s a lot tighter and the execution more consistent. We’ll take a look at ways Philadelphia could have exploited Washington Week 1, were they playing as they are coming in to Week 7.
Little broadcast tip for you: Once Washington crosses the 50 yard line, they want to take a shot deep. They’ll do it one of two ways:
If they line up in Doubles (2 WRs on either side), it’s Four Verts. Watch Vernon Davis down the seam.
If they line up in 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TEs), it’s play action and a 2-, maybe 3-man route concept. Watch Terrelle Pryor on a go or deep over.
We saw this many times against Philadelphia—but QB Kirk Cousins missed the throw often, and WR Terrelle Pryor didn’t uncover with ideal consistency. As the pass-rush started to grow fiercer, Washington responded to Philadelphia’s off-man coverage by running quicker, higher-percentage routes for Pryor.
It’s funny—you’ll get a lot of split-zone play action from Washington...but they don’t run a lot of actual split-zone runs. Regardless, Cousins makes a pre-snap read here: if he has advantageous coverage on the Bang-8 to the bottom of the screen, he’ll run the play action, plant his foot, turn, and throw. It’s a snappy play, and that’s what happens here.
If Cousins doesn’t like the pre-snap look, however, he can continue through the play action fake, roll out to the left, and work the two-level read concept to the boundary.
Assuming CB Ronald Darby is a no-go, Philly will play their more conservative off-coverage with their young corners, and this quick play-action hitter will be open. Washington will have to make sure, however, they do take some deep shots in these situations—otherwise a safety is gonna come sniffin’.
Another snap, another pre-snap read on the CB’s leverage against the isolated receiver—beginning to notice a trend, folks?
However, once Cousins recognizes pure-man coverage with no safety help over the top, he knows where he’s going with this ball. Washington loves these nasty two-receiver stacks. No, not nasty as in filthy—“nasty” refers to a WR alignment that’s even tighter than the slot, directly next to the TE or OT.
Nasty alignments offer free releases to the receiver off of the line of scrimmage, which creates larger throwing windows and more space for YAC, as you see here.
Washington will motion into nasty alignments often, to get advantageous blocking angles on outside runs or simply confuse defensive assignments. They had a wide-open touchdown to Jordan Reed later in this game that was the product of such an alignment.
Back to the play at hand: Cousins should make this throw, but he panics when he sees the free rusher and launches a terrible ball off of his back foot. This is an easy 6 with even a semi-accurate ball.
The Redskins have struggled mightily in the red zone this year (26th in the league), in large part because the closer you get to the promise land, the harder it is to scheme guys open. You need match-up nightmares—think Zach Ertz or Alshon Jeffery—and Washington is stuck working with Ryan Grant and Terrelle Pryor.
I expect them to take more shots from 15-25 yards out, and work these stacked releases to manufacture the space that their athletes cannot.
Finally, we have to give a cursory mention the running game—even though it will likely struggle to get rolling against Philly’s staunch D. Not much worked on the ground for the Redskins in Week 1, but they’ve found a bit of a groove in recent weeks.
They’ve involved scatback Chris Thompson more as an actual runner, which is a good idea—he’s their best player at the position. A nice mix of thunder and, well, thunder comes from RBs Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley, but the biggest boost for the rushing attack stems from a schematic shift.
The Redskins ran a surprising amount of zone runs with Kelley in Week 1—that’s not his forte, nor is it really the forte of any of Washington’s backs. They’ve got power scheme runners back there, and Gruden’s started giving them those looks that better fit their profiles and styles.
Woah, what was that?! Motion to a nasty alignment?
Almost. Technically, the motion man becomes an H-back, but the point still stands. The newly-christened H-back can now seal off the backside DE, freeing up RT Morgan Moses to pull. I just love that little detail, especially because Philadelphia’s ends are notoriously deadly in backside pursuit of running plays.
Certified hog mollies RG Brandon Scherff and Moses get out in front of the play, while the playside TE does an excellent job working DE Derek Barnett to the inside. That makes CB Jalen Mills the force defender—the player responsible for taking on the pulling OL and preventing him from creating a huge alley for the RB.
Obviously: advantage Scherff. He knocks Mills into next week and opens up a big lane for Kelley. Mills does well to pursue, but Kelley stiff arms the daylights out of MLB Jordan Hicks and rumbles his way for a 4-yard gain.
Philadelphia defended well the power schemes of Carolina and Arizona, but Washington must put faith in their superior OL talent (relative to those offensive lines) and attempt to ground out some tough yards in the running game if they have a hope of hanging with Philadelphia.
You know how I said Washington has been, and should be, running less zone? Well, Philadelphia should run less zone.
Not every week, mind you—but certainly for this match. Washington deploys with regularity a five-man front, and it’s simply more difficult to run zone blocking schemes against five-man fronts, when compared to four-man fronts.
Conceptually, zone blocking schemes ain’t really ‘bout that life. They’re not so much blocking defensive linemen as they are steering them, washing them one direction. Those linemen who don’t have defensive linemen to block, climb to the second level and attack the linebackers. The running back then just reads the flow, finds his crease in the wave, and scoots into the gap.
Five-man fronts are too dense of waves. There’s too much congestion at the line of scrimmage to regularly create a crease. Even if you manage to pry open a crack, linebackers are usually at advantageous angles on the play side, and it’s tough for offensive guards to climb to them.
Watch the EDGE defender in that rep: he’s so far outside of sixth-OL Halapoulivaati Vaitai pre-snap, there’s no way he isn’t setting a strong edge. LT Jason Peters and LG Isaac Seumalo have to try to exchange the defensive tackle, because Seumalo simply cannot climb to that linebacker. Everything is mistimed and clogged.
Look for Philadelphia to lean more heavily on RBs LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement, and the power running game (like Wham) come Sunday. Blount strung together a few solid runs (on Wham) back in Week 1, though he saw spottier usage than the reps he’s enjoyed as of late. I like him for a big day (please run Wham Doug).
Let’s mosey on over to the passing game: I think this will be a very interesting game for QB Carson Wentz, in regards to his pre-snap recognition, and control at the line of scrimmage.
When you run five-man fronts, you weaken your ability to play to the boundary. You only have two linebackers, and their range is limited. That’s why you saw Philadelphia run so many quick screens in Week 1.
(...oh, yeah. The WR screens may be coming back this week. Just an FYI.)
To solve this problem, you can rotate a safety down, closer to the line of scrimmage, to the strength of the field. That defender, however, is now in a natural state of conflict: he has both run and pass responsibilities. You can expose that conflict with RPOs (Philadelphia did in Week 1 and will do so again), but you can also expose his pre-snap alignment with audibles.
Take this play: the second Philadelphia ran on offense.
With two TEs to the strong side (one is really a sixth OL), Philly has five possible gaps to the strong side. To account for this, S D.J. Swearinger rotates down into the box, accounting for the D-gap.
But he’s nine yards off the ball! If you have a possible strong side run out of this alignment, you should be able to pick up an easy three yards—and likely more—by audibling to that play.
Now, Carson really wants that play action seam route with TE Zach Ertz, but given Swearinger’s alignment and gap responsibility, there’s no reason for him to bite at all on the weak side play action. He’s not responsible for anything over there. He stays home and easily carries Ertz down the field. Carson can’t find a checkdown and takes a sack.
We’ve heard a lot about Carson’s freedom at the line of scrimmage, as he’s grown into the offense—I’d like to see that manifested in a few audibles on Monday night. This is a defense he’s seen before. More than a few times in my film review, he left easy yards on the field by not capitalizing on an advantageous pre-snap look. Those are the little things that great QBs do.
The next step in Wentz’s development into an unquestionable, suck-it-everybody franchise QB is his pre-snap processing, in my opinion. That applies to audibles, yes, but to blitz packages as well. Carson did well sliding protection in Week 1—with C Jason Kelce’s assistance, of course—against a multifarious Washington front. He’ll have to do so again come primetime tonight.
But Washington will throw a ton of different looks your way, and you’ll be wrong on at least a couple.
Everything about this look, pre-snap, says to Wentz: “We’re coming from your right side.” The Redskins have four potential rushers threatening three offensive linemen on that side.
But this pressure is schemed into the left A-gap. The DE (#91) loops all the way around, as the DT and NT crash into the right side of the line: two players absorbing the attention of three blockers. The LB (#54) occupies Seumalo, playing LG, in an effort to hold his attention and keep the lane open for #91.
Since fallen-from-grace, Seumalo reads and closes well here—nor is Jason Kelce fooled for long, either. Keep your eyes on #54, though—he has a free go once Seumalo commits to the looper. He’s what we call a “green dog” blitzer.
Green dogs show up a lot in Washington’s defense. Usually LBs, they typically have a man to cover: a TE or RB. If that man stays in to pass protect, the LB is free to blitz from whatever angle he likes. Here, #54 has no man to cover from the jump, but he becomes a short zone/QB spy player with a blitz option if he sees an alley. Nobody is in his zone, and he has a free rush, so he takes it—still, technically, a green dog.
As an added bonus, I highlighted TE Zach Ertz’s route here—why? Because the middle of the field, at the short to intermediate range, will always be open against Washington. Was in Week 1, will be in Week 7.
The Redskins play a ton of single-high coverage (though, if CBs Norman and Breeland are both out, they may have to employ more Cover 2 looks), but their linebackers play close to the line of scrimmage. There’s a natural gap, 8-12 yards down the field, between the safety and ‘backer. Off of play-action, and even the trendy RPO, Ertz has eaten in that area of the field.
Carson makes a good read and throw here, but Ertz was an option, and Philly schemed him open across the middle more than once against Washington in Week. Ertz regularly sees ludicrous success against the Redskins. I expect a big day from the breakout tight end.