Extra Points

Inside the matchup: Patriots at Redskins

In an effort to get a little bit more inside the game, Alen Dumonjic, an x’s and o’s football junkie who blogs for The Score, will give us his insight on the intricacies of the game. Look for his analysis before each game.

BREAKING DOWN THE REDSKINS’ OFFENSE

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is known for his well-designed offenses and Super Bowls, but his first two years in Washington have been rough to say the least. After finishing with a 6-10 record last season, the Redskins are 4-8 after a 2-0 start.

Still using an offense that mainly features 11 (1 back, 1 tight end), 12 (1 back, 2 tight ends) and 21 (2 backs, 1 tight end) personnel groupings, the Redskins have struggled this year moving the ball offensively for a few reasons. One of them is the issues along the offensive line, which has allowed nearly three sacks per game (h/t teamrankings.com). The offensive line has been hit with a loss of left tackle Trent Williams after his four game suspension, which only makes matters worse. Williams and his teammates have struggled this year in zone pass protection (sometimes called “area“), which is a part of their often seen five- and six-man blocking scheme.

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The blocking problems have also carried over to the run game as the offensive lineman have failed to move the line of scrimmage forward opposed to in reverse. Washington’s run blocking problems are significant because the passing game is set up through the running game.

When running the ball, the Redskins like to rely on the inside and outside zone concepts as well as toss lead and counter trap. The first two are the most significant because they have a long and great history with Mike Shanahan and running backs. During Shanahan’s years with the Denver Broncos, he was able to plug and play any running back and have success with him, including Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and most notably Terrell Davis.

However, the running back success hasn’t been the same with the Redskins up until the last two weeks. There has been a glimmer of hope for Shanahan as rookie running back Roy Helu Jr. has stepped up to the plate and created some big runs for the offense. Helu Jr. has had consecutive 100-yard games by breaking arm tackles and using his 4.4 speed to outrun defenders, as the rival New York Jets witnessed.

With the added dimension of Helu Jr. in the backfield, the Redskins have a higher percentage of getting their passing game going. Unfortunately, if last week was any indication, the chances are not great because of quarterback Rex Grossman’s inability to protect the ball and lead the offense downfield. Grossman has had a turnover in 14 straight games and has several issues that lead to poorly thrown passes. The issues include throwing off his back foot and throwing into double coverage.

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In the passing game, the Redskins like to utilize Twin sets (2 receivers to one side) and Trips Bunch (3 receivers aligned with tight splits) several screen passes to their wide receivers and running backs as well as several short passing concepts that set ‘picks’ on defenders, such as Slant/Flat concept, and put defenders in a bind through the use of Hi-Lo concepts, which have two pass catchers in one area of the field against a single pass defender. Their passing game also includes several crossing route concepts, such as “Mesh” which is two crossers running across the field from opposite sides at a depth of five yards (see X and Y).

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BREAKING DOWN THE REDSKINS’ DEFENSE

Despite a rough season for the offense, the Redskins defense, led by defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, has been a bright spot. Haslett has been bringing pressure on opposing quarterbacks all year long, ranking the Redskins defense fourth in sacks per game and tied for fifth overall, through Fire Zones. Fire Zones are five man blitzes with six defenders in coverage. The Fire Zone blitz is typically accompanied by a 3 underneath, 3 deep coverage or 4 underneath defenders and 2 deep.

Haslett’s runs a multiple front defense, one that features two, three and four man fronts. The three-man front is most commonly seen from the Redskins defense as they are a base 3-4 team. The three down lineman play several techniques over the course of a game, but the outside linebackers on the line of scrimmage for the most part play five, six and nine techniques. A five technique is a player aligned across the outside shoulder of an offensive tackle while a six technique is a head-up alignment on the offensive tackle. The nine technique alignment is along the outside shoulder of a tight end.

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(An example of a three man front by the Redskins often seen. From left to right: shaded four technique defensive end, zero technique nose tackle, four technique defensive end and five technique outside linebacker)

In the defensive secondary, the Redskins will go to their nickel (5 defensive backs) and dime (6 defensive backs) packages at times to apply pressure and play various coverages. Haslett’s defensive secondary does a lot of pre-snap and post-snap movement to confuse reads and looks for quarterbacks. They can be seen rotating in and out of coverages consistently and some of the coverages they use include Cover 1, Cover 2, Cover 3 and Cover 2 Man.

Cover 2 Man, sometimes called “Man Under” or “Cover 5,” has two deep safeties playing over the top of cornerbacks who are in man coverage on wide receivers while the linebackers are responsible for the running backs and tight ends.

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WHAT TO WATCH FOR

  • QB Rex Grossman vs. Patriots Pressure – Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman has a lot of fundamental issues, and they mostly come alive when he is pressured. Grossman’s footwork as well as decision making become a problem once he is pressured up the middle.
  • Patriots Play Action vs. Redskins Linebackers and Safeties – The Redskins linebackers and safeties had some issues against play action last week, as they were over-aggressive in pursuit and left the backside open. The Patriots could use this to their advantage, with flat route dump-offs to tight end Aaron Hernandez.
  • Patriots Defense vs. RB Roy Helu Jr. – Roy Helu Jr. has been a nice spark for the Redskins offense, and one of the reasons is because of his ability to break arm tackles and burn defenders who take bad angles. The Patriots will have to follow their four defensive laws that they instilled years ago: leverage, attack, wall and square.
  • Patriots WRs vs. Redskins CBs – The Redskins cornerbacks are tough and physical but they are also very aggressive, which allows the opportunity for the Patriots wide receivers to run routes with double moves and potentially attack the secondary vertically.
  • Redskins OLBs vs. Patriots Slot WRs and TEs – When the Redskins defense is faced with a spread formation from the offense, they will widen out their outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and/or Ryan Kerrigan to drop in coverage. Offenses can take advantage of this because both defenders lack foot speed and change of direction skills to keep up with offensive skill players.

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For more on the Patriots defense, read Alen’s blog post at The Score. Follow Alen on Twitter at @Dumonjic_Alen.

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