So here we are, at the end of another Redskins season in just the first week of January. Head Coach Mike Shanahan said he likes to spend the first few weeks after a season getting the offensive coaches evaluating the defense while the defensive coaches evaluate the offense. So I thought I'd do something similar along those lines. How could our offense attack our defense? This should hopefully help get a better understanding of our strengths and weaknesses going into the off-season. Editors note: I'm going to assume both sides of the ball are at full strength, injury and suspension-wise. Meaning Cooley, Davis, Landry, Williams etc are all available.
Everyone knows by now that the Redskins run game is based on a zone-blocking scheme. Power runs up the middle isn't a strength of this offense, which is fine because the Redskins defensive strength is the front seven. I wouldn't want to run the ball too many times up the middle into the likes of Barry Cofield and London Fletcher. Instead I would look to get to the edge and attack the cornerbacks. Guys like DeAngelo Hall and Kevin Barnes haven't exactly been perfect form tacklers for the Redskins, those are the guys I'd target and force them to make a tackle on Roy Helu, Tim Hightower or Evan Royster.
With Hightower in the game, I'd probably look to have a "Tiger Formation" (Also known in the numbers system as a "12" personnel group). This consists of two tight ends and one running back in the game (The second tight end is in the game in place of the second running back. So for example, Fred Davis enters the game for Darrel Young). Given that Hightower isn't the fastest guy, but understands the scheme completely, I'd be looking to run out side the tackle's on stretch run plays from this formation. Something like this:
The key would be to seal off the outside edge to make sure Hightower is up against the corners and a safety. I'd preferably run this to whichever side Chris Cooley lines up on, because he's more likely to seal off the inside and move onto a safety like Landry coming down to make the play. I feel like if you challenge the corners and safeties to make a form tackle on Hightower, he's going to break it.
For Helu I'd switch things up slightly. Rather than the Tiger formation, I'd look more at the "Zebra Formation" (11 personnel group). Now the Zebra formation brings in a third wide receiver in place of a running back (rather than a second tight end in place of a running back as we saw in the Tiger formation). Here are two examples of Zebra formations I'd use circled in red.
The purpose of these kind of formations would be to force the defense into their Nickel package (taking out a defensive lineman for an extra defensive back to help cover the extra receiver). This would likely see Kevin Barnes on the field in place of Adam Carriker. With one less lineman to contend with, this opens up a world of possibilities for Helu. With the two Zebra formations you see above, we could run inside with more and take advantage of the defensive line being down a man. Alternatively, we could carry on with the idea of forcing the corners to tackle by running outside. This is part of the reason teams have been successful against our Nickel package this year.
Royster has seen success that last few weeks out of the 'E Formation' where the third wide receiver enters the game in place of the tight end (20 personnel group). This is where you have two running backs and no tight ends. In this case it would be Royster at running back and Young at fullback.
This again brings on the Nickel package and forces a defence to match up six run defenders against 6 run blockers. Royster has had some brilliant cut backs from this formation.
As I've said before and as we've all seen this season, the defense has struggled against cut back runs. This formation works so well because it takes out the third defensive lineman and keeps in the fullback. As the lead blocker, Young will start the run to the right and cut back left to create a lane for Royster to cut back into.
This could be a major strength of our offense against our defense. Like always with the Redskins offense, if a solid run game can be formed, you can build into the play-action of the back of it. I would use play-action the most from the Tiger formation because you have the possibility of Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan or even LaRon Landry having to cover Cooley or Davis which is a favourable match up. Orakpo and Kerrigan are getting better in coverage, but are still suspect, something they need to work on or teams will start to exploit them. As we've already seen, this team struggles when the play looks to be going one way, then suddenly goes the other. Play action passing from the stretch runs can do exactly that when the quarterback bootlegs. Little routes like Logan Paulsen's on this play these would pick up easy yards, while it could eventually build out to a wheel route or something similar.
To start with, I'd have Leonard Hankerson as our 'Z' receiver, Jabar Gaffney as our 'X', and Santana Moss in the slot (Moss in the slot against Barnes is a win all day long). The most obvious thing to do against our passing defense is to run slants. Hall and Wilson aren't physical enough corners to play tight man coverage, instead they are forced to play 'off-man coverage'. This is basically man coverage but with an eight to ten yard cushion between the defender and the receiver. This opens up the opportunity for quick in routes like a slant to be run without disrupting the timing. Normally a corner would jam the receiver on the line so that he would disrupt the timing of the slant route, but we don't do that. After running enough slant routes to get Hall and Wilson biting on it, you then call a 'Slugo' route. This is a combination of a slant and a go route. They start of with a slant, the quarterback pump fakes to sell it more and you hope the corner bites. Then the receiver runs a go route and gains a step on the corner. The Seahawks did it perfectly against Wilson.
(I couldn't find the picture of Wilson vs Seattle, so I quickly drew that up on the whiteboard)
Otherwise I'd look to try and get Davis matched up against the linebackers and let his athleticism beat their coverage on deep patterns while I'd try and get Cooley matched up on the safeties on crossing patterns because he should be too strong for them to cover.
This is going to sound like I'm picking on the secondary, but in the red zone I would absolutely target Hankerson and Gaffney on fade routes over Wilson and Hall. We've seen Hankerson has the ability to do so.
The other option would be to involve Darrel Young. I've been calling out for him to get the ball in the red zone off play action since the start of the year. He's shown he has the ability to break tackles and get yards after the catch. In the red zone, if you can break a tackle and get yards after the catch you have a chance to score.
So how would you guys attack the defense. What are the strengths from the offense that you'd use to attack the weaknesses of the defense?