Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys was the biggest stage for this seasons Washington Redskins. It was a winner-takes-all battle against the old enemy for the NFC East title. As usual, the main concern was the Redskins ability to stop the Cowboys from scoring and getting into a shoot-out. It was magnified more by Robert Griffin III clearly playing at less that full health. We needed Jim Haslett and his defense to come together and help take us into the playoffs.
And the game plan that defensive coordinator Haslett put together was certainly gutsy, but it was executed perfectly and left Tony Romo and the Cowboys stunned. The Redskins sent blitz after blitz in effort to get to Romo before he could make a play. Sometimes they would disguise a blitz with similar looks, and at other times they weren't trying to hide it at all.
Probably the most aggressive blitz the Redskins sent was this one.
The entire front seven rushes, including both inside linebackers London Fletcher and Perry Riley, who blitz the A gap either side of the center. Outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander chips tight end Jason Witten before he joins the blitz.
The Cowboys running back stays in to block, but can only pick up one of the two blitzing inside linebackers. Fletcher gets a free run up the middle at Romo.
With Fletcher coming up the middle, Romo's eyes naturally move to a checkdown route in the flat, where he notices Ryan Kerrigan has also beaten his block. One of the perks of this blitz was that Romo missed a potential first down across the middle because of the pressure generated by the double A gap blitz.
This is something the Redskins risked all game long. When the two inside linebackers are blitzing the double A gap, they leave the middle of the field behind them wide open. The hope is that they can force the quarterback to throw to the flat or the outside as they scramble to avoid the pressure. This is where the Redskins set up Romo beautifully.
Here they show the exact same look.
But in reality, the outside linebackers Rob Jackson and Ryan Kerrigan, to drop into coverage. Occasionally, nose tackle Barry Cofield would also drop into coverage just to further confuse the Cowboys. Every time that double A gap blitz came up the middle, Romo looked immediately to the flat. This gave the Redskins an opportunity that Rob Jackson took full advantage of.
On Jackson's interception, Romo could be forgiven to believing the Redskins were sending the entire front seven after him. But just like in the play above, they dropped both outside backers into coverage. Romo felt the immediate pressure up the middle from Fletcher and Riley which resulted in him throwing to his running back in the flat. But he didn't count on Jackson covering him and being able to intercept the pass. It was fantastically executed by the Redskins who had been setting up Romo for that exact play all game long.
But these weren't the only two blitzes Washington sent after Romo. Haslett cleverly called for multiple different cornerback blitzes to force Romo to scramble to one side, effectively cutting the field in half.
Here the Redskins overload the the left side of the Cowboys line. London Fletcher is the furthest outside, with Ryan Kerrigan stood next to him. Out of the picture, Josh Wilson is lined up over the slot receiver, but will blitz from the same side. On the right side of the picture, Alexander will drop back into coverage.
Kerrigan draws the attention of the left tackle as he crashes inside. Fletcher takes his rush around the edge to take the blocking running back outside and open up a gap. Josh Wilson comes flying in from the slot corner position and gets a free run through the gap created by Fletcher and Kerrigan. This forces Romo to roll to his right, closing off the left side of the field from him.
Fletcher and Kerrigan manage to beat there blocks and join Wilson in pursuit of Romo, who is forced to throw a pass that isn't there.
Rookie Richard Crawford has good coverage and the ball falls incomplete.
This concept of blitzing from one side to close half the field was also used frequently by the Redskins defense. But they disguised it very well. Sometimes they would even involved the backside safety in the blitz.
Here safety Jordan Pugh joins Wilson in blitzing the left side of the Cowboys line. Kerrigan is lined up in the middle of the field and attacks the A gap. This play was risky because it left Fletcher having to rotate back and cover the slot receiver, had Romo thrown over the blitz. But he didn't.
Instead, this play works out just like the last one. Pugh takes the left tackle wide, creating space between the tackle and the guard for Wilson to come through. Romo begins to roll right and throws a completion to Witten for a one yard gain just before Wilson lands a big hit on him. A hit that forced the Cowboys to take a timeout for Romo to regain his composure.
Jim Haslett and the Redskins defense had Romo's number on Sunday night. The game plan, while risky, worked perfectly. It was one of the best defensive performances we've seen from this injury and suspension hit defense all year and it will be interesting to see what Haslett comes up with for our home playoff game against the Seahawks.