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A Tale of Two Sides of the Defense

The Buffalo Bills are uniquely good and bad against two types of run that really aren't separated by that much real estate. Per ESPN via Football Outsiders, emphasis added:

Redskins middle linebacker London Fletcher will face his old team for the first time. With Buffalo in both 2005 and 2006, Fletcher was third in the league in total defensive Plays. This year in Washington, Fletcher is once again third in the league in total defensive plays. Meanwhile, back in Buffalo, outside linebacker Angelo Crowell is fourth in the league in total defensive plays, and first among outside linebackers. (The two players ahead of Fletcher and Crowell are Patrick Willis and Ray Lewis.)

Buffalo's defense has the league's best defense on runs around left end (0.8 yards per carry) but the league's worst defense on runs around right end (8.7 yards per carry).

First, enough cannot be said about London Fletcher's impact on this defense as a leader. We've changed dramatically on that side of the ball from '06 to this season and I have to credit a lot of that to him. For all the criticism our team receives for our wasteful offseason free agency spending, London Fletcher defies that conventional wisdom with force.

It does not take a hall of fame coach to look at the above numbers to figure out that we need to run, with prejudice, against the Buffalo Bills on the right end and avoid, with prejudice, the left end. Unfortunately, we don't match up. Per FO's Offensive Line Rankings, we do our worst work against the right end: 3.68 Adjusted Line Yards bad for 22nd in the league. We're 14th in the league to the left end (which means that dog won't hunt), 4th to the left tackle, 10th up the middle or behind a guard, and 15th right tackle.

Not that it should be terribly surprising that we've struggled to run the ball on the right side of the field. Right tackle Jon Jansen is out for the season and starting right guard Randy Thomas has missed most of the season (though he could be back for the Chicago game, which is his goal). In their stead has been a good dose of Jason Fabini, Todd Wade, and Stephon Heyer though we've seen a lot of faces in the lineup. Lorenzo Alexander has been around as has Mike Pucillo to replace Casey Rabach a couple times. As a result, we've been avoiding the right side of our line on runs like it's diseased: no team in the NFL has run a higher percentage of its runs to the left end (23%) and only Green Bay ties us for percentage of runs to left end and left guard combined (36%). Despite what my eyes tell me on 4th and 1 it seems like every single time the Redskins are not attempting to run up the middle (2nd to last with just 37% of our rushes going at guard or center).

This is frustrating. The Bills are strong in one area we can't exploit (runs to the left end -- we're ok but don't match up to the best D in the league in that area) and weak in another we can't exploit either, due to our personnel. With Mike Sellers likely out this weekend we might not even have much success going up the middle. I guess (oh bother...) the only option is to let Jason Campbell throw the ball 50+ times.

Actually, that sounds like a grand idea. Count it against a pretty mediocre pass defense. That's where we attack.