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Gregg, Dwayne, Adrian, Derrius, Kelvin, Cam and hoping for something to cheer for

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30th Annual Fight Night: The Final Round Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Gregg (with 3 Gs) Williams is an interesting fellow, and probably as polarizing a figure as is currently employed as an NFL coach.

He’s got a Super Bowl ring, he’s been a head coach with the Bills, and interim head coach with the Browns last year, and is currently the defensive coordinator of the Jets. Williams is known for running aggressive, attacking 4–3 schemes that put heavy pressure on opposing quarterbacks and for his key role in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.

Of course, Gregg used to be a defensive coach for the Washington Redskins, and left town with a bad taste in his mouth, as so many coaches do.

Cleveland Browns v New York Jets Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

He has overseen a schizophrenic defense in New York this season. His unit is ranked #2 against the run and #26 against the pass.

Kyle Newman, of Elite Sports NY, thinks that Gregg deserves a ton of credit for what the Jets defense has accomplished thus far in 2019.

The New York Jets defense has struggled at times this year. That is especially true of their pass defense and red zone defense. However, Gregg Williams’s unit deserves credit for what they’re doing out on the field.

They are currently ranked 11th in the NFL in defensive DVOA and represent a borderline top 10 defense despite everything surrounding this team this year.

No Avery Williamson, C.J. Mosley, legitimate starting cornerbacks, Leonard Williams or competent edge rush … no problem. Gregg Williams has found a way to get this defense to play strong and play hard.

The Jets have the second least missed tackles in the NFL this year; only the Patriots have fewer. That takes work and discipline, something that Gregg Williams has put into his unit.

Effort and work, something that the Jets offense has completely lacked. So, don’t lump the Jets defense in with the pitiful Jets offense this year. They are pulling their weight. This is a defense a team can win with.

The Redskins offensive attack, thus far this season, has been putrid. They have been unable to score points — and that trend has been worse since Jay Gruden was fired and Bill Callahan handed the reigns.

However, the Redskins offense will have some new looks this week.

One thing that the Bill Callahan era has featured thus far is a commitment to the running game. Consider these remarks from James Dorsett:

The New England game was the start of the team’s streak of games with 75-plus yards rushing (5 games) and was their first of four 100-yard days in the last five weeks. They’ve averaged 23.6 rushes since that game, but have scored just 8.4 points per game in that stretch. The team only ran it 17 times per game in their first four games, but also scored almost twice as many points on average in those contests (16.5). It will probably say “Establish the Run” on Bill Callahan’s tombstone, so there is no point in hoping for this trend to change.

Washington Redskins v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

During his short tenure, Bill has had to rely almost exclusively on Adrian Peterson (not a bad problem to have) since Derrius Guice has been on injured reserve since getting injured opening day against the Eagles, and Chris Thompson has been unavailable for a few weeks with a toe injury.

Today marks the return of Derrius Guice, and Callahan hinted at some possible new looks in the offense.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Asked about the respective roles for the two backs, Peterson and Guice, Callahan seemed to be lifting the corner of the curtain a bit to give us a hint of what we might see on Sunday:

I think they’ll compliment each other well, not to say that we couldn’t have them in the backfield at the same time together. There’s a lot of options in that respect, but I also think they’ve got a good rapport with one another, they know how to compliment each other’s game and as it plays out we’ll see how it goes. I don’t have the crystal ball on this one by any stretch, but it’ll be interesting to see their roles play out on Sunday.

Callahan seems to be doing more than just hinting at the possibility of seeing the two explosive running backs lined up together in the same backfield. Gruden always seemed to abhor any formation that involved a two-back set, but Callahan seems to have embraced it with the addition of Michael Burton at fullback.

Still, an I-formation set with a traditional fullback is one thing, but the opportunities to stress a defense by putting two legitimate and explosive runners on the field together raises lots of fun possibilities. Of course, there’s the question of whether Kevin O’Connell is prepared to embrace this kind of revolutionary throwback formation. He was asked specifically about it at his press conference this week. His initial answer was actually fairly amusing:

You guys always ask me some of this stuff like the New York Jets may not be listening. The benefit of that would be having two really good players on the field. We’re trying to find ways to get the best possible 11 players we can on the field in those down and distances when we think it can have an impact on the defensive players they have on the field.

Pressed by a reporter who rephrased the question slightly, Kevin elaborated a bit:

They’re going to treat it a little different than when we have [FB] Michael Burton in there with Adrian or Derrius or when we’ve got two. I think the defense sometimes treats those personnel’s different.

They’ve got coaches that are watching exactly who are in our huddle, so what it does is it gives me the opportunity to see how they’re defending those plays, see how they’re defending those personnel groupings and see if there’s an advantage that we can try to take advantage of somewhere along the lines of how they’re defending it.

Since we haven’t done a lot of it, we obviously don’t carry a ton of volume just in the playbook upstairs, so a lot of that becomes new, different, things we’ve got to coach, things we’ve got to get the guys comfortable with. What we want to make sure we’re focusing on, variety and different looks. Having those guys on the field is definitely one of them.

It sounds like fans can look forward to at least a few plays in today’s game featuring 26 and 29 on the field together.

As Kevin hinted, the package of plays may be pretty limited since the team hasn’t had a healthy Guice available to practice the plays. There’s only a limited time to install them and add them to the game plan. (There’s also the possibility that Bill & Kevin were just using the press conferences to give Gregg something else to worry about and prepare for ahead of today’s game; it’s not like Bill to give away information on game plans freely).

Part of the reason for the limitation is also the fact that the Redskins have named Dwayne Haskins Jr. the starting quarterback. The coaches will want to avoid adding too much new playbook to his plate in his first official game as the Redskins starter. He did, of course, start for the Redskins against Buffalo, but that was in relief of the nominal starter, Case Keenum, who was in the concussion protocol. This will be Dwayne’s first professional game where his name is at the top of the depth chart.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Dwayne played 60 minutes in Buffalo without embarrassing himself. He looked in control and didn’t turn the ball over. Kevin O’Connell stressed how impressive a feat that was:

I think on a pretty windy day in Buffalo his ability to cut the ball through the wind bodes well for him moving forward in some of the environments here that we may play in in November and December. Just some of those decisive moments that he had.

Of course, Dwayne didn’t get the Redskins into the end zone against the Bills. The ‘Skins offense was also unable to score a TD against the 49ers or the Vikings in the two previous weeks. In 87 years, the three game stretch from Weeks 7 to 9 marks the first time Washington has ever been held without a touchdown for three consecutive games.

Dwayne will he hoping to end that streak early against the Jets. He will have the advantage of playing on his home turf against a team that has proven itself to be vulnerable.

Still, ending the touchdown drought may require more of a reliance on the passing game than the Redskins have exhibited thus far under Bill Callahan.

The Jets have had one of the best run defenses the NFL has seen in a long time. They are allowing a measly 3.0 yards per rush. That’s the best in the NFL since the 2010 Steelers.

The Jets rush defense is second in DVOA. The reason is the Jets have allowed 10 rushing touchdowns this season. That’s the lone negative that can be seen on this Jets rush defense, though.

They are third in the NFL in tackles for loss, with the two of the teams ahead of them having played 10 games while the Jets have played nine.

The Jets rank first in the NFL in run stuff percentage. They also rank first in adjusted line yards by a defensive line.

The Jets defensive line has been the best one in the NFL at stopping the run. What’s even more amazing is that the Jets run defense has been better since they traded Leonard Williams.

Over the two games since they traded him, they have allowed just 73 yards combined. That’s good for 1.8 yards per rush. When quarterbacks are removed from the equation, it gets even worse. In the last two games, backs have rushed for only 1.5 yards per attempt.

The Jets have also been getting into the backfield more. In the last two games, the Jets have 17 tackles for loss.

To revive the Redskins offense that has looked lethargic all season, Dwayne Haskins may have to air the ball out more often and more effectively than he has so far this season. Part of the reason is that, while the J-E-T-S run defense has been something special this year, their pass defense has been much more pedestrian.

In face, the Jets have often shown awful pass defense. They have the worst CB situation in the league, hands down, and their pass defense is 24th in DVOA. Consider these comments from this week’s Five Questions article published by Andrew York:

On offense you need to target the Jets’ outside cornerbacks, who are abysmal, and the Jets inside linebackers, who are literally 3rd and 4th stringers.

Of course the Jets don’t really have anyone to match up against Terry McLaurin.

The Jets have no pass rushers at all, and the Jets have no outside cornerbacks on the roster who should be starting in the NFL. In addition the Jets have had their top 5 inside linebackers all go down with injuries, forcing then to start an outside linebacker out of position inside, and a practice squad guy at the other inside linebacker position. Given this hot mess of a roster, Williams has done a pretty good job keeping the defense competitive most weeks.

This may be just what the doctor ordered for a Redskins offense that ranks 31st in passing yards, 30th in total yards, and dead last in points per game (the Jets rank 32, 32 and 30 in those three offensive measures).

To make the passing game work, the Redskins will probably need four things to go right on offense:

  1. The offensive line needs to play well
  2. The running game needs to gain positive yards on most plays
  3. Dwayne Haskins has to take the next step in his development as an NFL passer, improving pre-snap control, defensive reads, footwork, decision making, and throwing mechanics
  4. The Redskins’ young pass catchers have to step up in a big way

When it comes to the 4th item on that list, the Redskins may have some help on the way in the form of some young receivers with talent.

Of course, the player on the Redskins offense who has had the most success as a receiver so far this season is “Scary” Terry McLaurin, but he had most of his success on passes from Case Keenum, rather than his former Buckeye teammate, Dwayne Haskins.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Oddly enough, Dwayne has exhibited the most “chemistry” with veteran Paul Richardson Jr. in his limited time under center this year. Unfortunately, PRich is “out” against the Jets.

To reinforce the receiver corps, the Redskins have promoted Cam Sims from the Practice Squad, and he is expected to be active on game day. Normally, I might not think much of this kind of roster move, seeing it more as ‘insurance’ depth, but Bill Callahan mentioned Cam Sims by name earlier this week while the receiver was still on the practice squad; that is, before his promotion had been officially announced.

NFL: Washington Redskins-Training Camp Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

We’re looking at everybody on the roster. Cam Sims is another addition to the receiving core that potentially could see more time. We have a couple of young receivers who are on practice squad who could potentially come up if needed. Cam Sims was a receiver who was active earlier in the year.

A player who likely has a better chance to show increased production in the passing game is the 6th round rookie, Kelvin Harmon. In the continued absence of big bodied tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, and with Paul Richardson out of the lineup, the receiver group will be young. The “old man” of the receiving group is Trey Quinn, who was drafted in 2018 but managed to stay healthy for only three games, and who collected only 9 receptions last year. The group is rounded out by McLaurin, Harmon and the two Sims.

The 6’2”, 215 pound Kelvin Harmon seems the most likely of the group to step up and improve his production significantly from what he has accomplished to start his pro career.

Washington Redskins v New York Giants Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Of his first 9 games, Harmon has three without a reception, and hasn’t caught more than two balls in any game as a pro. Still, he has six receptions in his last six games, has caught 8 of his 9 career targets, and his snap count (and Richardson’s injury) indicate that the coaches may be ready to rely on him more heavily.

Harmon’s 25 snaps and 49% snap rate were the second-highest playing-time figures of his career. The only other time he topped a dozen snaps and a 26% snap share was in the Week 4 matchup with the Giants (28 snaps and 57.1%). This also marked the first time he ever out-snapped Paul Richardson.

The rookie sixth-round pick out of NC State tied a career high with 2 targets (at New York Giants). He took a screen for a gain of four yards in the red zone on his first look, but was unable to haul in an underthrown pass that would’ve gained 21 yards on a 2nd-and-22 play; it was Harmon’s first career target that fell incomplete (8-of-9).

On the very next play after the incompletion, the young wideout recovered a Redskins’ fumble. It was his first recovery either in the pros or in college.

In a game that offers, not only the opportunity for a Redskins victory, but also the opportunity for a number of players to get valuable experience that will pay off in the future, Dwayne Haskins, Derrius Guice, Terry McLaurin, Kelvin Harmon, Steven Sims and Cams Sims will all be on the field — none of them with more than 9 games’ worth of experience in the NFL — and looking to be part of an offensive resuscitation.

Win or lose, at least four of these young players, and maybe all six of them, will be instrumental in next year’s Redskins offense.

The future starts today.