Make no mistake about it - Washington’s offense is struggling to find its identity in 2022. After opening the season by scoring 28 and 27 points respectively (and averaging nearly 400 yards of offense) against the Jaguars and Lions, the team has since been up and down. They ran into two buzzsaws in Philly and Dallas in back-to-back weeks, averaging just nine points and 229 yards of offense per game. Now granted, these two teams boast top five defenses, and injuries certainly played a part in Washington’s demise, however things really haven’t improved much since then. The last two games - one against a very poor Colts team, and the other against the 28th ranked passing defense in the NFL(Vikings) saw Washington average just 17 points per game. In this high-flying NFL, that simply won’t cut it.
I am a firm believer that trends in college football eventually make their way to the NFL. The new craze in college (and it has been such for over a decade) is the open spread offense with 11 personnel (one TE and one RB), that has been dominating the national landscape. RPO’s, concept passing attacks and inside and outside zone running schemes are a staple of these spread offenses. To counter this offense, defenses have had to significantly adapt; deploying more two-linebacker sets and a hybrid defender who has the ability to play in the box, or in coverage - essentially a 4-2-5, made famous by TCU’s Gary Patterson.
As you can imagine, this offense had infiltrated the NFL, with league-wide usage at an all-time high of 68%. Consequently, the 4-2-5 hybrid look is also dominating the NFL with almost 74% of teams using this as their “base” look.
I am also a firm believer that trends go full-circle.
Back in the 80’s and 90’s, 12 and 21 personnel dominated the league. Fullbacks, H-Backs and 265 pound in-line blocking tight ends were the craze. The great Joe Gibbs teams utilized these personnel packages frequently; however, they were versatile enough to also slip into 11 personnel and attack you through the air.
Dating back to 2016, Washington has been in 11 personnel an average of 70% of the time. They have used 12 personnel a team high 18% in both 2018 and 2021. They used two running backs just 4% of the time in 2021.
Athletic tight ends who can block, but also create mismatches against linebackers and safeties, are versatile weapons in the NFL; that is, if you know how to use them.
Washington has four tight ends - all with different skills sets.
Logan Thomas is versatile, being a solid in-line blocker, and a sneaky-good athlete with excellent size in the passing game (although he’s not yet fully back from his knee injury). John Bates is a throw-back, old-school in-line blocking tight end who can also be used on choice routes where he can find a hole in the zone and sit down. Armani Rogers is a great athlete who has very good size (6’5”) and speed. He’s a good blocker in space. Cole Turner, who has been somewhat limited by injury this season, may have the best combination of height/weight/speed of the group.
It has been incredibly frustrating to watch the lack of production from this tight end group under Scott Turner through the team’s first nine games. On the season, the quartet has just 31 combined receptions for 277 yards and one touchdown.
Having two quality running backs who both possess different skillsets is a must in the NFL. Having three is a pure LUXURY!
In Washington, Turner has the versatile RB/WR Antonio Gibson, the downhill thumper Brian Robinson, the third-down specialist J.D. McKissic, and the all-around talent Curtis Samuel at his disposal. It seems, however, that these backs/receivers are not used very creatively, and defenses tend to know what’s coming in this offensive attack.
On the season this group has just 764 yards rushing and a whopping three touchdowns through nine games. This lack of quality production is embarrassing!
Going back to my earlier point of trends going full-circle, I wanted to explore an innovative play-caller in college football who is scheming to his players strengths - Penn State’s Offensive Coordinator Mike Yurcich.
Yurcich has an experienced (albeit not very good) Super-Senior quarterback in Sean Clifford. Clifford lost stud receiver Jahan Dotson to our very own Commanders last year and Yurcich was tasked with finding creative ways to exploit the talent he has on the current roster with the under-whelming signal-caller at the helm.
It just so happens that Penn State has the best due of young running backs in the country in true Freshman Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen - both top 10 running backs in the class of 2022 (Singleton was the number one running back in the nation, National Gatorade Player of the Year and a consensus 5-star). They also have trio of stud tight ends led by Theo Johnson and Brenton Strange (the pride of Martinsburg, WV - where I grew up).
Take a look below at how Yurcich schemes his offense around his team’s talents/strengths.
Penn State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich is very creative with personnel. Here he uses two TE’s - bringing one into the hip (who perfectly seals the edge on this run by Allen). pic.twitter.com/xEXHyqGA4p— Mark Tyler(Hogs Haven) (@Tiller56) November 13, 2022
Mike Yurcich with the Old-school Power-Pistol with his two stud TE’s (Johnson and Strange) as lead blockers for true freshman stud RB Singleton. Despite 8-men in the box, Maryland can’t stop it. pic.twitter.com/8SvEPIoVxj— Mark Tyler(Hogs Haven) (@Tiller56) November 13, 2022
4th and 1 - Yurcich has 3 TE’s and 2 RB’s out of the straight T!!!— Mark Tyler(Hogs Haven) (@Tiller56) November 13, 2022
Crams this right down the throat of the Marlyland Defense.
Old-School power football right here! pic.twitter.com/aqr0rR7VQC
12 personnel here with a Hip Power right. Yurcich uses a jet sweep to a Parker Washington to the hip. Parker is able to make something positive happen. pic.twitter.com/zvdGE0GgTb— Mark Tyler(Hogs Haven) (@Tiller56) November 13, 2022
Two TE’s in the backfield here in front of Sungleton. This play doesn’t connect, but it shows you the creativity of Yurcich’s offense and how he schemes to his talent. pic.twitter.com/MQUleUMmnk— Mark Tyler(Hogs Haven) (@Tiller56) November 13, 2022
College football is much different than the NFL, and often what works in CFB against lesser opponents would not be as effective once these NFL defensive coordinators catch on and scheme to stop it. However, being versatile and being able to adapt and scheme to the talent you have is paramount in general.
Scott Turner has some chess pieces, but he may need to spend the summer in Happy Valley and pull a few pages out of Mick Yurcich’s playbook in order to figure out a creative way to use them.
I would love to see more two tight end sets (with one possibly being an H-Back) to keep defenses more balanced and on their toes. 22 personnel (two RB and two TE) could be an interesting look in short yardage (where Washington has struggled).
Regardless of where and how they are deployed, these weapons on the Commanders are not being used correctly, and it would behoove Turner and this offensive staff to put their heads together and come up with a game-plan more tailored to the team’s strengths.
Please discuss your thoughts/ideas in the comment section...