Redskins’ position-by-position review: How the option opens up other plays

November 4, 2013

The Washington Redskins managed to put together a much more complete performance in their 30-24 overtime win against the San Diego Chargers than we’ve seen this season. The offense was able to put together multiple long drives that resulted in points, and the defense did a good job keeping Philip Rivers in check. The special teams still need work, but the other units managed to pick them up this week. Here’s my position-by-position review.

Quarterback

Robert Griffin III looked a lot more like his former self, but still had some errant throws. He definitely tested Pierre Garcon’s catching radius, but Garcon was able to pull in some fantastic catches to help settle Griffin down.

Griffin’s legs were once again key to the success of Washington’s offense as he opened up the Chargers defense. The Redskins went back to a play we saw plenty of last year, the triple option with a pitch.


Washington took advantage of Jordan Reed’s versatility and used him as the pitch man on this play. San Diego respond by bringing down safety Eric Weddle into the box.


After Griffin reads the first defender and pulls the ball, he finds himself running right at Weddle. Weddle attacks Griffin, but should have been covering the pitch to Reed. This is the potential danger of the triple option; it invites a defender to attack the quarterback and potentially land a big hit in order to open up the pitch. On this play, Griffin does a good job pitching the ball and getting down quickly, but later on in the game we saw him take some hits, one in which he landed on his throwing shoulder.

So why take that risk? Well, it opened up the Chargers defense. Not only was Reed able to pick up 18 yards on the run, but San Diego was put on alert any time Washington lined up with a potential pitch option in the backfield. The Chargers combated this play by bringing a safety closer to the line of scrimmage. That forced them to play with only one deep safety for a lot of the game, which opened up a staple play of the Redskins’ offense last year, the post route off of play-action. We saw teams like Denver last week take away that route by using a safety to plug the hole in the middle of the field created by play-action. But with potentially three running threats on any given play for Washington, the Chargers had no choice but to move that safety closer to the line.


You can see here, the safety comes from deep and attacks the line of scrimmage on the play-action fake. Washington sends a pitch man to sell the fake even further. With the safety covering the pitch, the Redskins open the gap in the middle of the defense for Garcon to run into.


That gives Griffin a nice easy throw over the middle and allows the Redskins’ best receiver to pick up extra yards after the catch. Garcon ended up gaining 32 yards on this play. Washington has struggled to get this concept working effectively for them this year, with defenses adjusting to it after getting beaten by it constantly last year. But the triple option, despite the risk, brought this concept back to life for the Redskins.

Running backs

Alfred Morris broke the 100-yard rushing mark for just the second time this season, although it did take him until over time to do it. Morris was the workhorse back, breaking the 20-carry landmark for the first time this season while Roy Helu Jr. got just two carries. Kyle Shanahan went away from his Morris-Helu one-two punch, but instead kept the defense honest by using a variety of runs; including the stretch, inside zone, option plays and even the occasional power run. Morris’s consistency and discipline was better suited  to run all of those different plays than Helu. Morris displayed what we’ve come to expect from him, an ability to break the first tackle and pick up extra yards after initial contact. The power in his legs to keep pumping despite having defenders hanging on him is incredible. Rarely did he leave a yard on the field, which was telling, as he averaged nearly five yards per carry.

Fullback Darrel Young deserves another mention. I felt like the Chargers should have done a better job stopping the three fullback dives that he took for touchdowns. I called every one of them before the snap (although by the third, I think everyone in the stadium knew what was coming). The fullback dive has been somewhat of a go-to play in short yardage situations for Washington this season. While plenty will praise Kyle Shanahan’s play-calling after the Redskins scored 30 points, I actually felt it was much more predictable than previous weeks. But it goes to show that the execution is key, and that’s what got Young into the end zone three times.

Tight ends

Reed was once again excellent as a receiver. He made some crucial grabs early on to keep the chains moving. On Washington’s first third down of the game, Reed matched up one on one against one of the best safeties in the NFL in Weddle. But even Weddle couldn’t stop the fleet-footed Reed, who broke outside and used his body to shield the ball away from Weddle and pick up the first down. His blocking is improving, but still inconsistent.


Early on, Reed was the reason for a one-yard loss. He acts as a lead blocker for Morris, and takes on a linebacker head on.


Instead of using the correct technique, Reed attempts to knock the linebacker off his feet. Reed doesn’t manage to hit him squarely, and the linebacker is able to get past him and wrap up Morris in the backfield.

But he is definitely showing signs of improvement with his blocking. On the run before Morris’s touchdown, Reed managed to get to the second level and help spring Morris free for a big gain.


Reed is sifting back across the line on this read-option play.


Reed gets onto the safety and cuts him off from making the play on Morris. That block enabled Morris to run into the secondary and take on the single-deep safety. Reed still needs to work on his blocking, but he continues to improve each week.

Wide receivers

Garcon was the obvious standout in the receiving group. After a few weeks of miscommunication with Griffin, Garcon stepped up big time when Washington needed him most. As I mentioned earlier, he made some fantastic adjustments to poorly placed passes. I didn’t think he would be able to top that one-handed catch on Griffin’s overthrown ball last week, but he made another three outstanding catches to rival it. Garcon made a great adjustment on a slant that was thrown low and behind him to reel in the catch, as well as reaching for a catch on a slant pass that was thrown too far in front of him. But undoubtedly, his best catch came on a corner route. The Redskins were desperate to convert a third and 12 to get some momentum going to start the second half. Griffin bought himself some time as he waited for Garcon to break outside. Garcon fought through a pass interference penalty and somehow managed to pull in the catch after it bobbled off his hand and the defender. That play picked up 38 yards and gave Washington the momentum to score five plays later.

Leonard Hankerson had a solid outing as the Z receiver. He’s been very inconsistent this season, but managed to make plays when called upon. He ran a nice deep comeback route to pick up 22 yards after E.J. Biggers made his interception. Hankerson also converted a crucial third down at the end of the third quarter. Hankerson ran a quick slant and caught a low pass away from his body to pick up 11 yards on third and six. Two plays later, Young was in for his second touchdown of the game.

Offensive line

The offensive line played at a much higher level than they have for most of this season. We all know by now this offensive line isn’t built to maintain pass protection for drop back passing. They got back to what worked for them last year, which was running the ball and making the most of play-action. The interior offensive line played much better than recent weeks, with both guards Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester making a number of good blocks to open up running lanes for Morris. Chester made a particularly good block on Morris’s touchdown run, anchoring well initially to withstand the impact of the defensive lineman before forcing him to move towards the sideline and creating a lane for Morris to cut back into. Chester was also called for a couple of holding penalties, although one of those looked to be a mistaken call as Chester didn’t appear to hold anyone.

Tyler Polumbus did surrender pressure from the right side of the line on the few occasions the Redskins dropped back. Griffin was often forced to scramble or step up into the pocket and escape inside the tackles. He had one play that he hesitated for a fraction of a second to see what the defender was planning to do. That hesitation allowed the defender to club his hands down and get past him on the outside extremely quickly. Polumbus is a 6-foot-8 right tackle, but struggles more than he should with getting his hands on defenders.

Tom Compton also saw some action in this game. He came in as a third tackle on all three of Young’s touchdown runs, all of which ran in behind him as he and Trent Williams down blocked inside and gave Young a lane to run into. It’s interesting to see the Shanahans use an extra tackle, which is something we haven’t seen much of in their time here in Washington. Compton clearly wasn’t ready to be an NFL starter in preseason, but getting on the field on these types of plays provides invaluable experience for him.

Defensive line

The defensive line was inconsistent in the run game. I felt like they gave up too many yards, particularly on second down to set up third and short. Ryan Matthews was afforded some running room as he averaged nearly five yards a carry. But the Chargers opted to fall back on Phillip Rivers’s arm, limiting Matthews and Danny Woodhead to just seven rushes each. But the defensive line did a good job providing a push up the middle on passing downs. Rivers often found himself moving around in the pocket and unable to fully step into throws, causing his timing and accuracy to be off.

But once Rivers began to adjust to the rush, he found gaps in the line to escape out of as the Redskins broke contain. Rivers was allowed to extend plays, putting stress on the defenders in the secondary to cover for longer. Too often Rivers was able to find his man after avoiding the rush.

Linebackers

Like the defensive line, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan did a good job of moving Rivers off the spot and forcing him to adjust. But neither were able to finish the play and register the sack. Rob Jackson was the only man on the Redskins’ defense to get to Rivers and bring him down, but that came after Rivers tried to escape the pocket. Jackson stopped him from gaining any yards, but Rivers made it back to the line of scrimmage to negate the impact of the sack.

It was always going to be a tough job for interior linebackers London Fletcher, Perry Riley Jr. and Nick Barnett. The Chargers’ best two weapons this season have been tight end Antonio Gates and running back Danny Woodhead. Gates has always been tough to cover and saw DeAngelo Hall covering him at times. Gates did beat Fletcher on an out route. Much like how Reed beat Weddle earlier, Gates used his body to shield Fletcher away from the ball and make the catch.  Woodhead provided a matchup question for Washington’s defense. As a running back, Woodhead would normally be covered by a linebacker coming out of the backfield. But Woodhead offers versatility that allows him to line up as a receiver and be similarly effective. The Redskins often opted to play zone coverage to combat those matchup problems, but allowed Rivers to take the underneath routes. Woodhead ended up with nine catches for 77 yards, but Washington did a good job rallying to those underneath dump offs and tackling for minimal gains.

Secondary

After a good outing last week, David Amerson looked to build on that foundation going forward. He made two highlight plays; one very good interception and a good tackle to stop Woodhead from reaching the pylon for a touchdown late on. On his interception, Amerson stuck tight on the hip of Chargers receiver Keenan Allen as he broke inside. Amerson read the play the whole way and jumped in front of Allen for the interception. On the Woodhead tackle, Amerson dropped into his zone and then reacted to the pass. He made a diving effort to knock Woodhead out of bounds short of the pylon, which ended up saving the game for the Redskins. But outside of those plays, Amerson had a poor game. Allen constantly had the better of him, especially on the double move (something Amerson had trouble with in college) where Amerson bit down and Allen ran wide open down the sideline for a touchdown. Allen ended up with eight catches for 128 yards and a touchdown and forced the Redskins to move Hall on to him later on. Hall’s good work on the opposite side of the field has seen Amerson targeted by a lot of teams. He’s had his ups and downs, as you expect from a rookie, and ultimately that’s what happened here.

Brandon Meriweather returned from his suspension and managed to play a complete game without giving up a roughness penalty. He played more under control than we’ve seen from him previously. On one play in the second half, Rivers looked to hit Woodhead out of the backfield. Woodhead appeared wide open as he caught the ball, but Meriweather came charging in from deep. Previously, we would have seen Meriweather aim high and try to land a hit that would knock the ball loose. But this time Meriweather aimed lower and stopped Woodhead from picking up any yards after the catch.

On his interception, Biggers took full advantage of a miscommunication between Rivers and his receiver. Biggers lined up outside one on one with a receiver. He stuck on the receiver’s hip and took a quick peek into the backfield. He noticed Rivers beginning to throw despite the receiver breaking to the outside. Biggers then played the ball instead of the receiver, peeling off and making the interception. Biggers has been a utility man in the Redskins secondary, moving around from outside corner, to slot corner and even spending a lot of time at safety. That type of versatility is valued by the Redskins, particularly from a guy lower on the corner depth charts.

Special teams

I think Kai Forbath will be disappointed this morning when he looks back at the game. The snap and hold on both of his blocked kicks appeared to be fine. It looked to me as though both kicks were just low. I did like Mike Shanahan’s decision to show faith in his kicker late on instead of going for it on fourth down. Forbath repaid that faith shown in him by converting the field goal. Hopefully that will help boost his confidence and get him back to the same Forbath we saw last season.

Sav Rocca didn’t shank any punts of his three punts this week, which is a positive. But he only averaged 41 yards per punt. His season average is now at 41.5 yards per punt, which is the shortest in the NFL. He did, however, manage to down one inside the Chargers’ 20, which is all important in the field position battle.

I said it last week and still believe it this week, Josh Morgan should not be a return man in the NFL. San Diego quickly recognized his shortcomings and deliberately kicked short to bait him into returning the ball. He was consistently tackled inside the 20, when he would have been better to just take a knee in the end zone.

Mark Bullock is The Insider’s Outsider, sharing his impressions of the Redskins’ play without the benefit of access to the team.

What’s ahead:

● Mike Shanahan speaks with reporters at 5 p.m.

More From The Post:

Fullback’s three TDs, goal-line sequence leads to 30-24 overtime win

Boswell: Just call this a win for the ages | Takeaway: More needed to save season

Young helps spark resurgent running game | Goal-line stand a turning point

RGIII bounces back in a big way | Forbath miffed over blocked field goals

D.C. Sports Bog: Redskins vs. Chargers best and worstBox score | Photo gallery

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Mike Jones · November 4, 2013

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