The Redskins used run-heavy looks to keep Chargers off balance

November 6, 2013

The Washington Redskins had success on the ground against the San Diego Chargers this past Sunday. Washington put up a total of 209 rushing yards, with Alfred Morris carrying the bulk of that load. We saw plenty of focus on the triple option and how that opened things up for the Redskins, but Kyle Shanahan had more than just the option up his sleeve. We saw a variety of different run-heavy personnel groups and formations that were used to keep the Chargers off balance. Deep in the red zone, we saw “Trey” and “Goal Line” personnel groups come on the field.

On all three of fullback Darrel Young’s touchdowns, Washington elected to use its goal-line personnel (also known as 23 personnel; two backs, three tight ends).


This group includes zero wide receivers. The Redskins call for the two backs in Young and Morris along with all three tight ends. On these plays, they actually reported back up tackle Tom Compton as eligible, lining him up outside of left tackle Trent Williams. These plays were statements by Kyle Shanahan that told San Diego that he felt his team could beat them up front.

But Washington wasn’t limited to run-heavy looks outside of goal-line situations. The Redskins went to their Trey personnel group (13 personnel; one back, three tight ends) early and often in this game. On Morris‘s touchdown run, we saw all three of Washington’s tight ends on the field.


Here you can see Jordan Reed lined up outside Trent Williams, with fellow tight ends Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul outside right tackle Tyler Polumbus. Washington runs the ball behind the heavier side of the line, and behind the better two blocking tight ends.


Morris follows his blockers as they create a running lane for him to cut back into. Morris runs past the line of scrimmage untouched, and despite late efforts from the defense, he fights his way into the end zone for the Redskins’ opening touchdown.

But to keep the Chargers from cheating to the heavy side of the line, Washington used the same personnel group to run counter plays.


This time, Reed motions back to the fullback position. Morris will begin his run to the heavy side of the line behind tight ends Paulsen and Paul, but will quickly cut back inside across the line behind Reed.


San Diego overcommits to the stronger side of the line, and leave a big lane for Morris to run into. Morris finds the lane easily and bursts through it to pick up 10 yards.

So now, the Chargers had seen Washington run the ball behind both the strong and weak sides of the line in run-heavy looks. This is where the fun began for Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan sent out the same personnel group into the huddle and even lined them up initially in a similar run look. Everything from the personnel in the huddle to the initial formation looked like a run play to the Chargers defense.


But then before the snap, running back Roy Helu Jr. and tight end Niles Paul motion out wide to receiver positions.


Suddenly, after looking like Washington would definitely be running the ball, they no longer have a running back in the backfield and have five receiving threats for the defense to cover. The defense is forced to make quick decisions; do they need to check out of a blitz, should they play man or zone, should they use a linebacker or defensive back to cover the two men in motion? All of these decisions have to be made in seconds as the ball is snapped quickly once the two players in motion are set.

In the end, Robert Griffin III overthrew Reed up the seam, but the play was there to be made. It wasn’t just limited to the Trey group either. Washington used similar concepts out of their Tiger group (12 personnel; one back, two tight ends).


This time they opt to start Reed split out wide, with Pierre Garcon and Leonard Hankerson bunched together in the slot. Helu again motions out of the backfield to the outside.


Once again we see the Redskins spread out and the Chargers having to make quick, split-second decisions. This was a crucial third and six, which Griffin found Paulsen on an out route against man coverage.

It speaks to the versatility of the players the Redskins have on offense. Tight ends Reed and Paul can both split outside or in the slot comfortably. Paulsen has solid hands and can move around in the backfield. Helu’s shiftiness is a threat all over the field, so splitting him outside as a receiver on some plays is always a viable option. The ability to go from a run-heavy look to a spread look in a matter of seconds can be a huge weapon for Kyle Shanahan and his Redskins offense. It’s just one more thing for defenses to have to think about and prepare for.

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:

● The Redskins practiced this morning at 10:30. Kyle Shanahan and Jim Haslett are scheduled to speak to reporters afterward.

● Mark Maske on the goal-line stand.

● Gene Wang’s fantasy watch: What to make of Nick Foles?

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Mike Jones · November 6, 2013

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