How Jay Gruden might deploy DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Andre Roberts

July 16

Last week, I looked at how Jay Gruden might use Jordan Reed in his new Redskins offense. This week, its the wide receivers’ turn.

Washington added DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts to partner up with Pierre Garcon, giving them a formidable trio of receivers. Gruden has a history of surrounding his quarterback with as many weapons as possible, having three similarly formidable receivers in Cincinnati: A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Gruden’s offense from the Bengals won’t transfer exactly the same, because Washington’s receivers have skill sets different from those in Cincinnati. However, there are enough similarities to see how Gruden might use his new arsenal of weapons in Washington.

Z receiver: DeSean Jackson

From watching the Bengals, I can easily picture Jackson playing a role similar to Green’s. Green played the Z role, allowing him to line up a yard off the line of scrimmage, making it easier for him to beat press coverage. Both Green and Jackson are legitimate deep threats that defenses have to account for on every play.


This is an example of how the Z receiver can dictate coverage. Green runs a slant-and-go, or ‘sluggo’ route.


Green fakes the slant inside, getting the defender to bite, before working back outside and down the field.


Green accelerates away from the defender and finds himself wide open for an easy 20-yard touchdown pass.

The sluggo route is something of a favorite in the Gruden family, with Jay’s brother Jon using it regularly during his coaching career. Jackson’s speed will make him just as much a threat on this type of play as Green, which will force defences to offer more safety help to Jackson’s side or play more conservative coverage.

Against off coverage, Gruden liked to use Green on quick curl and comeback routes.


The Steelers line their corner up well off the line of scrimmage, giving Green a large cushion on this play.


With Green’s deep threat, the corner backpedals to avoid getting beaten, allowing Green to pull up early and be wide open for an easy completion.

Again, Jackson’s speed will force some defenses to play off-man coverage against him, which could allow Gruden to call for more curl routes like the one from Green above.

The Z receiver is also the starting receiver that is moved around most often. Gruden liked to move Green all over the formation and would often send him in motion to help identify what the defense is doing.


On this occasion, Green is lined up in the slot. The Ravens corner doesn’t follow him to the slot, indicating the defense is in zone coverage. From this picture alone, you can already tell they are going to be running a form of three-deep zone. Green runs a simple post route.


Green eats up the distance between the deep safety and himself, cutting sharply inside.


Green runs right past the deep safety, who has to turn and try to catch up. Green is wide open when the ball eventually arrives, making for one of the easiest 51-yard touchdowns you’ll see.

All these types of routes suit Jackson’s skill set perfectly. While he might not put up the numbers Green did, he should fill a similar role in Washington’s offense effectively.

X receiver: Pierre Garcon

Garcon played the ‘X’ under the Shanahans, and I expect that to continue under Gruden. The X receiver lines up on the line of scrimmage and as a result faces more press-man coverage. Marvin Jones worked his way up under Gruden into the X receiver role in Cincinnati, running similar routes to the ones we’ve become accustomed to Garcon running in Washington.


Here, Jones is running a slant on the backside of the play, something every X receiver in the league will run.


The corner plays tight and physical, trying to disrupt Jones’s route.


But Jones fights through that physical coverage and uses his body to shade the ball away from the corner. He pulls in the catch and picks up a solid gain.

Being physical and dealing with press coverage is something Garcon has proven he can handle. His rapport with Robert Griffin III will help him in the X receiver role too. He’ll be asked to run plenty of short, quick routes that require the quarterback and receiver to be in sync with each other.


On this play, Jones runs a quick out route.


Quarterback Andy Dalton does a good job trusting his receiver to cut on time and delivers the throw before Jones has come out of his cut.


That allows for maximum separation and gives the defender very little opportunity to make a play on the ball.

Quarterbacks can be hesitant throwing before the receiver cuts, but Garcon has been the one receiver Griffin has been able to trust and rely on since he was drafted. That should stand Garcon in good stead for this X receiver role.

Zebra Receiver: Andre Roberts

Roberts was one of Washington’s first free-agent acquisitions. He was expected to start opposite Garcon before Jackson became available. He has since admitted that he might have opted to sign elsewhere had he known Jackson would have been signed. However, Roberts could be one of the biggest benefactors of having so many weapons on offense.

Gruden is perfectly happy spreading out the offense and having multiple receivers on the field for significant snaps. Mohamed Sanu saw time as the X and slot receiver under Gruden in Cincinnati. Gruden used Sanu in a similar fashion to how I expect Roberts to be used.


Here, Sanu lines up in the slot, with Green outside of him. Gruden calls for a very simple route combination, running Green on a go route and Sanu on an out route.


Green’s deep threat has to be respected, drawing attention of the deep safety. That clears the area behind him for Sanu to work one on one. A well-delivered pass from Dalton, and Sanu has an easy catch for a first down.

Gruden could also opt to bunch up his formations to try and hide Roberts, like he did with Sanu here.


The Bengals have all five of their top weapons on the field and tight to the formation. Sanu runs a simple shallow cross.


But with the likes of Green, Jones, Jermaine Gresham and Giovani Bernard to cover, Sanu slips free on his crossing route.


It’s an easy throw and catch, leaving Sanu with open field to run into.

Washington, with Jackson, Garcon and Reed all legitmate receiving options, could cause similar problems for the defense, leaving Roberts to go unaccounted for. While initially, he might balk at the idea of playing third fiddle to Jackson and Garcon, over the course of the season, he should still see a significant number of balls thrown his way and will see easier matchups than he would have had Jackson not been signed.

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

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