RICHMOND — In “cloud coverage,” two safeties and a cornerback play deep, and the other cornerback stays closer to the line of scrimmage to cover wide receivers who run short routes. The zone defense is designed to “bracket” a team’s best receiver, making it harder to connect with the quarterback. Wideout Pierre Garcon could tell you all about it.
Last fall, Garcon regularly faced double-teams. Opponents figured that if they could contain Garcon, the Redskins’ passing game would struggle. They were right.
But with the addition of DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts, the Redskins could have their best receiving corps in a long time. Washington’s moves to bolster the offense should benefit Garcon. You don’t have to be a wide receivers coach to realize Garcon needed help.
Despite leading the NFL with 113 receptions in 2013, Garcon often appeared frustrated. Hoping to help Garcon break free from coverage, former play-caller Kyle Shanahan moved Garcon around formations. Still, opponents made things hard on him. The problem was clear: lack of balance in the passing game. Garcon was the only Redskins wideout who scared opponents.
Leonard Hankerson, rehabbing from knee surgery in November, and Josh Morgan, whom the team did not re-sign, failed to gain quarterback Robert Griffin III’s trust. They didn’t get open quickly enough, prompting Griffin to look for other options. Usually, he looked to Garcon.
Among Redskins wideouts, Santana Moss was second in receptions. He had 71 fewer than the team’s No. 1 wideout. Garcon didn’t complain publicly about being overworked or criticize team officials for the lack of talent behind him.
“No matter who’s out there around you, it’s always exciting for me,” Garcon said the other day. “You’re getting a chance to play football.”
Any talented player who wants to win, though, would prefer to be part of a top-notch group. Garcon cares most about the team’s success. He proved that while playing with an injured toe during the 2012 season.
After tearing toe ligaments in the opener, Garcon couldn’t sprint or change direction without pain. Despite Garcon’s limitations, he performed a key role — the Redskins went 9-1 with Garcon — in the franchise’s first NFC East division championship in 13 seasons.
Last fall’s 3-13 collapse was especially hard on Garcon, people within the organization say. The focus of opponents’ attention from the opening kickoff to the final snap, Garcon didn’t produce as much as he envisioned he should.
It would be unwise of defensive coordinators to overlook Jackson and Roberts.
Among the league’s best big-play receivers, Jackson gives the Redskins their first scare-the-defense deep threat since Moss was young. The team has lacked a home run hitter for so long, it will be interesting to see how Coach Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay use Jackson. Gruden and McVay are getting ready to unveil a lot.
“Some teams might decide to [double-team Garcon again],” McVay said. “Some teams might decide to do that to DeSean. We’re excited about having some guys we know we can move around, separate and beat man coverage. Based on the coverage, we’ll get the ball wherever we need to.”
Don’t forget about Roberts. Gruden and McVay haven’t.
“We’re very fortunate to have the receiving corps we have,” Gruden said. “I feel very good about where we are. DeSean, Andre and Pierre — excellent camps.”
Initially, I wasn’t impressed with the Redskins’ signing of Roberts. If Roberts is your No. 2 receiver, you’re lacking a little at that spot. Jackson’s arrival bumped Roberts down the depth chart. That gave Washington a strong top three at the position.
Garcon and Jackson are the primary outside receivers. Much of the time, Roberts will work from the slot. The Redskins are eager to have them all together at full strength.
Slowed because of a sore right hamstring, Garcon, whose participation in practice has been limited, was back in full stride Saturday. Beginning his seventh year in the league, Garcon enters training camp in top shape and ready to start the season. The missed time shouldn’t set him back much. It hasn’t in 11-on-11 drills.
However, on several plays, Garcon has faced a certain coverage he dislikes. It seems defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has a sense of humor.
“It’s funny. A lot of the defenses we’re seeing right now [in practice], he’s getting doubled [again],” McVay said. “But he continues to do a great job. We all know Pierre is a great player. He’s going to be a huge part of what we’re trying to get done.”
Garcon has been since he joined the Redskins. And with more support in place, he may finally escape the “cloud.”
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.