By Jason La Canfora
Monday, October 6, 2008
PHILADELPHIA The Redskins practiced the wide receiver option pass only once last week -- a single repetition during red-zone drills Friday -- with Coach Jim Zorn aching to spring it on the Philadelphia Eagles. He wanted so badly to try it Sunday, in fact, that he called the complicated gadget play the first time Washington got within the Eagles 20-yard line at Lincoln Financial Field. The result was the Redskins' first touchdown of the game, one that gave them the lead for good.
After previous drives had netted just three field goals and with the Redskins trailing 14-9, Zorn felt it was time to pounce, running the misdirection play against Philadelphia's aggressive defense. It was first and 10 from the Philadelphia 18, roughly midway through the third quarter, when wide receiver Antwaan Randle El went in motion to his left. He ended up reversing field, coming all the way back around to his right to take a handoff from quarterback Jason Campbell, then completed the touchdown toss to tight end Chris Cooley.
"One rep, that's all we need," Randle El bellowed as he left the visitors' locker room after the Redskins' 23-17 win.
The play encompassed a litany of mixed signals to the defense -- connoting first a power run to the left, then a reverse to the opposite field, and finally a downfield pass from Randle El, a college quarterback at Indiana. The efficiency with which the Redskins performed the complicated sequence belied the lack of practice time, as Zorn, a rookie head coach, continues to display a play-calling swagger and savvy during his club's four-game winning streak.
"That play is not going to be successful week in and week out," Zorn said. "But that was a team against whom that play was going to work. It's part of the study you have to do through the week. You study and you study and you study, and then there's this thing where you go, 'Oh, my gosh, we've got something here if we just do it.' "
Zorn wanted to call it on a run-down if possible, since it is predicated on a play-action fake. He knew Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson loves to station lots of defenders near the ball, with linebackers near the line of scrimmage -- all the better to get them caught up field, over-pursuing if possible. When the time came, Zorn never flinched.
"This is it," he said. "There was no question. There was no question."
The Redskins lined up in an I formation with Cooley stationed off left tackle, and fullback Mike Sellers and tailback Ladell Betts behind Campbell. Wide receiver Santana Moss was placed wide right; Randle El was in the slot on that side, then went in motion all the way left, bringing cornerback Sheldon Brown with him, before heading back right for the reverse. Campbell faked a handoff to Betts heading to the left, and by then Cooley and the linemen were setting up blocks.
Right guard Randy Thomas pulled to the left, indicating the power run to that side. Center Casey Rabach immediately engaged defensive tackle Mike Patterson, teeing him up for right tackle Jon Jansen before peeling right, knowing that's where Randle El would be rolling out before throwing the ball.
"I hold up the nose [tackle], and Jansen just comes down and kills him," Rabach said. "That's exactly what he did." Patterson was never able to recover. "I get a knockout shot on that one," said Jansen, replacing injured Stephon Heyer at his usual starting spot. "I get a free play."
While Jansen and Rabach created a mosh pit in the interior, the left side of the line -- guard Pete Kendall and tackle Chris Samuels, double-teamed right defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley. "It's a hard fake to our side," Kendall said, "and Chris [Samuels] and I block our inside gap. It's designed to get the linebackers up and to get Cooley across."
All of this read like a prototypical running play to Philadelphia's linebackers, and Brown, who came over in motion, strong safety Quintin Mikell (who was responsible for Cooley) and middle linebacker Stewart Bradley were racing toward Washington's left side. "You can't prepare for everything, there's not enough hours in the day," Eagles linebacker Omar Gaither said. "They made a good call. There's nothing we can do about it."
Cooley's responsibility was to block right end Darren Howard, showing power run technique, then containing for a reverse before sprinting into his route. If he gave a run look, defensive backs would lag, went the theory, which held true.
"That's what we talked about would happen, so sell the run and then get out," said Cooley, while holding a game ball he said he planned to give to Randle El. "It took me a little longer to get out than I wanted to, and I was a little concerned, then El came back to me at the last second."
With the ball, Randle El continued to roll toward the right sideline, drawing left end Juqua Parker his way, creeping dangerously close to the line of scrimmage. Cooley ran free on a 10-to-12-yard crossing route, with Moss 10 yards behind him in the end zone. Corner Asante Samuel went deep with Moss, with safety Brian Dawkins caught between Cooley's intermediate route, and Moss behind him.
"If they bite on me, Cooley should be wide open," Moss said. "And that's pretty much what happened."
With a passer's knack for not crossing the line of scrimmage, Randle El waited for Cooley (eight catches for 109 yards) to settle into the route.
"I wanted to put pressure on them to come get me," Randle El said. "Dawkins was sitting back a little further, so I came up, and that's when Cooley came open."
Mikell said: "You've got to give it up to them, it's probably the first time one of their gadgets worked against us in a long time. He kept his eyes downfield and I guess he knew where he was at [in relation to the line]. It's pretty frustrating."
Cooley caught the ball at the 7 and burst through linebacker Chris Gocong and Samuel at the goal line. Randle El had his fourth career touchdown pass (he's 19 for 23 with a near perfect 154 career passer rating), Cooley had his first touchdown in this system, and Zorn another signature play a mere five games into his coaching career.