Coach Jay Gruden switched up his pass-first philosophy Sunday, confusing Arizona in Washington’s easy 24-6 victory on the road. The perfect mix of play calls left the Cardinals constantly guessing wrong.
“It helps to have the whole playbook open,” Gruden said. “I was having trouble calling plays because there were so many good ones that I liked that we could get to.”
Gruden’s task now that the league has seen his new scheme is to tailor it to the opponent each week.
Washington can probably repeat the formula against Indianapolis on Sunday. The rain expected from Hurricane Florence favors a ground game that will turn FedEx Field’s grassy marsh into a mosh pit between the 20-yard lines. With Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson delivering a one-two combination against Arizona, Gruden can feel comfortable ramming past the Colts, whose passing game behind quarterback Andrew Luck will be compromised by poor weather.
But by Week 3 against Green Bay, Gruden will need to shuffle his offense. The Packers and then New Orleans are more vulnerable against the pass, and Carolina will counter with a balanced defense in Washington’s fifth game.
As long as Washington’s offense stays healthy, balance is its big advantage. The Redskins can run or pass. It makes no real difference to quarterback Alex Smith, who even ran eight times Sunday on top of his 30 pass attempts. Washington didn’t get to its deep passing packages, play out of the shotgun or call for many outside running routes.
The Redskins just played smash-mouth ball behind a line that’s one of the NFL’s best when healthy. Smith threw high-percentage passes and went off script only when he faced pressure. Even then he didn’t take risks.
The Redskins didn’t have such flexibility last season because injuries depleted the offensive line and forced them to sign free agents off the street to play running back. Now, the team looks to have its most balanced attack since 2001, when coach Marty Schottenheimer’s squad passed for 2,487 yards and ran for 1,948.
Former Redskins coach Norv Turner used to run plays in certain games just so a defensive coordinator for an opponent a few weeks out had something to ponder.
Gruden has a few tricks and decoys, too. It may take a half season to see most of what the Redskins’ offense has to offer.
After all, Gruden is only showing as much as he needs to win.
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