The Washington Redskins’ offensive line has been tested in their first two games of the season, but neither the Giants nor the Cardinals are quite on the level of the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive front, which Washington will face Monday night.
Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware draws the most attention, and rightfully so as he has ranked among the league’s elite pass-rushers during his career. But the Redskins are just as wary of Anthony Spencer, who lines up opposite Ware, as well as nose tackle Jay Ratliff and ends Kenyon Coleman and Jason Hatcher.
“All of their guys, every single one of the guys that rush the passer are very good,” Redskins offensive line coach Chris Foerster said. “That’s the one thing you notice on film. They’re all very active, they all have distinct, good pass-rush moves, they all execute them very well and put a great deal of pressure on the quarterback. They’re very impressive that way. Spencer, Hatcher, Ware, the nose guard, the list goes on. They’re all very impressive.”
Like the Redskins, the Cowboys run a 3-4 defense. And Dallas has utilized variations of that scheme since 2005. But previous experience against the Cowboys’ 3-4 won’t help Washington’s offensive front very much because Rob Ryan took over as defensive coordinator this offseason and runs a less traditional, rather unpredictable version of the defense.
“It’s still the 3-4, but they run a lot of blitzes you won’t see from anybody else, because that’s how their D-coordinator is,” left tackle Trent Williams said.
Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan agrees.
“He’s aggressive and he’s all over the place,” Shanahan said of Ryan. “He’s going to try to confuse you. They do a lot of different things and you never really know what to expect. It’s not like they do the same thing week-in and week-out. You have to see how they are going to play you and you always have to be ready to watch the defense and be ready to adjust from the first play on.”
In the first two weeks of the season, the Cowboys have done everything from flip-flop Ware from the right to the left side and back to the right again, to overloading on one side, to having all of their front seven — including Ratliff, the nose tackle — blitz from a two-point stance to confuse the offenses they have faced.
“There can be trouble at times with identification,” Foerster said of the challenges that Dallas’s unconventional looks create. “People aren’t aligned where you’re used to having them aligned, there are different angles of rush – it’s different than just guys lined up on the line of scrimmage and rushing from where they usually rush. People coming from different places. Definitely a lot of challenges.”
After two weeks, the Cowboys’ defense leads the NFL with 10 sacks and has limited its first two opponents to an average of 283 yards a game, fourth in the league. Ware leads the team with four sacks, and Spencer and Hatcher have two sacks apiece.
“Every week’s a challenge, and last week’s waaaay in the past,” Foerster said. “Now we’ve got a real challenge in Dallas.”