Yesterday, I looked at what the Washington Redskins running game might look like under new coach Jay Gruden. Today, I thought I’d move onto the passing game. During his introductory press conference, Gruden was asked about his offensive philosophy moving forward.
“I don’t think any offense in the NFL anymore is just, ‘We are this.’ I think we have to adhere to what we have offensively, talent-wise. We can do the read option. We can do naked bootlegs. We can run outside zone. We can run bubble screens. We can run deep balls. We can do play-action deep things. I think the whole idea to be a successful offense is to be diverse and be good at a lot of different things and not just one.”
Given their West-Coast offense backgrounds, you see plenty of concepts on offense with Jay Gruden similar to what we saw under Mike and Kyle Shanahan. As Gruden said, he can run the zone scheme and the play-action game off of it, which we saw plenty of from Shanahan. But he can also run things that we aren’t accustomed to from Washington. What became immediately obvious when watching video is the diversity that Gruden talked about. He’s willing to run multiple formations, ranging from run-heavy sets:
To empty or one-back spread looks from the shotgun:
And everything in between. Gruden runs all sorts of plays from these different looks. Just because he sets up with a run-heavy look, doesn’t mean he won’t run a seven-step drop deep shot to one of those tight ends. Similarly, just because he’s spread out, doesn’t mean he won’t hand the ball off inside.
Along with being diverse, one of the things I think Gruden does well is feature his best players. He’ll move them around to generate the best possible match up and get the ball in their hands.
Here you see what looks to be a normal spread look. But Gruden has lined up his tight end, Jermaine Gresham as a receiver to the outside, while the three wide receivers spread to the left of the formation. When a defense faces a tight end lined up as a receiver like this, they will often check to a zone defense, which is what the Steelers appeared to do here.
But it looks like one defender didn’t get the message that the coverage had changed. He chases the back out of the backfield. That allowed Gresham to run an easy slant against get wide open in the middle of the field.
Gresham makes the catch with plenty of room to run. This play was so effective in spite of it’s simplicity (it’s just a standard slant route) because of the confusion caused by splitting the tight end out wide. Gruden could easily do the same thing with Jordan Reed here in Washington.
But it’s not just versatile tight ends that Gruden moves around the formation. He’ll take his star receiver and place him all over the place; outside, in the slot, sometimes even bunched close to the formation like a tight end would.
Here, A.J. Green is placed in the slot. The Lions show a Cover-3 look, which tells quarterback Andy Dalton to send Green on a go route up the seam and run through the zones.
Green sprints right through the underneath zones untouched. A Lions linebacker spots the problem for the defense and attempts to drop back and stay with Green.
But Green is too fast for any NFL linebacker. Green has to make an adjustment to pull in the catch, which allows the defender to make the tackle. Had the throw been more over the top and allowed Green to run onto it, it could easily have been a touchdown. Pierre Garcon spent much of his time in Indianapolis lining up in the same position and running three routes. He’s developed much further during his time with the Redskins, but hasn’t moved around to the extent Gruden did with Green. Garcon isn’t on the same level as Green, but he can still be a mightily effective weapon for Gruden, particularly if he uses him creatively like he did with Green.
Gruden likes to involve the running back in the passing game. He’ll use him as a checkdown target and on screen plays. But just like he does with his other weapons, Gruden will be creative in finding ways to get his back the ball in space.
Cincinnati lines up with rookie back Giovani Bernard in the backfield. He’s going to run a little swing pattern to the edge. Normally that route would be a check down, but Gruden uses it as a way to get the ball to the explosive Bernard on the edge. He uses his tight ends in a bunch formation as screen blockers for Bernard.
Dalton wastes no time in dumping the ball off to Bernard, who has blockers in position.
This is exactly what Gruden would have wanted when he drew up this play. If Gresham can maintain the block, Bernard can run free up the sideline and is unlikely to be caught. Now this isn’t necessarily a play you would run with Alfred Morris, who lacks the explosive speed that Bernard has. But Roy Helu Jr. or Chris Thompson have the speed to take this kind of play all the way for a touchdown. It will be interesting to see how Gruden rotates that stable of running backs.
So Gruden does a good job manipulating matchups to benefit his best players. He’s also plenty willing to take vertical shots down the field from his standard drop-back passing game. Under Mike Shanahan, the Redskins deep shots mainly came as a result of play-action. But Gruden shows more willingness to take shots without the need of selling a run fake.
On this play against the Steelers, Gruden went back to a West Coast offense classic, the ‘Sluggo-Seam’. On the outside, Cincinnati runs a slant-and-go (sluggo). This route works fantastically in combination with the go route from the tight end up the seam.
The concept is to manipulate a deep safety. The quarterback will pump fake on the sluggo route. If the corner bites, then he’ll throw it over the top. If the corner stays with the play, the quarterback can work back to the go route up the seam. In this instance, the Steelers are in Cover-3, meaning the corner is responsible for his deep third of the field. That scheme allows the corner to take away the sluggo route. However, after Dalton pump fakes to the sluggo, the deep middle safety is drawn to that side, leaving a big hole in the defense for tight end Tyler Eifert to run into.
The pass from Dalton is slightly behind Eifert, who makes the adjustment to bring in the catch. But he’s still able to pick up 61 yards before he’s eventually brought down. Robert Griffin III’s deep-ball accuracy was one of his biggest strengths coming out of college. This season, he struggled to connect on the deep passes, but much of that is a result of his knee injury. If he can rediscover his deep-ball accuracy from his time at Baylor, plays like these (and the one we saw from Green earlier) will be touchdowns instead of just big gains.
Gruden then, shows plenty of the diversity he talked about in his introductory press conference. The downside of all this diversity is that it takes time to learn and install. Expect Gruden to throw a lot of stuff at Griffin and the Redskins offense, who should benefit from familiar West Coast terminology. How quickly they can pick it up will be key to the Redskins success next season.
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