The Test brings together two of The Post’s specialists to take unique looks at a Redskins issue leading up to each weekend’s game. Neil Greenberg of our Fancy Stats blog runs the numbers; Separately, Mark Bullock gives it the eye test. Readers get a double dose of insight.
Neil Greenberg’s take:
J.J. Watt is a pass-rushing machine. Over his first three seasons, he has played 1,682 passing snaps and sacked the quarterback 39 times. He has also been credited with 75 quarterback hits and 116 hurries. That’s pressure once every seven plays — mostly against double teams. Here is what happens when no one blocks him:
The Redskins averaged 41 passing plays per game last season, while Cincinnati averaged 37 passing plays per game in the three years Jay Gruden was their offensive coordinator. That means we can expect Watt to bring the heat on Griffin five to six times over the course of the game. The rest of Houston’s defensive ends brought pressure once every ten plays. But that was before the arrival of top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney only had one sack in the preseason on 11 pass rush snaps, but it was a doozy.
Clowney, at 6 feet 5 and 266 pounds, will likely continue to line up at outside linebacker, which means both Watt and Clowney could pressure the quarterback from the same side. That will necessitate Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen helping out, and that could be trouble. According to Pro Football Focus, Paulsen was the worst at protecting the quarterback among the 11 tight ends who took at least 50 percent of the pass-blocking assignments for their team. If we widen that to a minimum of 25 percent, he ranked 34th out of 35, ahead of only the New York Jets’ Jeff Cumberland.
On the line, right guard Chris Chester may also be asked to help out. That too could be worrisome. Last season, PFF ranked him 66th out of 81 guards for his pass protection, and in the preseason he was ranked 101st out of 156.
When the pressure does come, it will be interesting to see which Robert Griffin III emerges. In his rookie season, he had five touchdowns and two interceptions when under pressure, and threw with 75 percent accuracy (this includes dropped passes as completions). Last season, his accuracy dropped to 60.7 percent under pressure and he had a five-to-five touchdown-to-interception ratio. In just 14 dropbacks under pressure this preseason, Griffin was sacked four times, hit while throwing once and threw an interception with a less than ideal 71.4 accuracy percentage.
Mark Bullock’s take:
This is the biggest question of this game and the answer will most likely be the deciding factor in the result. Clowney comes into the league with a huge, and merited, reputation of being an athletic freak who can both shut down the run game and get after the quarterback. Fortunately, the Redskins have an athletic freak of their own at left tackle in Trent Williams. I expect Washington will trust Williams to keep Clowney quiet on his own, as they have in the past against similarly strong rushers like DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen. Make no mistake though, Clowney shouldn’t be taken lightly. He has all the tricks up his sleeve; he can beat you outside on a speed rush, inside with a swim move or even just bull rush you back into the quarterback. Williams is one of the best left tackles in the league when at his best, which is what he’ll have to be from the get go. Nevertheless, I think the Redskins will be confident that Williams will hold up well on an island against Clowney.
Watt, on the other hand, will most certainly cause the Redskins problems. His versatility allows him to line up playing any technique along the defensive line. He can play 1-tech, 3-tech, 5-tech or even play wide outside as a 9-tech if the Texans asked him to. The Texans will use this to their advantage and move him around to create the best possible matchup for him. I suspect they’ll want to get him inside as a 3-tech in one-on-one matchups with the Redskins’ guards, or on the edge against Tyler Polumbus. That means at times, the Redskins could see Watt line up on the same side as Clowney.
If Clowney is occupying Williams outside, Watt could face one-on-one matchups with left guard Shawn Lauvao. As we see above, Watt has a vast arsenal of pass-rushing moves to beat his opponent one-on-one. On this play, he used a swim move that was just too quick for the Cardinals’ left guard to handle.
This is a scenario the Redskins have to avoid. Clowney drives back the Cardinals left tackle while Watt has already beaten the guard and is closing in on the sack.
Watt’s presence on the defensive line will alter the Redskins’ game plan. It’s hard to imagine they’ll call for too many seven-step drops for Robert Griffin III, even with the new deep threat of DeSean Jackson in the lineup. I think the Redskins will call for plenty of play-action passes to try to get Watt and Clowney hesitating at the snap and buy an extra second of protection for Griffin. I also think Washington could look to spread out the defense, with four- or even five-receiver sets and an empty backfield. That will limit the number of blitzers the Texans can afford to send and should help get an extra blocker on Watt. They might try and take advantage of Clowney making the adjustment from a 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. I don’t believe the Texans will have him in coverage too often, but the Redskins would be foolish not to try some different looks to take Clowney away from the line of scrimmage.
Atlanta ran this look a couple of times against the Texans in preseason. They run a base formation, with two running backs, two wide receivers and a tight end. But they line up both receivers on Clowney’s side of the field. If the Texans are in zone coverage, Clowney could be forced to step away from the line of scrimmage towards the inside receiver, as we see above.
This position isn’t something that comes naturally to Clowney. He hesitates as he looks into the backfield to get a read on the play, allowing the Falcons to run the ball up the middle and take Clowney completely out of the play. Watt wasn’t in the game on this play, and would have to be accounted for when he is. But blocking one of Watt or Clowney is much easier than blocking both.
I’d expect the Redskins to test Clowney’s discipline. Clowney is an excellent pass rusher and run defender, but in college he was too athletic to be blocked a large percentage of the time. Washington needs to test how well he can hold a gap and recognize the play. Things like play-action passes, bootlegs, misdirection in the backfield and even the read-option will play a role in testing Clowney, and indeed Watt’s, discipline.
Another play is the delayed hand off, or the draw play.
Here, the Cardinals run a draw. They intend to run the ball at Clowney’s side, away from Watt.
The left tackle takes a drop step to the outside, as he would in pass protection. Clowney’s instincts take over and he switches into pass-rushing mode, working an inside move to beat his blocker.
Clowney is easily able to beat his man inside, but misses the delayed hand off. The running back takes the ball exactly where Clowney came from, and he’s left in the backfield with nobody to tackle.
These kinds of concepts will be essential, forcing Clowney and Watt to have to think about the play and take that extra second to diagnose it. If they are able to just line up and attack all game, they’ll wreak havoc on an offensive line that has typically struggled to maintain pass protection.
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