The Test asks two Post specialists to take unique looks at a Redskins issue leading up to each game. Neil Greenberg of our Fancy Stats blog runs the numbers; Separately, Mark Bullock gives it the eye test. Together, they provide a double dose of insight.
Neil Greenberg’s take:
Richard Sherman says he is the best cornerback in the league, but he has proved to be vulnerable this season.
When he is in coverage, opposing quarterbacks have a 65.0 passer rating against, and that includes a masterful performance by Philip Rivers and the Chargers in Week 2, where San Diego completed four of five targets on Sherman’s side of the field for 54 yards — 27 of which came after the catch.
The key will be to take utilize tight end Niles Paul, who hopes to play, and create a favorable matchup against the Seahawks’ linebackers. Among Washington’s pass catchers, Paul is averaging almost double the amount of yards per route run when asked to run a pattern.
That should be enough to expose Seattle’s outside linebacker K.J. Wright, who is yielding 1.3 yards per snap when he is asked to drop into coverage, the third most among outside linebackers who have played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps.
Mark Bullock’s take:
Sherman has certainly proven himself as one of, if not the best corner in the NFL. He excels in the Seahawks Cover 3-based scheme that allows him to play left corner and take away his deep third of the field and sometimes more from the offense. Not many teams dared to throw it his way last season, instead finding ways to work to the other side of the field. But the Chargers this season figured out a few ways to make Sherman less of a factor for the Seahawks’ defense.
This is just a simple four verticals play by the Chargers. Four verticals has always been a way to attack Cover 3 schemes and variants of it. San Diego stands up its future hall of fame tight end Antonio Gates and lines him up as part of a ‘Trips Right’ formation. He runs the key route in this defense, crossing the middle of field and running away from Sherman’s side.
Covering a tight end running deep is always a tough assignment for linebackers and safeties. Earl Thomas is covering the deep middle of the field and is the best in the league at doing so. But the trips formation forces him to shade to that side — the top in the photos above. Add in the seam route from the slot receiver and Thomas is forced to stick to that side of the field. That leaves Gates running against a linebacker and an obvious place to throw for quarterback Philip Rivers.
Gates makes the catch and picks up a big gain in the process on a play that Sherman couldn’t do anything about.
San Diego got inventive with how they used Gates in that game. They moved him around trying to get the best matchup and managed to find success.
This time the Chargers use a ‘Trips Left’ formation, but with all three receivers on the same side. That leaves Gates on the right side on his own. The Seahawks were left with two choices on how to use Sherman; either keep him on his left side of the field and leave a lesser corner or a safety on a receiver, or move him over to the receiver side and leave Gates one-on-one. Here, Seattle opted for the latter, and Rivers wasted no time in going to Gates.
Seattle leaves safety Kam Chancellor in coverage with Gates, but Chancellor just can’t stay with him.
Rivers drops the ball over Gates’s shoulder and Chancellor can’t do anything to save the touchdown.
Jay Gruden moved his tight ends all over the formation in Cincinnati, often using the same look as the Chargers did here. If Jordan Reed or Niles Paul manages to overcome their injuries in time for Monday night, they could be used in similar fashion to Gates. If both are ruled out, then Washington will have to look at other ways to attack Seattle. Denver showed a couple of ways that the Redskins could still attack Sherman’s side of the field.
This is the type of play I’m expecting to see on Monday night. Denver has wide receiver Wes Welker run an underneath crossing route, while they set up blocks on the opposite side of the formation.
As Peyton Manning dumps off the pass to Welker, the blockers engage with their defenders, clearing a path for Welker to work up the sideline.
Sherman manages to push Welker out of bounds, but not before he picks up the first down. DeSean Jackson would be ideal on this type of play. His speed could see him hit the edge and turn the corner before the Seattle defense can adjust, but it would require good blocking from his fellow receivers.
The Broncos also threw directly at Sherman’s receiver a couple of times, but Manning was careful to anticipate the throw as best as he could and get the ball to the receiver as he made his cut.
Here, Denver has receiver Emmanuel Sanders run a dig route, with the slot receiver running a quick out.
The two routes cross paths, attempting to create traffic for the defensive backs, but it doesn’t work.
Manning anticipates the throw excellently. He is already delivering the ball a step or two before Sanders makes his cut.
With the throw so well anticipated, Sherman has no chance to make a play and has to settle for making the tackle.
If the throw is timed to perfection, like it was here, even Sherman can’t do anything about it sometimes. But it takes a lot of guts from a quarterback to trust his receiver to cut exactly when he needs to and be in the right position when the ball arrives, otherwise the defense could get some easy interceptions.
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