Despite beating the Lions, 21-17, the Redskins can’t be happy with the way their first-team offense performed. The offensive line has been talked up over the course of the offseason, with the additions of Bill Callahan as the new offensive line coach and Brandon Scherff, drafted fifth over. After a promising start against Cleveland, the offensive line looked like it has a lot of work left to do before it’s ready for the season.
Pass protection was immediately a concern. Willie Smith started in place of Trent Williams and struggled desperately against the Lions’ starting defensive ends. But while Smith certainly had a big part to play in the poor pass protection, there were others to blame for the six big hits Robert Griffin III suffered on his eight drop backs. The first was on the rookie, Scherff.
Playing at right guard, Scherff will have to get used to blocking bigger defensive linemen than those he faced in college when he played tackle. Here, the Lions’ defensive tackle attempts an inside rush on Scherff.
Scherff takes a false step to the outside, leading him to be off balance as the defensive tackle looks to engage. Scherff loses his technique trying to recover, with his right leg extended straight instead of bent to keep him low. Playing off balance and high is not a way to block NFL defensive tackles.
Scherff commits the third deadly sin of an offensive lineman, surrendering hand leverage. He allows the tackle to get his hands inside and on to his chest. At this point, Scherff has no hand leverage, no balance and has his pad level too high.
The defender takes full advantage, driving Scherff back into Griffin. Some could argue that Griffin could have taken a few steps to his right to try and get a throw away, but this sack isn’t on him.
Scherff struggled with inside moves on at least three plays that I noticed. Center Kory Lichtensteiger did a nice job coming across to bail him out a couple of times. Ultimately though, Scherff is a rookie adjusting to a new position. He’ll have his share of lumps, but there is reason to believe he can fix these issues and become a very good guard.
After that sack, the Lions sent a couple of effective blitzes that landed hits on Griffin.
The first blitz came from the secondary. Detroit walks down its safety towards the line of scrimmage. That safety blitzes along with the front four defensive linemen, meaning a five-man rush from the defense.
The entire offensive line slides to the right, suggesting that was the way the protection was meant to go. Chris Thompson lined up in the backfield and could have potentially picked up the blitzing safety, but he appeared to have an assigned route instead of a protection assignment. With the offensive line sliding away from the blitzing safety and the back running a route, the safety is given a free run at Griffin. Smith also struggles to contain his rusher.
Griffin manages to get rid of the ball before the safety arrives. However, Smith fails to maintain his block and allows the defensive end to get inside and land a hit on Griffin.
After that, the Lions came back with a ‘Cover-Zero’ blitz.
The Lions line up every defender within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Most defenders are actually on the line of scrimmage. Cover Zero is pure man coverage with no safety help. Each defender is assigned an eligible receiver; he blitzes unless that receiver runs a route. It guarantees the defense a free rusher if executed properly.
The Redskins have a perfect counter for this defense though. Pierre Garcon runs a shallow crossing route against a defender who is playing off coverage. In my opinion, that should be the hot route, a route which Griffin throws right away against a blitz.
The Lions add a twist to the play. A linebacker takes a step back off the line of scrimmage and waits a second before he rushes. As Griffin takes his drop, Thompson does a good job picking up one of the blitzing linebackers up the middle, buying Griffin time in the pocket to get a read on the defense.
Griffin gets a mostly clean pocket to work from. It was certainly as clean a pocket you can ask for against Cover Zero. Griffin appears to stay on his initial read, looking at the out-go route combination to his left. I believe he should have read the blitz and looked to dump off to Garcon over the middle, but I can’t say for certain, as I don’t know the call.
Instead, Griffin throws the longer-developing out route from Andre Roberts, taking a brutal hit in the process.
The toughness to stand in there and make a throw knowing a big hit is coming is admirable from Griffin. However, I feel that there was potential for him to have seen the blitz and dump it off to Garcon. The Roberts out route could have been the hot-route, but to me Garcon’s route made more sense as the hot-route on that play.
The next two hits were entirely on backup left tackle Willie Smith, who looked out of his depth against the Lions’ starters.
On this play, Smith should have a fairly simple assignment in terms of complexity. He’s left one-on-one against a Lions defensive end.
But Smith’s first move is to work inside against the defensive tackle, almost like he was executing a run block. That gives the defensive end a free rush at Griffin.
Smith attempts to work back outside to save the play, but loses all technique in his rush to recover, lunging high at the defender. The rusher turns the corner and shrugs off Smith’s block attempt, sacking Griffin before he had a chance to do anything with the ball.
Having suffered a beating, Griffin should have perhaps been taken out of the game after that play. But given how poorly the offense had performed, Griffin was given another series. The results remained the same, however.
Once again Smith is given a one-on-one assignment with the defensive end.
This time, Smith is quick to get out to the edge and cut off the rusher. But in doing so, opens himself up and allows the defender to convert his rush from speed into power. The defender keeps his pad level low and gets his hands on the chest of Smith.
Smith gets bull-rushed back into Griffin, who attempts to climb the pocket and escape to his left. But the defensive end manages to reach out and get a hand on Griffin, which is enough to trap him in the pocket as the rest of the pressure arrives for the sack.
Given the pressure and hits taken by Griffin, it’s understandable what happened next. However, the last hit the quarterback suffered was entirely on him.
Griffin reaches the top of his drop, reading the right side of the field. The Redskins appear to run a corner-flat route combination, which the Lions cover relatively well. Griffin then imagines pressure and begins to scramble, instead of staying in the pocket and moving onto his next read.
As he begins to scramble, Griffin loses the grip on the ball, fumbling it despite being under little pressure.
Griffin fumbles the ball and then attempts to dive on it to recover. That leads to a Lions defender jumping on top of him while also trying to recover the fumble. It’s understandable that Griffin would feel faux pressure given how poorly his protection had been previously, but this hit was all on him.
The Redskins will certainly be hoping Trent Williams returns to the starting left tackle spot next week and stays healthy for the entire season. If anything, his absence from the game made him more valuable and gave him more leverage in his ongoing contract negotiations. However, his absence from the game may be part of the reason his deal hasn’t already been done. Williams has a significant injury history, and while he displays toughness in playing through injuries, he’s only managed to play all 16 games in two of his five NFL seasons.
That will be a concern for the Redskins, but against the Lions, they got a glimpse of how life would be without a franchise left tackle. Callahan has plenty of work to do; if Williams misses any time during the regular season, then he leaves a big hole in the Redskins’ offensive line. Callahan will be the man tasked with finding a way to fill that gap, a gap which Smith doesn’t look capable of filling.
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