This play was run by the Eagles in Week 1 of last season. The Jaguars are, like the Redskins, primarily a cover-three defense. The Eagles ran four verticals throughout the game under the notion that three deep defenders shouldn’t be able to cover four receivers.
As defenders dropped to their zone landmarks, Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews ran wide open across the middle.
Nick Foles, the quarterback at the time, missed the throw. But you can see just how much space Matthews had to work with. An accurate throw would have likely resulted in a big touchdown.
The Dolphins and the Rams both missed opportunities like this against the Redskins in the first two weeks of the season. The Giants didn’t run four verticals often, but they had success when they did.
The twist the Giants added was having tight end Larry Donnell line up in the backfield rather than his normal tight end spot.
The Giants also added a play-action fake, drawing in some of the Redskins’ underneath zone defenders. That cleared the way for Donnell to run freely up the seam. The Redskins get no pressure on quarterback Eli Manning, who was able to sit in the pocket comfortably and wait for the route to develop.
Manning found Donnell in plenty of space for an easy first down and more.
The key for any cover-three defense against concepts like four verticals is to generate a pass rush with just four rushers. Against the Giants, the Redskins failed to do that. If the same happens against the Eagles on Sunday, then Kelly will be sure to open up the playbook and attack down the field.
Washington will have to decide if it wants to persist with the cover-three scheme and trust its defensive line to generate a pass rush, or if it needs to make changes. If the front four can’t get the job done, then the Redskins may have to bring additional blitzers, changing the coverage scheme. On the few occasions Washington has blitzed, it has often been a safety blitz.
On this play, the Giants motion running back Shane Vereen out of the backfield and into the slot. Washington responds by rolling safety Trenton Robinson up to the line of scrimmage as an extra pass rusher. However, with a fifth rusher, the Redskins don’t have the numbers in coverage to run their preferred cover-three. So instead, they use man coverage with a single deep safety. That matches up inside linebackers Keenan Robinson and Will Compton on Vereen and Donnell, respectively.
The blitz doesn’t get to the quarterback. Having sensed a blitz coming before the snap, Manning appeared to audible to a quicker throw. Manning got the ball out of his hands quickly to Donnell.
Donnell made the catch, but Compton quickly makes the tackle and keepd the play to a minimal gain.
While the Redskins were probably content limiting the Giants a minimal gain in this situation, using the inside linebackers in man coverage against the Eagles’ tight ends and running backs might not be so easy.
Against man coverage, Philadelphia like to use concepts that gets the ball to its running backs and test the athleticism and coverage ability of the opposition’s linebackers. Here, the Eagles send wide receiver Nelson Agholor and tight end Zach Ertz on routes designed towards the middle of the field. That clears the way for running back Ryan Mathews to run his wheel route.
With the other receivers running towards the middle of the field, the Eagles isolate the linebacker in man coverage on the wheel route. It’s an extremely tough route for linebackers to cover. Most linebackers aren’t as athletic as the Eagles’ set of running backs, making these types of concepts a good matchup for Philadelphia.
Quarterback Sam Bradford makes a good throw despite being hit as he lets the ball. By the time it arrives, the difference in athleticism is clear to see. Mathews had two yards on Jets linebacker Demario Davis. This play resulted in a 24-yard touchdown for the Eagles.
The Redskins have an athletic linebacker in Keenan Robinson, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll want to expose him to that sort of situation by sending additional rushers and playing man coverage. Washington will hope that after an extra few days of rest and preparation, its four-man rush can generate the pressure required to protect its cover-three scheme against four verticals. But the Redskins will have to have a backup option if the front four can’t get to the quarterback.
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