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Redskins’ run game success versus Rams could indicate a shift in scheme

Redskins running back Samaje Perine (32) performed well in Sunday’s win over the Rams. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

During Sunday’s 27-20 victory over the Rams, the Redskins’ offense was extremely productive, but in a manner that it typically hasn’t been under Jay Gruden. The Washington head coach’s offense is usually pass-heavy due to a lack of production from the rushing attack, but this time it was the Redskins’ run game that was critical to the team’s success.

“We stayed with the plan, stuck with the running game,” Gruden said. “We’d played the Rams before. Different front, but felt we could run the ball. It’s a very active defensive front. But we felt like we’ve got bigger people and could move them around a little bit. It’s easier said than done, but we challenged our players — linemen, tight ends, everybody, and they rose to it.”

Gruden was right, the Rams’ defensive front is indeed very active, with the likes of Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn, among others, capable of disrupting blocking and protection schemes with their quickness and attacking mentality. Gruden and offensive line coach Bill Callahan crafted a run game plan that was designed to slow down those quicker, aggressive defenders and force them to read and react. They did that with a variety of differing power and gap schemes, a change from their predominantly outside zone-based scheme.

This could provide a sign that the team will look to incorporate more power run schemes the rest of the season.

On this play, the Redskins pull right guard Brandon Scherff to act as a lead blocker on a counter run. Rob Kelley will start off his run to the right to freeze the linebackers before cutting back to follow Scherff’s block. What is most interesting is the scheme used to account for Scherff vacating his spot. Against this front, the center would down block the nose tackle to the right side of the line while the right tackle would pick up the defensive end lined up on his outside shoulder. However, the Redskins have right tackle Morgan Moses ignore the defensive linemen completely and ask him to work straight up to the second level to pick up a linebacker. Tight end/fullback hybrid Niles Paul then has to fill in and pick up the defensive lineman.

The scheme works perfectly. The defensive end expects Moses to block him, initially leaning into him as he works inside. But when Moses works away from him, the end is surprised by Paul, who uses his momentum to secure the block. On the left side of the line, Trent Williams and Shawn Lauvao double-team the backside defensive end, driving him back toward the backside inside linebacker. The linebacker diagnoses the run and attempts to go underneath Lauvao to get to running back Kelley, but Lauvao is able to peel off the double-team just enough to clip him and prevent him from making the play. Scherff pulls and seals off the edge defender, allowing Kelley to run outside and into the open field for a big gain.

On the very next play, the Redskins picked up another big gain with one of the most recognizable plays in Redskins football history.

This is the counter trey, a play the Redskins made famous under Joe Gibbs. Washington runs this from a two-tight-end set, also known as 12 or tiger personnel. The concept is for all the blockers from the center to the tight ends to block down a gap to their right while the right guard and right tackle pull behind them. The guard is tasked with kicking out the edge defender while the tackle has to wrap around and seal off the inside to create an alley for the running back. To help account for two lineman pulling, the Redskins have wide receiver Jamison Crowder motion back across the formation and pick up the edge defender on the back side.

Just as the ball is snapped, both inside linebackers take a step toward the line of scrimmage, anticipating a run. The Redskins linemen do a good job to pick them up, but accidentally leave the defensive end unblocked. Fortunately, he has too much distance to make up and Kelley is able to run away from him. On the other side, Scherff does a terrific job of pulling and kicking out the edge defender while Moses wraps around and clears the alley for Kelley to run into for his biggest run of the game.

The differing schemes continued throughout the game.

Here, the Redskins run a trap play. The defensive tackle lined up over Scherff would expect to be blocked by either Scherff or Moses, perhaps both. But instead, the Redskins leave those two to work to the second level while Lauvao pulls from left guard to surprise the defensive tackle with a trap block.

Moses and Scherff both step toward the defensive tackle, faking a block, before working up to the second level to pick up their linebackers. The tackle is led to believe he’s unblocked and starts to work into the backfield, only to get trapped by Lauvao. Williams and center Spencer Long secure the defensive lineman on the back side, leaving rookie running back Samaje Perine a huge hole to run into for yet another big gain.

The game plan for the running game was both planned and executed beautifully. The Rams have a strong defensive line unit that can be very difficult to move the ball against. If the Redskins had fallen behind, the likes of Donald and Robert Quinn would have been free to pin their ears back and go, assuming the Redskins would be forced to pass. But thanks to a variety of diverse run plays, which included power runs, counters, traps, sweeps, crack tosses, pin-pulls and even unbalanced lines, the Rams were kept off balance the whole game. It was a textbook display of how to run the power schemes.

When Mike Shanahan became the head coach, the Redskins became purely a zone blocking team and while Jay Gruden introduced some different gap schemes, he still retained large parts of the zone scheme installed by Shanahan. Under Gruden, they’ve been a jack of all trades, being able to run whatever scheme they see fit for any given opponent, but a master of none. They’ve rarely had this type of dominant rushing performance since Gruden was hired. While this set of plays would have been planned specifically to counter the Rams, perhaps the results suggest the Redskins should look at progressing to more of a power-based scheme going forward.

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