With less than two minutes remaining against the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night, the Washington Redskins faced a critical third and short situation, needing a field goal to draw level or a touchdown to take the lead. Quarterback Kirk Cousins took an end zone shot to wide receiver Josh Doctson, who couldn’t quite manage to secure what would have been a spectacular catch.
Even though the route itself might have seemed foreign to Redskins fans (we’ll explain why later), it actually came on one of the offense’s staple plays.
Despite the result ending up being a negative for the Redskins, the team can be encouraged by the process that led them to that point.
The Redskins call a trips left formation with tight end Jordan Reed isolated to the right. On the front side of the play, Cousins has some of the Redskins’ most common third and short concepts out of a trips set. The outside receiver runs a hitch route while the inside receiver runs a stick route. In between them, Josh Doctson runs up the seam.
This is a staple concept that has been in the Redskins’ playbook since Jay Gruden arrived in Washington. It’s run from various formations and personnel groups, but the concept on the front side always remains the same. Here’s an example against the Raiders in Week 3.
This time the tight end aligns in the core of the formation with the trips to the right and the X receiver isolated to the left. But the routes remain the same. Ryan Grant runs the outside hitch and Cousins delivers the ball on time, enabling him to pick up a first down after the catch.
Here it is again against the Rams in Week 2.
Typically this is a play designed to work to the front side, with the seam route vacating space underneath for either the stick route or the hitch route. The back side of the play, with one receiver isolated against one defender, is where the Redskins can be a little more creative. Against the Rams and Raiders, the back side receiver also ran a hitch route. It was the type of play the Redskins would regularly run to Pierre Garcon on third and short to isolate him in space and pick up the first down. But back in Week 1 against the Eagles, the Redskins changed the back side concept.
The front side of the play remains the same, but on the back side, Reed runs a corner route, designed to clear space behind him for running back Chris Thompson to run a choice route. Thompson has to read the leverage of his defender and choose to break his route in or outside depending on that read.
Thompson breaks in to the middle of the field on his choice route and somehow manages to avoid multiple tackle attempts on his way to the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown.
In that critical third and short situation on Monday night, the Redskins went back to this staple concept on the front side. With it being such a key play, I would have expected the back side receiver to run a hitch just past the chains to pick up the first down. But Jay Gruden saw things differently.
“I was thinking score to be honest with you.” Gruden explained after the game. “I know we called a play that was meant to score but we also had different options on the play that we could have checked it down and got the first down. So I was thinking I want to score and end the game right there.”
What Gruden opted to run on the back side, instead of a hitch, was a double move. Reed fakes the hitch route and then takes off down the field on a go route. Gruden pointed out that Reed was the primary option on the play.
“We had a double move to Jordan [Reed]. He actually won but Kirk [Cousins] thought he was getting doubled by the safety and he worked Josh [Doctson].”
As Gruden described, Cousins can be seen reading the deep safety in the middle of the field after he initially pump-faked to Reed to sell the hitch fake. The safety is cheating toward Reed’s side of the field and has his hips open to the sideline, meaning he’s in position to try to get over the top of Reed should the ball go to that side. A perfect throw could potentially have beaten the safety, but Cousins opted to move back to the front side.
Seeing as how this is one of the Redskins’ staple plays, how come it looked unfamiliar to many? That’s because, on this concept, Cousins hardly ever opts to throw the seam route to the front side. (In fact, I can’t recall a time when I’ve ever seen him throw to the seam on this concept.) It’s always been a decoy designed to clear space underneath. However, with the stutter-go route on the back side from Reed, the deep safety was cheating to that side, leaving Doctson one-on-one. Cousins took his shot.
Cousins delivers a great pass where only Doctson has a chance to make a play on the ball. Not many receivers can pull off the acrobatic adjustment in the air that Doctson made to even get his hands on the ball, but Doctson managed to do so. Having done the hardest part, making the adjustment to get his hands on the ball, Doctson failed to secure the catch all the way to the ground as the ball came out right at the end.
The design and creative variations of one of the Redskins staple concepts is fantastic and it nearly resulted in a potentially game-winning touchdown. Despite the result, the process is very encouraging for the Redskins going forward after their bye week.