The Redskins had injuries on their offensive line in the first game between the two teams, and that unit is still in flux. Star left tackle Trent Williams didn’t play in the previous meeting, and neither did right guard Brandon Scherff or center Spencer Long. Scherff is expected to play Thursday, while Williams will be a game-time decision. Long remains out, and backup center Chase Roullier is likely out as well, while left guard Shawn Lauvao was placed on injured reserve last week. Ty Nsekhe, the backup swing tackle, is set to start at left guard if Williams can play, while Tony Bergstrom, signed a few days before the previous game between Washington and Dallas, is expected to start at center. This is far from ideal given the opposition.
Stunts and games, which are maneuvers designed to confuse an offense, are tough to block, particularly when they are run as well as the Cowboys execute them. But trying to block them with offensive linemen trying to learn new positions and their own teammates makes it even tougher. It was a big reason Dallas was able to pressure Kirk Cousins regularly in the first game.
The Cowboys like to show different blitzes but rarely actually run them. Here, slot corner Orlando Scandrick (No. 32) walks up to the line of scrimmage and threatens to blitz. Cousins adjusts his protection, pointing to Scandrick. That adjustment makes the center slide to the right side of the line, giving the Redskins an extra body on that side to pick up the potential blitz.
Scandrick doesn’t blitz and simply drops back into coverage. However, by threatening to blitz and getting Cousins to slide the protection toward him, he creates one-on-one matchups against the left side of the line with no center available to help. Left guard Lauvao is put in a tough spot, trying to pass off the defensive tackle outside while also trying to adjust to pick up the defensive end looping inside. Had the center not been instructed to slide right to help pick up a blitz, he would have perhaps been in a position to pick up the stunting defensive end. Instead, the end gets a free rush and lands a big hit on Cousins.
Many of the Cowboys’ rushes are designed to manipulate the center to work one way, leaving a gap for a stunting end to rush into from the other side. They don’t always need to fake blitzing to do this either.
Here, the Cowboys set up to try to attack rookie right guard Tyler Catalina. They run a tackle-end exchange stunt, known as ‘TEX,’ where the defensive tackle rushes up the field into the offensive tackle and the defensive end loops around him before the right guard can adjust. But to ensure the center can’t slide over to help the guard, the defensive end on the other side crashes inside. He works across the face of the left guard toward the center, while the defensive tackle takes a step toward the center before looping around the end to work outside.
The way the Cowboys execute their stunts forces the center to work to his left. That means Catalina has no help against the defensive end looping back inside. Catalina can’t adjust quickly enough to cut off the end, who bursts through to pressure Cousins. Cousins does a great job avoiding him but is quickly sacked by another defender.
Marinelli and the Cowboys’ defensive line have caused the Redskins’ offensive line plenty of issues over the past few seasons, and that was before Washington suffered a huge number of injuries. If the Redskins are going to win this game and keep their small playoff chances alive, they will need to figure out a way to get all the new pieces along the offensive line on the same page.
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