I finished watching the game tape of the Redskins vs. Cardinals from last weekend. Here's my scouting report of Washington based on that game.
The Washington offense under first-year head coach Jim Zorn has a decidedly West Coast feel to it. So how does Washington run its version and how should the Cowboys defense counter it? As you might expect, the Redskins passing game is all about timing the routes to Jason Campbell's five-step drops. The Redskins are very efficient when Campbell can make his drop and fire the ball to his receivers in rhythm. They are less successful when it comes to improvisation or having to wait for receivers to get open. Conventional wisdom about disrupting a passing offense in the NFL is usually centered around getting pressure on the QB. While I will never dismiss pressure as an effective tool, for this game I think it's more about the coverage schemes.
The key is to make sure Campbell can't hit his receiver when he plants his back foot after his drop. The Cowboys should use more press and man-to-man coverage schemes or zone packages that are have shorter drop zones for the linebackers and cornerbacks. If you're in man-to-man and can latch on to the receivers tightly in the first 5-7 yards of their routes, that will disrupt the timing of the Redskins passing game and force Campbell to hold the ball once he hits the back foot. Then he has to improvise and that is where their scheme is less successful. I would advocate a man-to-man scheme for the up guys with safeties playing an intermediate-to-deep zone to account for the possibilities of Santana Moss breaking long or using double-moves. If you're going to use zone, make sure it's pressed forward and not a soft zone where they can hit receivers quickly underneath.
Pressure is never a bad idea on the QB and I'm not discounting it as a weapon, but disrupting the rhythm between QB and receiver seems to be more important. In terms of creating pressure, blitzes from the middle instead of the edges seemed to be harder for the Redskins to handle. Utilizing Zach Thomas in the blitz package or bringing Anthony Henry on loops to the inside could be the way to go.
The Redskins are also using bubble and slip-screens very effectively so the Cowboys defenders have to be aware of this on the outside and not be over-anxious to attack the middle but keep their discipline outside, especially the outside linebackers. They can run these screens to backs, tight ends or receivers. Washington will also use misdirection pretty effectively, including play-action that results in quick passes in the form of hitches or flat routes, occasional end-arounds and other assorted "get them going one way and come back the other" plays. Dallas needs to be disciplined horizontally.
The running game no longer features the counter-trey but relies on stretch plays to Clinton Portis with the near-side guard pulling. They are not as powerful up the gut as they used to be and want to hit you off-tackle. They are using mostly a straight-ahead blocking scheme with the exception of the pulling guard. Again, the outside linebackers must be disciplined in holding the edges and forcing plays back to the middle.
Click below to read about the Redskins defense.
The Redskins were playing a very standard 4-3 look on defense against the Cardinals last week. It was also a very passive scheme with two linebackers usually lined-up a good 5-yards off the line of scrimmage and little variation. The Cardinals were able to gash this defensive alignment for an excellent 5.0 yards/carry average. Where they failed was not running the ball more against the Redskins, they should have pounded the ball down their throats all game. If Dallas sees this same alignment and passive defense on Sunday, then Marion Barber and the Cowboys power-run scheme should have a field day between the tackles.
It was incredibly easy to recognize when they were blitzing on a play, something Tony Romo should be able to take advantage of by audibling. Now, they might not be so passive against the Cowboys but when you consider that the Cardinals have two excellent receivers and a QB who has shown he can get the ball to them, they might be inclined to try it again. If they do give Romo that kind of time in the pocket, it's highly unlikely that their secondary will be able to contain the Cowboys multiple weapons in the passing game. Either way, this is an aspect of the game that Dallas should be able to take advantage of given the easy recognition of blitzes and the ability of Romo to read defenses.
When the Redskins used a standard 4-man rush they had very little success in getting to the QB. They might be forced to get more aggressive in this game if they hope to create mistakes from Romo. But their blitzes weren't that much more effective and as noted earlier, are easily dissected by their pre-snap alignment. I was surprised that the Cardinals passing game couldn't take advantage of this more in the game. Given Dallas' success on offense in the early part of this season, they should not have trouble moving the football.