As the Cowboys undergo their preparation to face the Washington Redskins the defacto NFC East championship game, I wanted to take a deeper look into the Redskins scheme and how they have caused defensive coordinators to lose sleep all season long.
Everyone who has followed the NFL this season knows that the Redskins have relied heavily on their running game, specifically the read option/zone read schemes to create an explosive offense led by Alfred Morris and RGIII. Before we get too deep into our actual analysis I want to talk a little about the read option game that has come up through the ranks and finally reached the NFL with a bang with the arrivals of Cam Newton, RGIII, and Russell Wilson in the last couple of years.
The read option is a concept that is drawn from the triple option offense run by the old Oklahoma teams, and the University of Nebraska under Tom Osborne in the 1980s and 1990's as well as others. In that offense, the OL would leave the play side DE or 3-4OLB unblocked and the QB would read that player to determine whether to keep the ball or pitch it to his running back. This concept of leaving a player unblocked and allowing his decision to dictate what the offense does is central to this option style football. The premise is that it is easier to read someone than it is to block them. So in the modern zone read the QB has the option of handing the ball to the RB or pull the ball out and run it himself based on how the DE reacts to the inside hand off action.
Now lets look at how the Redskins staff have used this read option concept to help push their offense to the next level.
Here we have the Redskins with 11 personnel on the field with the TE lined up as an H-back and with the 2 WR on the open (weak side) in a bunch alignment and all 3 WRs with a "Nasty" split inside the numbers. The Giants are in their Nickel (5 DB) package in a 2 deep alignment.
The scheme we are going to see is a group of concepts packaged together into the same play. In this play we see the zone read action with a bubble route by the slot receiver, as well as a down field play action 2 route combination. The defender circled in red is the player who RGIII is reading to determine what his decision will be.
Trent Williams, the LT will block down on the DT and the H-Back shows the same Arc block action that has become a staple of the zone read game and picks of the DE. Leaving the LB unblocked in the blocking scheme.
Post snap we see the zone read action taking place in the backfield. Looking at RGIII you see his head looking towards the read LB. The pale orange line represents the back of that LB's heels pre-snap. You can see that he has come up a full yard and a half to fill his gap in run fit. When RGIII see's him come up he knows he's going to pull the ball. Also circled in yellow we have the bubble route by the slot receiver, this route widens the field and especially when combined with the zone read action almost guarantees that the inside defenders don't gain any depth.
Here we see the void that all that pre-snap action creates in a defense as none of the Giants second level defenders have crossed their original depth, while both WR's are out in their routes. You can also see that Griffin's eyes are locked on his primary read at the top of the screen.
Here with the WR's only another 2 yards down field, Griffin is making the throw. The read dot is the point where the catch is made for a very easy 16 yard gain. This is just a sample, but this exact look is something I've seen in atleast 2 of their games, and I've seen these packaged plays with several other routes included. But the Shanahan's have done a very good job of giving Griffin easy reads, and having him take off when that read isn't there, allowing him to feel very comfortable.
The takeaway for the Cowboy's here is that this Redskins offense will give the Cowboys defense a handful on Sunday. They like those option offenses I talked about before, will force you to play assignment sound football. Playing man coverage against a mobile Quarter back like Griffin is dangerous because it causes your DB's to turn their backs to the potential runner, and playing zone leaves opportunities for big holes like this one if someone doesn't play their assignment. Rob Ryan will need his best healthy players (93, 39, 24, 43) to make one or two plays throughout the course of the game to get themselves off the field and the offense has to score points off these stops.