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Welcome to the final portion of my response to reader Allan Uy's excellent question:
"There's no doubt that this team has improved through both free agency and the draft, but the same can be said for our division rivals. Like most years in the NFC East, the divisional crown is up for grabs and the contest will remain a dog fight til the end.
So given the new additions to this team and our opponents, what game plan would you employ in order to defeat our NFC East foes?"
In the first installment, we took a gander at how to cook a certain green goose. In round two, we followed up with an "obscene[ly] homeristic" take on how to stand tall when faced with jewelry-wearing Giants. In round three, we take a look at the last of our foes (who are no stranger to the methods mentioned in part two), the Washington Redskins.
After the jump, we capitalize on the weaknesses of our DC foes...
The biggest question, when it comes to the Redskins, is "who are they?" They went 5-11 on the season. Two of those wins came against the eventual Super Bowl champions, a team against whom we were 0-2. These same Redskins, against us, were 0-2. Another of those wins was against the Cardinals - another team we've had difficulty vanquishing of late.
Fortunately, the Redskins haven't been as effective against us as they have the aforementioned opponents, but, nevertheless, Cowboys/Redskins games continue to be nail-biters, often coming down to the last play. And so, this question is as serious as it could possibly be: How will we be able to beat the Redskins (and soundly) in 2012?
Attacking the Redskins' 3-4:
Unlike our own 3-4, the Redskins employ a rather well-balanced front seven. By well-balanced, I mean that there is very little difference in the effectiveness of the players on opposite sides of the ball. Brian Orakpo can pass-rush, and so can Ryan Kerrigan. This means that their scheme is able to match more closely that of the Steelers, who also employ two very adequate pass-rushers. Our offensive line will need to be prepared to respond to either outside linebacker rushing, dropping back, or even stunting/delay blitzing.
The strength of the 3-4 is the fact that you are able to disguise the fourth rusher on each base formation, non-blitz play (a benefit we often forsake, as it's difficult to justify not sending DeMarcus Ware on every play). This flexibility adds a layer of multiplicity to the defense that simply isn't present with the typical 4-3 front. A weakness in this multiplicity, however, comes when the unit is forced to stop the run.
Consider that, when rushing linebackers unpredictably, there is a chance that a blitz will be headed for the same hole as your running play. If that happens, you're likely to gain little to no yardage, or possibly be tackled for a loss. Equally likely, however, is that the linebacker in the gap you're attacking will be moving away from the play to cover for another blitzer, or even be attacking an adjacent gap, leaving the lane open for a huge play. The benefits seem to outweigh the risks, especially when the key to the Redskins' run defense, London Fletcher, is all of 37 years old (he has to break down eventually, right?) and will be matched up with our new cog, Lawrence Vickers, who has a bit more gas left in his tank, throughout the game. Not to take anything away from Fletcher - he's been playing incredible football for a man his age - but if our new guards and fullback are truly worth their new paychecks, they have to win that battle.
Along the defensive line you'll find some familiar faces in Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield, a former Cowboy and Giant, respectively. The third position on the line is, I believe, filled with an odd conglomeration of soft tissue and equipment, believed to be the remains of a couple UDFAs that accidentally crossed Albert Haynesworth's event horizon while he was still on the roster. In all seriousness, their entire line rotation appears to be made up of prototypical 3-4 linemen (6'2" to 6'6", 305 to 333 pounds), and ought to be able to fulfill their unspectacular roles of clogging holes and pushing the pocket. On passing downs, Bowen and Cofield also bring some skills to the table that will have to be accounted for (among Bowen's skills - an incredible "Tony Romo in shotgun" impression).
Finally, the Redskins secondary features two well-known players in DeAngelo Hall and Brandon Meriweather. Hall has become infamous for his inflammatory pre- and post-game commentary, as well as numerous in-game gaffes (I expect to see a gif featuring Marc Colombo in the comments section). Meriweather is a former Patriot who hopes to rejuvenate his career in Washington, filling in for a safety corps that's now missing the departed LaRon Landry and OJ Atogwe. While Meriweather may lack the star power of the two recent cuts, the 28-year-old defensive back may be able to bring stability to the position, under what should be lesser expectations.
Despite the Redskins' defense's bevy of prototypical athletes, Tony Romo has been consistently able to force them into revealing their blitzers by way of the hard count. Our receivers have never been easy covers for the Redskins' secondary, and Brandon Meriweather doesn't bring much that LaRon Landry and OJ Atogwe didn't already have (aggression, and a history of intercepting passes), especially after his poor showing in 2011 with the Bears. We've seen Jason Witten outrun DeAngelo Hall to the endzone - imagine what James Hanna will be able to do (assuming he both makes the roster and learns to catch the football).
The way to victory will be through aggression. Allowing the Redskins to keep the game close is a recipe for disaster, and our recent history of coming out on top may not continue into 2012. Run the ball at Orakpo to take his head out of the game, and pick on DeAngelo Hall (him and Dez Bryant seem to have a connection) throughout the game. The real trouble will come against the Redskins' offense...
Containing RGIII, his 7 RBs, his 12 WRs, and his 6 TEs:
Is it just me, or does it seem that the Redskins have been stockpiling depth at the skill positions? Of the 25 players in the heading, only 7 of them are rookies, so this isn't the UDFA pile-up we've had at Valley Ranch these past three months. These are legitimate signings or draftees, which tells us something about Mike Shanahan's plan. He wants to assemble a large quantity of talent for RGIII to work with, and likely their chemistry with the rookie quarterback will play a large role in their continued presence in DC.
The key to this new-look offense, then, will be the new field general, Robert Griffin III. The number of receivers signed won't matter unless Griffin is able to get them the ball, and the number of backs on the roster won't impact the game unless Griffin can keep the safeties out of the box (by presenting a legitimate passing threat).
The first aspect that will have to be locked down is Griffin's ability to move the chains on the ground. I'm not going to say that this is Griffin's only way to hurt you, but he possesses dangerous speed that would quickly compromise the likes of Keith Brooking and Brady James. Fortunately, those two aren't on the roster any longer, and the new Lee/Connor/Carter trio should be able to provide any combination of spies should the rookie quarterback begin attacking with his legs.
What some may not realize (and I hope that they're in the minority) is that RGIII is a legitimate quarterback. He's accurate, intelligent, and has a very powerful arm. The West Coast offense is known to be very simplistic and easy to acclimate to, which should speed up Griffin's development tremendously. Our secondary should be prepared to play as if they were facing Tom Brady (no, RGIII is not Tom Brady), and not expecting an easy game full of errant passes.
More importantly, I want Rob to throw the playbook at Griffin, and drop every linebacker, DB, and lineman into every zone on the field. The West Coast offense relies on spacing and reading the defense. If the defense is strangely spaced and nearly unreadable, the offense will become dysfunctional.
Of course, we can't forget the Redskins' zone running game, which carried them to a few wins despite the presence of Rex Grossman at quarterback. The zone-blocking by the offensive line is the key. Each lineman is assigned an area within which to work, rather than a man to attack. The reading of the defense is done once the play is in motion, which limits the effectiveness of pre-snap disguises.
Most importantly, if you lose the numbers game against zone blocking, you aren't going to stop the play. For this reason, I want to run blitz frequently. The run blitz is similar to a traditional blitz (against the passer), except the goal is to penetrate available running lanes and stop the play in the backfield. Overloading the same side of the line should easily snuff out the play, and I like Sean Lee's instincts to level the playing field on weakside plays.
Contrary to my plan against Eli Manning, I recommend that Rob Ryan bring pressure consistently against RGIII and the Redskins running game, while remaining unpredictable in regards to from where the pressure is coming. Multiplicity from players such as Barry Church and Danny McCray may be instrumental in confusing the young signal caller and forcing turnovers.
What do you think, BTB? How do you plan to build on our winning streak against the Redskins?