As I prepared to study the Washington Redskins' offense on tape, I was anxious to see how head coach Jay Gruden was utilizing former Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. A year ago, all the reports out of the nation's capital voiced the receiver's frustrations with the offense and his role, but since returning from injury a few weeks ago he's been on an absolute tear.
Jackson is averaging 18.8 yards per catch this season, a number matched by just four players with at least 26 receptions (Sammy Watkins, Torrey Smith and Malcom Floyd). Everyone knows how electric he is in the open field, but what impressed me the most after watching Washington is that they really seem to have found the best ways to get him the ball down the field by creating favorable matchups or giving him room to run.
This is one of my favorite "shot play" concepts in the league, the Post-Cross. This pass play is effective for a lot of reasons. Between the tight splits of the receivers, the illusion of a potential run play, the max protection, the simple "high-low" read for the quarterback and the ability to get speed in the open field, it's pretty high-percentage as far as vertical passing plays go, and the Redskins run it well.
With Jackson lined up in a "tight" split inside the numbers at the top of the screen, it puts both the cornerback and the safety to that side in a precarious position because you have a dynamic receiver with a two-way go and lots of green grass on either side of him. DeSean wins inside, fakes the corner route, then breaks it back toward the post and runs away from the safety, tracking the ball down for a huge touchdown pass against the New York Giants. Once that safety's hips are turned to the sideline, Jackson and Kirk Cousins both know they have a big play on their hands, and this turns into an easy six points.
Washington runs this play a lot, and it's not always with DeSean on the deep post route. At times, Jackson will run the crossing route, and with his speed he can easily run away from defenders chasing from the back side. This was a great touch throw as well from Cousins, who has played lights out football over the last couple of months.
Gruden has found a lot of ways to make Jackson effective out of the slot and get him down the field in one-on-one matchups, and one way they do that is with the "Switch" concept.
Last week against Buffalo, Jackson was lined up to the same side of the field as Garçon. Washington calls a "Switch" route where the two receivers run vertically down the field after crossing paths at the snap. The Eagles ran this play to get Zach Ertz open for a touchdown last year against the Seattle Seahawks, and it works here for Washington as Cousins hits Jackson down the sideline. DeSean does the rest, sprinting away from the defense and using his speed to reach the end zone. There's one concept, however, that really stood out to me because they were able to hit on it multiple times over the last few weeks.
Remember back in Week 1 as the Eagles prepared to face the Atlanta Falcons and I talked about the problems that face a defense when you have an explosive player running downfield when lined up inside the numbers? Washington does this consistently with DeSean Jackson, and it's resulted in a number of big plays for them. By lining Jackson up in the slot and having him run a vertical route with the man outside of him staying short, there is a ton of space for Cousins to drop this ball in down the field.
The Panthers had safety Colin Jones lined up on Jackson in the slot here in man coverage, a clear mismatch. I am interested to see how the Eagles look to defend him when he's lined up inside.
In the previous week against New Orleans, Washington ran a similar concept with Jackson in the slot running a vertical route down the sideline. This time, they had cornerback Keenan Lewis, their top cover man, matched up on him in the slot, but Jackson was still too much for the veteran to bear and 42 yards later Jackson had the Redskins across midfield.
Jackson isn't the only player the Eagles will have to prepare for though, because this is a group with a lot of talent at the skill positions. Garçon, who caught the game-winner against the Eagles back in Week 4, is as tough as they come at the receiver position and is one of the best "YAC" players in the league year after year. Jamison Crowder, the rookie from Duke, has turned into a very solid slot receiver and is able to win as a route runner because of his quickness in and out of breaks. Andre Roberts is a solid veteran receiver. Running back Chris Thompson, who had an impact in the passing game the last time these two teams met, is a big factor as well because of his athleticism at the running back spot.
The X-factor, however, may be tight end Jordan Reed, the subject of our "Advance Scouting" segment with Greg Cosell this week. Reed is very skilled with the ball in the air, and his size/athleticism combination makes him difficult to defend. Throughout the season he has shown that he can beat linebackers, safeties and even cornerbacks in one-on-one situations, and when he's flexed out he is a person the Eagles will have to find ways to limit.
In the run game, this is still a stretch run team. They want to get defenders on the move parallel to the line of scrimmage to create cutback lanes for their duo of runners in the backfield, Alfred Morris and Matt Jones. While the numbers aren't outstanding (the Redskins rank 20th in the NFL averaging 96.6 yards rushing per game), this is a team that will try to run the football. If the Eagles aren't sound in their run fits or disciplined at the point of attack, they will be in for a long day against this team offensively. Washington's offense has greatly improved over the last couple of years, and with so many different ways to attack defenses, the Eagles are in for a big test on Saturday.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.