Division games are always tough and when the stakes are high, they're even tougher. Throw in some bad weather and now you have a potential mix for a game that everyone on both sides will remember. The Redskins have a distinct formula that they want to follow in order to win games. They want to play strong defense, pound opponents on the ground and have the quarterback to manage the game and play mistake-free football. Schematically, however, Washington does a lot of things that are very interesting to watch from an X's and O's standpoint on the offensive side of the football.
Despite the fact that they lost veterans Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen in the preseason, the Redskins still feature a lot of what is called 13 personnel - one running back and three tight ends to go along with just a single wide receiver. This is a personnel grouping that is growing in popularity throughout the league because of the evolution of the tight end position. If a team has multiple players with multifaceted skill sets, then you really have the ability to mess with defenses in certain situations.
On this play, Washington sets up in 13 personnel with all three of their tight ends lined up on the line of scrimmage to the right. This creates a problem for the defense because you have a lot of potential blockers in the run game and there are a lot of extra gaps for the defense to fill, so you have to account for that from a personnel standpoint. Most teams almost HAVE to play in their base defense when you see this type of grouping. But when you have players who can run at this position, such as Jordan Reed (more on him later) and former Eagle Derek Carrier, then you have the ability to force teams into base defense and take advantage of matchups in the passing game. Washington chose not to do that on this play, but I guarantee you will see some cases of 13 personnel on Sunday, and don't be surprised to see the Redskins pass out of those heavy sets.
What the Redskins run here is their staple stretch run play. What I've seen a lot this year is Washington runs away from the strong side to the perceived weak side of the formation, away from the tight ends. This is something we saw a bit from the Eagles last Sunday against New York on Ryan Mathews' big run out of an unbalanced line. The idea is that if you get the defense to overplay their strength toward what they believe is the strength of your formation, you can then generate big runs to the weaker side of the defense. Washington blocks this run up perfectly.
This is exactly what you want your stretch run to look like. The playside linemen stretch the front side of the defense, and the backside linemen cut or reach the defenders on the back side. The crease is huge for Alfred Morris on this run, and he takes it for a huge gain against the St. Louis Rams. Washington runs a ton of "zone weak" concepts, where they run away from the tight end, so the Eagles' defensive ends and outside linebackers will have to be on their toes on Sunday afternoon. One of the other ways that Washington looks to put the numbers in its favor in the run game is a tool that the Eagles have used in the past, and that's the use of Orbit motion pre-snap.
On this play, Washington is running the stretch play to the strong side. This is a 12 personnel set with one back and two tight ends. As the ball is snapped, receiver Jamison Crowder goes in motion as if he's taking an end-around from quarterback Kirk Cousins. Look at the defender follow Crowder across the field, taking him away from the direction of the play. Crowder's motion, in essence, blocks that cornerback, removing him from the action. Another tactic that Washington used was the deployment of a crack block.
As you see here last Thursday night against the Giants, Washington calls for Pierre Garcon to come down and crack the safety in the alley. This, along with the fact that the playside linemen all do their job, leaves rookie Matt Jones one-on-one with a cornerback. Any offensive coordinator would take that matchup nine times out of 10, especially with a big, physical ball carrier like Jones. He brings that heavyweight running style that has made Alfred Morris such a proficient runner in Washington over the past few years, but he's got a bit more juice in his legs and gives Washington the ability to run other types of perimeter runs, such as the sweep play.
On this long touchdown from Jones against St. Louis, this play is blocked up perfectly. The left tackle and two tight ends all are looking to pin, blocking down to create one side of the seal. Guard Shawn Lauvao pulls and is responsible for kicking out the force player to the play side. Center Kory Lichtensteiger releases to the second level to get the MIKE linebacker.
Jones reads his blocks perfectly. The rest of the team executes their assignments and the back is off to the races for the huge touchdown run. To stop this run play, it'll be imperative for the Eagles' defense to not get outleveraged at the point of attack, set edges in the run game and stay sound in their gap assignments. Jones isn't the only player Washington will run the sweep play with, though, as you'll see it from third-down runner Chris Thompson as well.
Against a different defensive front versus Miami, you see Washington execute the same scheme along the offensive line except now there are two pulling linemen instead of just one. Lichtensteiger is just a hair late to get to the safety (not everyone can have the athleticism of Jason Kelce), who cuts down Thompson. If he's a bit more patient and lets that block happen, he's still running down the sideline for an explosive run.
Thompson has had a pretty inspirational career after an injury-riddled few seasons in college at Florida State. A late-round draft pick by Washington, he's been mostly a non-factor up until this point, and has now developed into a bit of a moveable chess piece in this offense.
Down in the red zone last Thursday night, Washington comes out in an empty set with Thompson flexed out to the left next to Garcon. This is a simple rub concept, with Thompson running a quick slant off the hip of Garcon's corner route, creating enough interference that Thompson breaks free to make a contested catch for a touchdown. Thompson came close to another huge play in the passing game against the Giants. It's another concept the Eagles have to be aware of when No. 25 is on the field.
This is another rub concept from Washington here, as they bring Reed on a quick in-breaking route, counting on man coverage against New York. Much like we see from the Eagles and their mesh concept, that route from Reed should serve as quality interference to give Thompson enough space to run a wheel route behind it. Unfortunately for Washington, Reed makes an unnecessary block on the linebacker responsible for Thompson, and this huge play comes back due to the penalty. That part of it is irrelevant as the Eagles' game plan must account for this play on Sunday afternoon. They will need to be on high alert if Washington lines up in the shotgun with Thompson off-set to the boundary.
If DeSean Jackson is out of the lineup, Reed is the most dangerous player on this Washington offense. His ability to play all over the formation and be used in a number of different ways makes him a tough cover, and how the Eagles defend him will be one of the things I'm most interested to watch on Sunday. Washington loves to use Reed's vertical speed to get down the seam, especially with the use of play-action.
When you overplay the Washington run game, you can bet that you'll see Reed running down the seam or across the field on an over route, behind the linebackers, waiting for a quick touch throw. Cousins knows what he has in Reed. The two have been in Washington for a few years now and there certainly is a trust factor there. It was clear against New York last week that Reed was a huge part of the game plan, and Cousins was willing to force feed him the ball in the passing game, even when the Giants made a point to take him away.
The Giants are playing a coverage I call "Cover 1 Double," where you've got a single-high safety and man coverage underneath, with a straight up double coverage assignment to take away one receiver in the progression. The Giants charged safety Landon Collins and linebacker Uani Unga with vicing Reed on this play at the snap, looking to take him away from Cousins early in the down.
Cousins sees this at the snap, and when he's pressed from the pocket due to interior pressure from the Giants' four-man rush, he rolls to his right. Who does he look for? Reed, who has worked himself free. The pass falls incomplete, but it goes to show you that when all the chips are on the table, there's one player who Cousins is looking for through the air with all things being equal and that's Reed. This incomplete pass didn't have a huge bearing on the game, but others did. Twice against the Giants, Cousins had plays dialed up for Reed down in the red zone and was unable to get the ball to his versatile tight end. Both plays would have been easy touchdowns. On one play, he was lined up as the X iso receiver in a 3x1 set, and beat Landon Collins in man coverage on a fade ball. Cousins underthrew him, and the ball fell incomplete.
On this play, Washington offense had a "Bash" concept (Bash is similar to "Smash," a play I broke down on the Eagle Eye Podcast earlier this year) called against man coverage. This should have been an easy touchdown for Cousins. Unfortunately for him, a free rusher gets through and he's unable to step into the throw to Reed on a corner route. It's not just vertical routes that you have to worry about with Reed, though, as he is a big part of the quick game in Washington, and the screen game in particular.
This is a play concept that has spread throughout the league in recent years. Eagles fans may be familiar with it. Think back to Week 1 of this season and Julio Jones and all of the offensive pass interference calls the Atlanta Falcons got called for on Monday Night Football. Many of those plays were on concepts that I refer to as "Dropback Screens," where everything from the offensive line and quarterback perspective looks like a regular dropback pass, but there is only one real target on the play. The intended receiver has a couple of blockers out in front of him ready to create room for him in the open field. Instead of linemen leaking out, you're relying on receivers and tight ends to be the blockers on concepts like this. Washington runs it often with Reed, who catches this quick pass and rumbles for extra yardage.
Reed is a factor in the vertical game, he's a factor in the quick game and the screen game. He's flexed out wide as a receiver, is asked to run isolation routes and win against defensive backs. He's got the size and strength to go up and outmuscle defenders at the catch point. He will be the weapon that the Eagles' defense must focus on stopping on Sunday when the Redskins have the football.
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.