For a team that has posted winning records the last two years and at times showed the ability to play with anybody, the Washington Redskins have had another offseason of turmoil.
Not only have they lost both coordinators and their general manager, but their contract situation with quarterback Kirk Cousins has been a huge media story and distraction. If that weren’t bad enough, they lost their best two receivers, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, in free agency. How do you replace two 1,000-yard guys?
The Redskins believe they still have enough weapons to be solid in the passing game, but the run game is another story. The defense is going through a makeover, with as many as seven new starters, and they vow to be much more aggressive in 2017.
Sean McVay is gone, but this offense will not show much change, with Matt Cavanaugh moving to the coordinator role and head coach Jay Gruden taking over play-calling duties. Their biggest challenge is to find a run game that sets up play action, which Gruden loves, and we expect the passing game to do its part, even with the loss of two solid WRs. Cousins does a nice job of taking what the defense gives him. If they sit back to stop the deep ball, he will nickel and dime the defense with underneath throws. If they come after him, he will not hesitate to go deep. This is a bread-and-butter play to their elite tight end Jordan Reed.
Play-action passing game
They really try to sell the run to the left with an excellent play-action fake, and they even pull the backside OG as a lead run blocker to influence the defense. The Cover-2 safeties drift outside to help the DCs in coverage and that opens up the middle of the field, where Washington loves to attack. The TE on the left releases over the middle on a seam route (exactly where you attack the Cover 2) and the LB who should drop back and cover the deep middle bites on the run fake and is late in his drop. The TE is wide open for a nice 22-yard TD reception. They really need a better run game to set up a good Cousins play-action package.
Greg Manusky takes over this defense and he promises much more aggressive schemes in an effort to create big plays and produce turnovers, and this defense will be less predictable. The Redskins are decent on the edges of the defense, but they really have problems inside, both against the run and pass, and they may blitz more to cover up their deficiencies at safety. Because they don’t have a great edge pass rush, they may be forced to play more man schemes to fit with the blitz instead of their favored Cover 3 looks. This is a play that illustrates their problems inside on the backend.
Protect the middle
They give up a lot of big passing plays between the hashes, partly because of poor coverage skills by their LBs and safeties. On this play, the offense comes out with a balanced two TE, two WR, one RB set and the defense counters with a four-man rush, while seven defenders drop into coverage with nickel personnel. On the snap, all five potential receivers release on routes, as the defense drops into seven zones. At first glance the passing windows look really tight, but the center field DS really drops deep and the LBs don’t cover the short middle, and the QB sees it and he sends the TE between the seams to attack the sweet spot in this defense for a 17-yard TD. They must fix the interior of this pass defense.
5 additional summer film evaluations
- This passing game took a big offseason hit — How in the world can they recover from the offseason loss of two 1,000-yard WRs? It won’t be easy, but this is a very smart pass offense and they still have a terrific QB and some quality receiving pieces in place. New FA Terrelle Pryor is solid, young guys Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder should show improvement, and TE Reed is a nightmare matchup. They may be OK, but not dynamic.
- They must figure out a way to run the ball — This is a huge issue. Matt Jones is a nonfactor, they like Rob Kelley, but he faded down the stretch in 2016, and Chris Thompson is mostly a third-down RB. No run game means no play action and too much reliance on the passing game, and it could waste a good run-blocking OL, and it also allows defenses to sit back in coverage and defend the pass. It is really surprising that they didn’t make RB an offseason priority.
- Have they done enough on defense to show improvement? They were active in free agency, but most of their acquisitions are journeyman role players and not real difference-makers. Manusky will run a much more aggressive 3-4 defense that has a chance to be solid on the edges, but inside they are vulnerable on all three levels. We may see a lot more blitzes and man schemes behind it, and we will no longer see a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy.
- Cousins knows how to handle distractions — Is there more drama around any NFL QB? He deals with it, he adjusts to the targets that he has, and he plays with underrated confidence. On film he can make every NFL throw, and he is a master at reading the defense and finding the right matchup. He throws a good deep ball, but because of the Redskins’ struggling run game, defenses sit back and take away the deep ball, forcing him to throw too many underneath routes.
- This OL flies under the radar — They have an elite coach in Bill Callahan and their continuity is a real plus. They are solid at every position except LOG, which will be a focus in training camp. This is an athletic front five and they do a nice job of blocking in space and getting to the second level, and they have morphed into a power run-blocking group. Their talent in the run game may be wasted if they don’t find a quality back to run behind them.
- 3 key training camp battles to watch for Redskins
- Kirk Cousins still has a ton of weapons to work with
- Jay Gruden adjusting offense to match receiver size
- Early 53-man roster projection for Redskins