ASHBURN, Va. -- Analysis of Monday Night's game at Fedex Field.
Will we see Roy Helu and Alfred Morris in the backfield together? In the preseason finale versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Redskins lined up once in a pistol formation look with Keiland Williams aligned next to quarterback Pat White, a spot typically reserved for a fullback or tight end, with Chris Thompson behind White. The play, a handoff to Williams, didn’t work, thanks as much to poor blocking up front by center Kevin Matthews. But what if the Redskins put Helu in the spot Williams was aligned? It adds a much different element to the offense. The defense must honor the fake to him, or it must be wary of a handoff to Morris. In that case, Redskins could sneak Helu into the flat by faking a zone-read to Morris. It’s a way the Redskins scored with fullback Darrel Young a year ago. The defense had too much else to pay attention to -- handoff to Morris; run by Robert Griffin III -- allowing Young to get free. Imagine that play with Helu from somewhere other than the red zone. Even if the defense covers him, and the Redskins hand off to Morris, there's one less in run support. Will this happen? At some point I have a feeling it will, I just don’t know when or how often. Helu’s size helps this play work. He’s big enough so that if he has to throw an occasional run block, he can. Regardless, it’s another way to get a little more speed on the field. Heck, the Redskins could put Helu on one side, Morris on the other and Thompson in the back as a triple-option threat. It forces the defense to be more balanced. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. But the Redskins now have additional possibilities. I’m eager to see how it unfolds.
One of the best matchups Monday night will be two players returning from injuries: Washington Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo (torn pectoral) versus Philadelphia Eagles left tackle Jason Peters (Achilles). Orakpo has 2.5 career sacks against the Eagles, with two occurring in the 2011 finale -- and neither came against Peters. Both those sacks came when Orakpo rushed against the Eagles’ right side. The half-sack in 2010 was against Peters, but stemmed from quarterback Michael Vick getting pushed up and forced to run; Orakpo was blocked by Peters, but turned and pursued and sacked Vick. Anyway, here’s what Orakpo says about Peters, “He’s just an athletic guy. He moves like he’s 250 [pounds]. That’s why he has such an advantage. … It’s hard to know what he got better at, and he’s not going to know what I got better at. It’s like starting from scratch. We’ll get a feel for each other, kind of like a chess match.” The other issue: Philadelphia has changed its offense and will use some zone read plays. That means the linebackers won’t always be able to just focus on rushing the passer. “You’re so worried about slowing down the running back … And when it’s a passing situation you might not know the difference between the run and the pass, instead of a conventional offense where you know it’s a pass. I see why so many guys against our offense just get eliminated from the game. It’s not because of their ability, it’s because of what the offense presents. It’s very difficult for ends or outside ‘backers.”
Along those lines, I wrote about what the Redskins’ defenders will have to deal with and talked about some creative ways Oregon used to run certain plays (like the zone-read). After writing that, I learned of another play in talking to one Redskins defender. He said they’re bracing for the possibility of a zone-read option fake handoff to the back. After the fake, Vick takes off running, then quickly pulls up for a pass. The Redskins have not done that with Griffin. Just something to watch. The other thing that’s a little different: The Eagles' read-option isn’t always based on the defensive end or outside linebacker. They’ll sometimes run it off the nose tackle or even the middle linebacker.
A big key will be getting the Eagles in third-and-longs, then running some stunts or even blitzing Vick. Jacksonville did this in the third preseason game, and Vick reverted to bad habits. But while there’s so much focus on the scheme and the main weapons -- Vick, running back LeSean McCoy and receiver DeSean Jackson -- there is more to worry about. Like an athletic offensive front, a good match for a zone running system similar to Washington’s. Also, receiver Jason Avant has caught 24 passes for 247 yards in his last five games against Washington. He doesn’t kill the Redskins, but he can be a pest.
It takes time for a team to transition to a 3-4 front from a 4-3, as the Redskins discovered in 2010. In some cases poor fits hurt the transition. Andre Carter, for example, was and never will be a 3-4 outside linebacker, but that’s what he was forced to play. The Eagles not only have switched coordinators and schemes, but they also have five starters on defense who weren’t on the roster last season. It takes time to build chemistry. Defensive end Trent Cole was switched to outside linebacker. Will that take away from his strength which, is, well, his strength. It could take time for him to play with the leverage necessary to be effective standing up (though my guess is they’ll use some four-man fronts in passing situations; in that case he could rush with his hand down). One of those new starters is nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, who struggled this summer. Weak play at nose tackle foreshadows doom for a 3-4 front. It’s no wonder three running backs had runs of at least 50 yards against the Eagles this summer. The final point is this: It’s bad enough to play against an offense like Washington’s, which causes defenses to hesitate. It’s worse when a team likely will have hesitation issues already because of a defensive change. So the potential is there to be even more slowed or confused. It’s no wonder one Redskins offensive player said this week, “I can’t wait.”