The Washington Redskins couldn’t beat the Minnesota Vikings or Philadelphia Eagles this season, but they did move the ball against both. In the past two seasons, they played those teams a combined six times. In other words, the Redskins know what makes those defenses work and how to attack them.
In the past two seasons, the Redskins averaged 21.3 points and 334 yards in posting a 3-3 record (0-3 this season) against the Vikings and Eagles. The Redskins scored 26 or more points in four of the meetings. Washington was one of only two teams to score at least 30 points against Minnesota this season (Carolina was the other), and the Redskins gained more yards (394) against the Vikings than anyone else.
Here’s what Redskins coach Jay Gruden had to say about how to attack each of the defenses:
What makes them good: “They’re balanced in what they can stop. They’re obviously very good against the run, and it starts inside with people like [lineman] Linval Joseph. He’s a hard load to move, and it was hard for us to get to the second level because he hogs two guys for a long period of time. He can make plays down the line as well. Their ends are strong and line up over the tight end and beat the s--- out of the tight end, so it’s hard for him to get to the next level. Sometimes Anthony Barr is on the line, sometimes he’s in the box. Eric Kendricks is pretty good at flowing to the ball. The wild cards are safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo. Both are very good in what they do and how they line up. When they play quarters coverage, the safeties are in the run fits quick. If it’s a standard Cover 3, their safeties are in the run fits quick.
“In passing situations, they can rush with four. Watching the New Orleans game, [Mike] Zimmer has dialed back on blitzes because he can pressure with four guys, and he can play four or five standard coverages. But he’s good at getting you to try and beat one coverage and then playing another. They’ll mix in man-to-man and some two-deep and jam the crap out of everyone and let the pass rush get home. He has standard strong- and weakside blitzes, and he has his dreaded double-A-gap blitzes. Those blitzes are hard because sometimes they’ll bail out.
"If you max protect, and they bail out, then they have seven in coverage. Or they’ll bring a single safety or maybe they’ll bring the linebacker, and if the center turns to pick up one 'backer, then they bring the other and force the back to pick him up. Sometimes that’s Barr. If you slide the line to Barr, then they bring Kendricks, or they’ll bring a safety on the side of the back. It’s a pain in the ass. You can use some quick games and screens, but if it’s third-and-8 or 9, those quick games don’t get home.”
Strategy: “The majority of teams would go after Trae Waynes and stay away from Xavier Rhodes, unless you have a receiver like Antonio Brown. If you have two good receivers, you err on the side of throwing away from Rhodes. The nickelback is Terence Newman, and he has a great head for the game. Very smart and always in the right place at the right time. But if something happens and they have to bring in [Mackensie] Alexander, you want to go after him.
“You can try to run the ball against them, but if you try to run inside, Joseph is a monster, and Griffin, if he’s on a tight end, is hard to deal with. If you run outside zone, they get Smith and Sendejo in the run fit, so how do you account for them? Do you push the line to them or use a receiver? If a receiver blocks them, they usually kick the receiver’s ass. There are some running lanes to be had, it’s just a matter of pressing it and making good cuts and hoping you cut off Joseph. We probably leaned more to outside runs, but the longer they stretch you out, the more time they have to pursue with Barr, Griffin and Kendricks. They do a great job getting off blocks. It’s good to try and get them in 11 personnel [one back, one tight end] because they’ll match with nickel, and then Newman is in the run fits and maybe you get some runs that way.”
What makes them good: “The addition of Tim Jernigan has been a huge help with Fletcher Cox. Those two are tough to deal with in both the run and pass game, very similar to the Vikings. Brandon Graham beats the s--- out of tight ends, and they have three good linebackers, too. Jenkins is the guy who’s a pain in the ass. He plays nickel great as a run-defender and as a safety in their base. He’s a great run-defender. How do you account for him? With a receiver or by pushing the line? If you push the line, then you have bad angles on Cox and Jernigan.
"If you receiver block, you’d better have a stout receiver to come in and do that because he makes life miserable. In the pass game, Cox inside and Graham and those guys can rush. They have a good blitz package to keep you honest, and their corners play good in man-to-man. Darby did not play against us. Mills was the corner against us and Rasul Douglas. There are chances to take shots against their corners, but they mix up coverages, and the middle safety can cover a lot of ground.”
Strategy: “The best way to attack them on the ground is to run inside. Outside, it’s hard because they force everything back inside, and that’s when Jernigan and Fletcher can make their plays and the backside defenders can track you down. Inside zone is easier because they play the wide nine from time to time. But you still have to get Cox and Jernigan blocked -- easier said than done. Then you get to the next level, and Nigel Bradham is really good. We tried to get Chris Thompson on Braham, and he was always good against Chris. The matchup we tried to feature when Jordan Reed plays is to get him on Jenkins, but he’s really good.
“Malcolm can play nickel and cover receivers when you want. The quarterback and center have to know if he’s in nickel. It makes a big difference. If he’s in nickel, you want to account for him at the line, and if he’s at safety, you want to account for him with a receiver.
“They’ve got three or four pass-rushers off the edge that can beat you, and they keep them fresh and rotate them in and out. They have the rookie, Derek Barnett, and Chris Long to help rush. [The Eagles] can hit you inside and outside with all their pass-rushers. They do a good job changing coverages so you can’t just work a side. You try to work the corners because Malcolm is such a good safety. You have to get them in formations where they have to communicate and get them in bunch looks and mix up the releases to get them confused or get them to check to zone drops and then attack the zones.”