A trip to the home of the defending Super Bowl champions might not hold as much fear for the Washington Redskins as it does for others. After all, Mike Shanahan's team did sweep the New York Giants in 2011.
The Redskins' emphatic 23-10 triumph on the road in Week 15, was the highlight of an otherwise frustrating season. On that day the Redskins beat the Giants to the punch thanks to some smart game planning.
Using the blueprint for that victory as a guide, here are some things the Redskins can do to take advantage of the Giants this Sunday. All screen shots courtesy of Fox Sports.
Use misdirection in the running game
Washington's offense managed to keep Big Blue's defense off balance by grinding out enough tough yards on the ground to keep them honest. The key was how the Redskins tweaked their zone-running game and used misdirection to fool the Giants' front seven.
In the screenshot below, note the Redskins alignment. They are in a two tight end front, with one tight end positioned outside the left tackle.
The Redskins often run their zone stretch play to the left from this look, behind a trio of blockers on that side.
However, this time the Redskins shift at the snap, sliding away from the left and pitching the ball to the lone running back. The screenshot below shows the shift.
The highlighted portion shows the tight end on the left hook and trap defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. This is important because it helps split the defensive front and create a lane in the middle.
Instead of running a sweep to the right, which is what the play initially looks like, the Redskins are targeting the now open middle of the defense. The screen shot below shows Roy Helu Jr. take the toss and quickly cut back into the middle, behind the shifting line, for a nine-yard gain.
The Redskins ran this play several times during the game. It freed Helu for some important yards and challenged New York's quick-twitch defensive line to stop and react to what they saw, forcing them out of their usual downhill, attacking style.
Another way the Redskins managed to confuse the Giants front in the running game, was through clever use of fullback Darrel Young. An underrated and underused ball carrier, Young converted some important third downs and also scored a decisive second quarter touchdown to give Washington a commanding 17-0 lead.
In the screenshot below, the Redskins are in a standard I-formation look, with Young aligned as the lead blocker. The highlighted portion shows wide receiver Brandon Banks coming down the line, seemingly in motion.
At the snap, quarterback Rex Grossman turns and quickly hands off to Young on an inside trap. However, it is the action of Banks and Helu which really catches the Giants out, shown in the screen shot below.
As Young takes the ball up the middle, Helu fakes a sweep to the right behind tackle Tyler Polumbus (74), and tight end Logan Paulsen (82). This action freezes four Giants defenders on that side.
Meanwhile, after handing the ball off to Young, Grossman fakes a handoff to Banks, who acts as though he is running a reverse to the left, shown in the highlighted portion. The player to watch here is Pierre-Paul (90).
The action of Banks completely baffles the aggressive pass-rusher and he is caught looking into the backfield. In doing so, Pierre-Paul simply lets Young go by him, shown in the red box. The fullback then breaks the tackle of safety Antrel Rolle (26) and powers in for an easy touchdown.
Even if they identify this play in scouting, there's no way the Giants can stop it. Consider that Grossman ran the play last season. Now add Robert Griffin III's speed and athleticism to the mix.
Griffin's talent as a runner, along with the now real threat offered by Banks from the triple-option this season, means the Giants simply can't ignore all the backfield action and supposed fakes.
To go one better, Mike and Kyle Shanahan should consider running this play with Alfred Morris lined up as the fullback with Ryan Grant or Evan Royster as the tailback, or vice versa. Either way, there should certainly be plenty of yards available.
This kind of misdirection in the running game can make the usually buccaneering Giants' defensive front pause. That hesitancy should create positive plays on the ground and set up some opportunities in the passing game.
Use West Coast offense route combinations to beat the Giants' secondary
When they do turn to the pass, the Redskins should utilize the formula that brought them success the last time they faced the G-men on the road. That formula consisted of the clever use of West Coast offense route principles.
In the screen shot below the Redskins are aligned with three wide receivers and Grossman is in the shotgun. The three wideouts are lined up on the left in a bunch formation.
The Giants have responded with a slot corner on that side and by also dropping a safety down into the zone. The presence of a tight end and running back on the right of the Redskins' formation, serves to keep at least one New York defensive back over on that side.
The Redskins use quick movement and an old West Coast concept to pull apart the Giants secondary and free one of their receivers. The screenshot below shows how.
At the snap, the two inside receivers criss-cross, and run underneath routes, dragging coverage in opposite directions. The highlighted portions show both patterns.
The slot corner is taken across the middle by one pattern, while the second crossing route creates space by confusing cornerback Corey Webster. Shown in the red box, Webster is drawn forward by the underneath crossing route run to his side.
This leaves the third receiver, Santana Moss, with a free run at a scrambling safety, shown by the blue arrow. The play results in a simple, 20-yard touchdown strike from Grossman to Moss.
As Fox commentator Troy Aikman rightly pointed out, this is the famous "Hi-Lo" concept. This route combination has been a staple of the West Coast offense ever since Bill Walsh designed the system and is well known to the Shanahans.
It challenges the discipline of a Cover 2 defense, as well as the recognition skills of defensive backs attempting to play man coverage. The G-men play a lot of man under with two deep safeties and this Hi-Lo route combination is an excellent way to split that coverage.
The Cleveland Browns did it in Week 5 on rookie Josh Gordon's long touchdown and the Redskins have the weapons to do the same. Moss can still work deep, or he could take the underneath, while youngster Leonard Hankerson attacks vertically. Griffin certainly has the arm strength to make this play work.
It's clear the Redskins have the offensive scheme to exploit the aggressive instincts of the Giants' defense. However, finding the right balance between striking for big gains and keeping things steady, will still be the key.
Kyle Shanahan must call the same smart game he directed in Week 15 last season. That means enough run to maintain balance and create the right kind of openings through the air.