One of the most intriguing storylines this Wild Card weekend will be about two of the finest rookies to ever come into the NFL; They are Russell Wilson (Seahawks) and Robert Griffin III (Redskins), who goes by the moniker "RG3."
Much of the attention will be focused on how many yards or touchdowns each will throw, but the biggest matchup that needs to be watched is the Seahawks' front seven versus Griffin III and the Redskins running game.
If the Seahawks can limit the running game of the Redskins by playing aggressive and disciplined, they'll have a very good chance of winning this game. Sounds easy to say but quite hard to do. The reason is because the Redskins have a very multiple scheme, featuring several forms of runs that attack blocked and unblocked defenders.
Some of the run concepts that the Redskins use include, but are not limited to, stretch runs called inside zone and outside zone, zone read-option and toss (base NFL concept). All four of these runs complement each other and are run from various formations, such as the popular pistol set, traditional shotgun set and under center.
That's a lot to handle for the Seahawks, but they have the athleticism and power in the front seven to do so.
Most teams have struggled defending the Redskins' running game, but one of the teams that didn't was the Pittsburgh Steelers. In Week 8, the Steelers beat the Redskins 27-12 and slowed down the Redskins offense. Their game plan is one that the Seahawks should look to for assistance in slowing down RG3 and his offense.
It's important to note that the Steelers didn't stop the Redskins offense, only slowed them down. Running back Alfred Morris still averaged 4.5 yards per carry but had some issues picking up chunks of yardage when he needed it most. One big reason for that is the combination of aggressiveness, physicality and discipline of the Steelers' front seven.
The front seven knew one thing going into the game: penetration kills zone stretches, especially by a nose tackle.
Nose tackles are typically a very difficult assignment for a center in a zone-blocking scheme because the nose tackle is usually very strong and hard to move (immobile, one might say), which is the antithesis of what the center is. Center Will Montgomery had his hands full with Casey Hampton, a large nose tackle that has surprising quickness off the line of scrimmage.
Hampton was lined up along the outside shoulder of Montgomery on an early first quarter play. This alignment meant that Hampton was playing the 1-technique and told to shoot the near A-gap once the ball was snapped. Montgomery and his offensive line would be blocking "down," attempting to force the defensive front to run toward the sideline while running back Alfred Morris sought a cutback lane. However, Hampton had other plans.
He was going straight up the field while everyone was going laterally, which meant that unless the blockers could get to him quick enough, the play would be going down the drain.
When the ball snapped, Hampton quickly moved forward and jolted Montgomery, walking him back into the backfield where Morris was ready to receive the handoff.
Hampton continued to pressure when Morris got the football, pressing the center back and forcing the runner to take a wider path. The path continued to get wider and wider for Morris, who ran into defensive end and linebacker Brett Keisel and Larry Foote for a 3-yard loss.
As one can see, penetration is the key versus the zone stretch running game of the Redskins. The Seahawks could do the same with defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, who is quick and strong and one of the league's most underrated players.
If the Seahawks do run into some troubles defending the Redskins' running game, they're likely to be hit with a play-action pass. The Steelers knew this and came prepared for it. Their key to slowing it down was playing disciplined.
With just under nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, RG3 stood 4.5 yards deep in Pistol set with "11" personnel (1 back, 1 tight end). The Steelers were showing a mixed look that didn't quite suggest one deep safety or two. Ultimately, it would be just one patrolling the deep part of the field.
When the ball snapped, RG3 executed a play-action fake to Morris and rolled out to his right. The majority of the Steelers' front seven crashed down to the left, looking to take down Morris as if he had the ball. However, there was one defender that didn't go anywhere: LaMarr Woodley.
The outside linebacker waited patiently on the backside of the formation for the quarterback to roll right into him...
When RG3 did, he was forced to make Woodley miss and climb the pocket, where inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons cleaned up by bringing him down as he threw an incomplete pass.
Discipline such as this will be needed from the Seahawks' linebackers, who are outstanding in their own right. They possess the discipline and athleticism to keep track of RG3 and are well-coached.
One last play that stood out to me while analyzing the Redskins-Steelers matchup was how the Steelers pressured RG3 into making poor throws. Take for instance the 3rd-and-9 in the third quarter with three-and-half minutes left.
RG3 stood in shotgun with "11" personnel surrounding him again. The designed play was to tight end Logan Paulsen, who was going to be running a quick shoot route into the flats.
On this play, the Steelers were going to be bringing overload pressure from the same side where Paulsen was lined up. The pressure package would accommodate the tight end's route by rotating strong safety Will Allen down to the flats where the tight end ran his route.
Once the ball was in play, RG3 dropped back and looked to his left. Initially, he appeared to have a clean pocket as the offensive line picked up the three rushers. The line executed a full-slide to their right, picking up the defensive linemen who were "long-sticking." The linemen did this with a purpose, however.
When the offensive line committed a full-slide to the right, it left the left unoccupied, forcing running back Evan Royster to come across the formation and pick up the blitz. The only problem was that there was only one Royster and two Steelers.
As the pressure closed in, RG3 drifted away as he threw the ball, overthrowing Paulsen in the flats and stalling the drive.
All in all, the Seattle Seahawks will have their hands full this weekend when they travel to FedEx Field to take on the Washington Redskins and their diverse offense. Although most of the teams the Redskins faced have had troubles stopping it this season, it is possible and the Pittsburgh Steelers showed it in Week 8.
The three keys to slowing down RG3 and the offense are discipline, aggressiveness and pressure. The Seahawks have the talent to make it happen, but will they?