What in the World Is Wrong with the Washington Redskins' Offensive Line?

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What in the World Is Wrong with the Washington Redskins' Offensive Line?
Rob Carr/Getty Images

It was a team strength for much of 2012, but the Washington Redskins' offensive line has made a nightmare start to the 2013 NFL season.

It has been routinely overpowered in the running game and outwitted over and over by the same blitz schemes. The result has been a Redskins offense that has stumbled its way through two defeats.

Poor recognition and a lack of adjustments have been the major issues. They have been obvious in the running game, particularly on the team's signature zone-based runs.

The Philadelphia Eagles committed to attacking this scheme in Week 1 and enjoyed plenty of success. In the screen shot below, outside linebacker Trent Cole was tasked with setting the edge. Inside 'backer Mychal Kendricks would attack the middle on a run blitz.

The Eagles used an inside blitz to attack a zone run.

The Eagles pressured the left side of tackle Trent Williams and tight end Fred Davis with some pre-snap movement.

They shifted defensive end Fletcher Cox across, positioning him between Williams and Davis.

A shift from the defensive end created even more pressure.

This meant that Davis would face a one-on-one block with either a defensive end or an outside linebacker. The Redskins should have adjusted by having Williams either pull to the outside to block Cole or stay inside to occupy Cox.

But instead Davis tried to take on Cox in single blocking, while Williams moved up to the inside linebackers. That left blocking back Niles Paul (84) to come across the formation to try and occupy Cole.

The Redskins made the wrong adjustment.

Williams should have stayed in to help Davis with either Cox or Cole. Without Williams to help, Cox pushed Davis backwards, stringing out the play, and Cole easily beat Paul to dump Alfred Morris for a loss.

The Redskins blocking was thrown into chaos.

Notice how right guard Chris Chester (66), had moved over to block the defensive end on his side. This let right tackle Tyler Polumbus block outside linebacker Connor Barwin.

But that was an unnecessary block. The Redskins often leave the backside defender unblocked on zone runs, gambling he won't make it to the ball, before the runner hits his cutback lane.

Had Polumbus blocked the defensive end instead, Chester could have moved up to the inside linebacker level. That would have let Williams stay in and help Davis with Cole or Cox.

But a simple inside blitz from Kendricks and a line shift from Cox confused the O-line. This was a clear example of the Redskins struggling to adjust to a team attacking the tendencies of their zone-blocking system.

Washington's scheme calls for their linemen to trade off blocks as they shift along the front. But the blitz from Kendricks occupied Montgomery, which meant the center could not block the nose tackle.

So left guard Kory Lichtensteiger had to block the nose man, rather than shifting over to block Cox. That would have let Williams and Davis double-team Cole and created a lane for Morris around the outside.

Chester could have blocked DeMeco Ryans (59) and the Redskins would have produced a positive gain.

The O-line had similar problems with run-blocking in Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers. This time the Redskins loaded up the left side by putting right tackle Polumbus next to Williams to create an overload.

The Redskins created an overload with both tackles on the same side.

But it was defensive end Johnny Jolly, the player Polumbus would normally block, who the Redskins failed to account for.

The Redskins planned to shift their linemen along in typical zone style. But that left tight end Davis to block Jolly (97). The Redskins were more concerned with getting Montgomery and Polumbus to the linebacker level.

The Redskins' zone-style shift left a tight end blocking a defensive end.

Once the ball was snapped, Jolly proved too quick and powerful for Davis, who had a poor angle for his block and received no help from Chester.

The blocking quickly collapsed.

Inside linebacker Brad Jones also had a free attack lane because Polumbus missed his block. Notice how both Montgomery and Polumbus moved to the second level of the defense but blocked no one.

Morris was promptly decked for no gain, but the collapse of the play could have been so easily avoided. A simple adjustment would have let Montgomery block nose tackle Ryan Pickett, while Chester took on Jolly.

Davis and fullback Darrel Young could have moved forward to occupy the inside linebackers.

At the moment, head coach Mike Shanahan's zone scheme is being too rigidly applied. His linemen are failing to adjust to shifted lines and interior run blitzes.

As much as they have struggled in the running game, Washington's front five have been even worse in pass-protection. The bane of their lives during the first two weeks has been middle blitzes.

In Week 1, the Eagles brought a host of inside and overload pressures. In this particular example, they would send a corner off the edge, while inside linebacker Ryans attacked the middle on a delayed blitz.

The Eagles overloaded the left side with two blitzers.

The plan was to overload the left side of the Redskins' line, tackle Williams and guard Lichtensteiger (78).

The Eagles were challenging Lichtensteiger to identify and react to one of the blitzers. He could pull out and slam into the corner or stand and adjust to the rush from Ryans.

But Lichtensteiger was not even looking at the overloaded side. As the soon as the ball was snapped, he was looking inside, trying to help Montgomery.

Lichtensteiger should have focused on the blitzers.

This was a cardinal error to ignore the overloaded side of the Eagles' front. Williams and Lichtensteiger could have even traded off blocks, with the tackle moving to block Ryans and Lictensteiger sliding out to block the defensive end.

Because none of those things happened, Morris was left to choose between both blitzers.

A breakdown in protection put Morris in a bind.

Once the running back opted to block the corner, Ryans attacked and sacked Robert Griffin III for a seven-yard loss.

Griffin was swarmed on for a sack that was easy to avoid.

Problems dealing with inside pressure continued in Green Bay. In this example, the Packers sent three rushers to the inside.

Green Bay sends three blitzers to the inside.

Linebackers Clay Matthews and Brad Jones executed a cross stunt in the middle. This simple twist soon overwhelmed the Redskins' line.

With two players showing blitz (Jones would creep forward), nobody told rookie tight end Jordan Reed (86), to stay in and block.

Reed should have gotten a call to stay in and block, once Jones (59), showed blitz.

But the real problem was the way interior of the line reacted to the stunt.

Montgomery blocked Jones, while Lichtensteiger blocked the nose tackle. That meant Chester had to pick up Matthews. But the twist from Green Bay took Matthews away from Chester.

The interior trio didn't adjust to the twist inside and gave Helu a tough choice.

Now running back Roy Helu Jr. would have to come across Griffin's face to intercept Matthews.

The problem was the third inside blitz, from slot corner Micah Hyde, was going to occupy Helu. What the Redskins should have done was have Lichtensteiger peel off and take on Matthews, while Helu took Hyde (33).

Lichtensteiger should have peeled off to block Matthews, while Montgomery took Jones.

This could have been easily achieved simply by trading blocks. Montgomery could have slid over to block Jones while Chester blocked nose tackle Jerel Worthy. But the Redskins reacted too late.

Many teams react to twists by having linemen sit on stunt lanes, as Lichtensteiger took too long to do here. But the failure to quickly adjust left Griffin exposed to a hit and ended a Redskins drive.

Griffin took more punishment and another drive stalled.

Washington's O-line is playing like a group too rigidly tailored to their system. As a result, there is poor communication, borne out of not really knowing what to do when defenses attack their zone scheme.

Unless proper adjustments are put in place, particularly to deal with inside pressure, this line will continue to go wrong.

 

All screen shots courtesy of ESPN, Fox Sports and NFL.com Gamepass.

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