Predictability is a killer in the NFL, and it is something the Washington Redskins are trying to avoid. In 2012, the team took the league by storm by combining the read-option attack with the principles of head coach Mike Shanahan's system.
But as offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan recently noted, things are not as easy for the read-option in 2013. According to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com, citing a press conference reported by Redskins.com, the younger Shanahan had words of caution for this season's read-option offenses:
When you have something that was that successful ... guys are too smart, Shanahan said of defensive coordinators. They are going to work all offseason and find a way to stop it. And when that happens you got to (get) better at the other stuff. And I think we do have other stuff. And I think we're getting better at it.
The Shanahans are already trying out some new things this season. But they can expand their concepts even further by giving a pair of young playmakers more work and varying one of the staples of their system.
A Three-Headed Monster and The Full-House Backfield
More than once during the first three games, the Shanahan's have attacked defenses with a full-house backfield. They used it to create some huge rushing lanes against the Green Bay Packers in Week 2.
This loaded backfield look allows Washington's O-linemen to move to the second level of the defense more quickly. In this case, the right tackle was able to attack linebackers because Davis would block his defensive end.
With Young moving out to block the outside linebacker, who is off the picture here, left tackle Trent Williams was also able to move up and block inside linebacker Brad Jones (59).
The Shanahan's still ran their favorite zone-stretch play from this look, and Morris gained an easy nine yards.
Later in the game, the Redskins again created a full house in the backfield, but this time they used tight end Logan Paulsen. He motioned down to join Griffin and Young in front of Morris.
Again, the presence of two extra blockers proved crucial. Notice how both Paulsen and Young would block Green Bay's outside linebackers.
That left the O-line in a five-on-five matchup with the Packers' front three and two inside 'backers. On the left side, Williams and guard Kory Lichtensteiger double-teamed end Johnny Jolly before Lichtensteiger moved forward to block A.J. Hawk (50).
Williams, Lichtensteiger and Young created a huge lane on the left for Morris, and he gained 32 yards as part of his 107-yard rushing effort.
Full-house backfields create advantages in blocking, and Washington's offense is becoming very good at using the look. But the Shanahans can expand it further simply by altering some of the personnel.
Imagine a full-house look with Morris and Young along with Evan Royster or Roy Helu Jr.—or perhaps even a loaded backfield featuring a three-headed monster comprised of Morris, Royster and Helu.
Defenses would not be able to rule out a pass to Helu and would also be left guessing about which back would take a handoff.
This idea links with the view that Washington needs to make greater use of its talented backfield rotation. It would be great if Shanahan Sr. just said, "I have three running backs, and I'm not afraid to use them!"
Rotating carries is very effective in today's NFL, and a committee approach can work provided all three runners can contribute.
The complementary skills of Morris, Royster and Helu would give defenses different problems to prepare for.
But if the elder Shanahan continues to be wary of taking carries away from Morris, he can at least make more use of his other runners in the passing game.
A Pass-Catching Back and Taking a Tip From a Fellow West Coast Play-Caller
Shanahan is currently wasting the skills of Helu. As a proponent of the West Coast offense, or at least a version of it, he should know better than most the value of a pass-catching back.
Forte had 10 catches against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2. In this first example, the Bears cleared space underneath for Forte by having both their wide receivers take their coverage deep.
That gave Forte license to swing out to the flat and have plenty of room to attack.
With the Vikings' second-level defenders down the field, Forte wasn't touched until he had gained 10 yards.
Later in the game, the Bears used a similar formula on the other side of the field. They again had two wideouts on one side who would run their coverage deep.
This created room underneath for Forte to exploit. But this time he would drift through the line and into the middle.
With Minnesota's zone coverage stretched by the receivers and tight end, Forte was free to catch another pass and turned up the field to gain 13 yards.
Both of these plays featured simple designs but demonstrated Trestman's commitment to getting his running back involved as a receiver.
When Trestman was offensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders in 2002, Charlie Garner caught 91 passes. So far, Forte has averaged six a game. Compare that to the eight total receptions by Washington's running backs.
It takes commitment to feature a runner in the passing game, and the Redskins have not shown enough. The same is true for another underused position on their offense.
Reach Into the Archives to Expand the Two-Tight End Attack
During preseason, Washington deployed several two-tight end looks, with both tight ends on the same side.
But this formation has been ditched during much of the real action. Shanahan should bring it back and delve into the archives to create serious matchup issues with it.
He should go as far back as the 1995 Green Bay Packers and their NFC Championship game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Imagine the same formation the Packers used to overwhelm the Cowboys' zone looks but featuring rookie Jordan Reed and Fred Davis.
Putting a pair of tight ends with wide receiver-like skills on the same side and having them split coverages would be a nightmare for defenses.
The Redskins could also use this look to introduce some power plays to their running game. In the video below, the San Diego Chargers used two tight ends on one side and a pulling guard to knock open a huge hole.
Varying the blocking a little more and overloading the line with tight ends would make an already potent ground game even more dangerous.
It used to be a staple of the offense during the Joe Gibbs years, and Shanahan has the players to reintroduce this particular wrinkle.
The Redskins boast four good tight ends in Reed, Davis, Paulsen and Niles Paul. Yet this quartet have so far combined for only 22 receptions.
Shanahan has to get his playmakers at this position more involved. He should start by using Reed in more creative ways.
The third-round pick has the versatility and move skills of a true "Joker" tight end. He can create matchup problems from multiple positions.
Notice how many different alignments he took in the highlights above.
Washington's coaching staff is starting to get a feel for how Reed can be moved all over an offensive formation. His first pro touchdown, coming in Week 2 against the Packers, was a great example.
The play started with Reed going in motion from the slot.
He would then split out in a wide receiver alignment.
The plan was to have the two inside receivers run their coverage to the back of the end zone. Reed would then come underneath and into the middle.
The Redskins had put Helu in the backfield, and he played a key role. When he drifted to the flat, Helu took strong safety Jerron McMillian with him.
That meant that once Reed got behind the linebackers, McMillian (22) wasn't in a position to cover him. Reed showcased his athleticism to make an acrobatic catch and complete a three-yard score.
Not only did this play amply demonstrate Reed's threat as a move tight end, it also showed the virtue of putting a pair of versatile playmakers like Helu and Reed together in the same formation.
Defenses have to account for them both, and they pose a number of matchup problems.
The Redskins are clearly mindful of the need to tweak what is still an effective offense. They don't want to fall into the trap of always relying on stretch running and targeting deep crossing patterns over the middle.
They can add new wrinkles to their scheme simply by making more creative use of fringe playmakers like Helu, Royster and Reed. And none of their tweaks need involve the read-option.
All screen shots courtesy of Fox Sports and NFL.com Gamepass
All statistics courtesy of NFL.com