The two-tight end set is fast becoming a feature of the Washington Redskins offense. Coordinator Kyle Shanahan is using the package to get the running game on track and increase the efficiency of the passing game.
Shanahan is frequently altering the alignment of his two tight ends to create different looks and favorable matchups. One of his favorite ploys has been to stack both tight ends together on the same side, forming an unbalanced offensive line.
The overload created by the stacked tight ends got the running game on track against the Oakland Raiders in Week 4.
In the first example, the Redskins had moved to the Raiders' 12-yard line deep into the third quarter and faced a 1st-and-10.
Shanahan aligned both Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen on the right side of the offensive front as in-line blockers.
They would attack the linebacker level of Oakland's 4-3 under front. Paul would seal the edge by blocking strong-side linebacker Kevin Burnett (just off the picture in this shot, but stacked on the end of the line.)
Paulsen would initially crash down to help right tackle Tyler Polumbus block the defensive end before releasing to block middle 'backer Nick Roach (No. 53).
Once Paul and Paulsen had collapsed the edge, Polumbus and guard Chris Chester were able to double-team the defensive end. This formed a natural cutback lane for Morris.
He gained nine yards, and Washington would score its first offensive touchdown of the day just two plays later.
Early in the fourth quarter, facing a first down at the Oakland 47, Shanahan used his tight ends in a different alignment to help spring Roy Helu Jr.
He again put them on the right side but had Paulsen in a flex position, just off the line. Paul was outside him, lined up as a slot receiver.
They again attacked the edge of the Raiders front. Paulsen (No. 82) blocked the defensive end, while Paul took on the outside linebacker covering him in the slot.
Their blocks would allow Helu to run a counter starting to the right side, before cutting back over to the left.
Again, the work of the two tight ends on the edge allowed for double-teams inside. Helu had a big gap to exploit and ran for seven yards.
Shanahan cleverly used a pair of two-tight end looks to produce good gains on the ground. First, the stacked alignment, with both tight ends on the line, created an overload that outnumbered the Raiders on the edge.
Then, flexing tight ends off the line and in the slot spread out the defense. This allowed the O-line to use double-teams to create a hole inside.
This versatile use of the two-tight end package is also helping Washington manufacture easy gains through the air.
One play before Helu's run, the Redskins faced 2nd-and-10 at their own 40. Shanahan aligned both Paul and Paulsen in flex positions in the slot. Prior to the snap, Paul (No. 84) went in motion.
He joined the backfield as an H-Back in a blocking alignment. This created a run-first look, while Paulsen prepared to run a route behind the linebackers and in front of Oakland's deep safeties.
At the snap, quarterback Robert Griffin III faked to Helu, while Paul came across to lead the way for the supposed run and seal the edge pass-rusher. With the linebacker in the middle charging down to the run, Paulsen simply ran into the space behind him.
Griffin then lofted a decent pass to Paulsen, who made a nice catch in front of the safety for 13 yards.
One week earlier, the Redskins had used the two-tight end package to set up a play-action pass against the Detroit Lions.
On this occasion, Shanahan had Paulsen and rookie Jordan Reed positioned on both sides of the offensive line, creating a balanced front. They would each run a vertical, in-breaking pattern behind the linebackers.
One of the keys to the play was stacking both wide receivers on the same side. That would occupy not only the cornerback on that side, but also the outside linebacker.
It also drew the attention of the deep safety, lurking just beyond the 30-yard line.
At the snap, Griffin would run another play-action fake. That sent the deep safety rotating down to react to the run.
Reed was able to run his pattern, shown by the blue arrow, just inside the safety's pursuit. Reed was afforded a clean release off the line because outside 'backer DeAndre Levy (No. 54) was occupied with the two wide receivers on his side.
The safety on the other side, Glover Quin (No. 27), was unable to drift over the top of Reed's route, because he had to concentrate on the vertical release by Paulsen.
Reed would make an easy catch for an 11-yard gain.
The Redskins are using their two-tight end sets to create run-heavy fronts and make their play-action passing game even more effective.
Running tight ends behind linebackers gives Griffin more intermediate targets to aim for. That can help improve his accuracy and provide him with a natural outlet under pressure.
In the running game, featuring two tight ends is allowing the O-line to use more double-teams. That lets the Redskins get blockers on linebackers much quicker, which is vital for their zone-rushing scheme.
The coaching staff is continuing to refine the way they use tight ends. Here they have used them in four different looks, an overload, flex and slot alignment and a balanced line.
That creativity is forming a versatile package, capable of morphing into different guises and testing the recognition skills of defenses pre-snap.
For instance, when the Redskins align a tight end in the backfield and one on the line, is that a running play or a downfield pass? It could even be a screen to the backfield tight end.
When they split tight ends into the slot, the Redskins create a spread look that almost screams pass to a defense. But with better blockers to attack edges, Washington can still run from a spread look that features tight ends.
What was so impressive about the Oakland game, was that Shanahan was not afraid to use the package—even though both his top tight ends were missing. Reed was sidelined, while Fred Davis was just back from an injury and limited.
But the Redskins seem determined to make full use of their four tight ends in a highly flexible package that is improving every facet of their offense.
All screen shots courtesy of Fox Sports and NFL.com Gamepass