Washington Redskins Offense Won't Find Success Without Stronger O-Line Play
That is because their skill players, led by an increasingly confident Robert Griffin III, were let down by a woeful offensive line. Washington's front five were abysmal in Dallas, allowing themselves to be routinely manhandled by a makeshift defensive front.
The Cowboys were already missing the likes of Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer from their four-man line, and the Redskins job should have been made even easier when premier pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware limped out of the fray.
Instead, a Cowboys front four featuring only one recognized starter simply destroyed Washington's blocking schemes. The offensive line could not execute Mike Shanahan's trademark zone-based blocking to free the running game or offer Griffin anything resembling adequate protection in the pocket.
Most of the problems occurred in the middle. Guards Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester, along with center Will Montgomery, were all beaten by speed and power rushes inside.
Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher is a fine player and very underrated, but he has rarely looked as dominant as he did against the Redskins. Left guard Lichtensteiger in particular, won't relish reviewing the film of his attempts to corral Hatcher. But it did not matter whom the Cowboys put in the game, they were still able to overrun the Redskins line.
The Shanahan system, so dependant on the zone ground game, cannot function without better play up front. Too much quick penetration is destroying the rushing attack.
The zone-stretch runs that head coach Mike Shanahan is so fond of call for his linemen to shift laterally while still keeping the defense in front of them. It is a demanding technique but one that is devastating on defenses when executed correctly.
But too often now, opposing D-linemen are shooting through single gaps behind shifting Redskins guards.
Not only does that take away the cutback lanes Shanahan's scheme is designed to create. An unproductive running game puts Griffin in obvious passing situations. The foundation of his awesome success as a rookie in 2012 was based on creating manageable down-and-distance situations.
That left defenses guessing run or pass against an offense that could unleash Griffin as a dual threat or use powerful tailback Alfred Morris as both a runner or to set up play-action passing. But play-action is rendered moot when the Redskins are routinely facing 2nd- and 3rd-and-long situations after their running game has suffered negative plays.
Even last season, the Redskins O-line was exposed in long-yardage situations when it had to protect against defenses focused on rushing the passer.
Opposing defenses are being afforded that luxury more often this season, and Griffin is taking more hits as a result. The Cowboys got to him for three sacks, with Hatcher tallying two, and put many more hits on him.
Given these issues, it was surprising to see offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan creating so many spread looks against Dallas. He often moved running backs and tight ends out wide to form multiple-receiver formations.
That left the five struggling linemen to fend for themselves. Spread sets are not necessarily appropriate when the offensive front is experiencing this many protection problems.
The strength of Washington's offense is running to give Griffin play-action opportunities, simpler reads and manageable down-and-distance situations. But that won't happen unless the front five gets tougher in the trenches. When it does face passing downs, the O-line has to become more adept at reacting to blitzes and inside pressure off stunts and twists.
The unit was reliable in 2012, but Shanahan's offensive line is currently struggling so much that he should tweak his schemes to include more maximum-protection looks and even some unbalanced fronts.
Unless some solidity is restored along the line, Washington's offense will continue to flounder.
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