San Diego Chargers vs. Washington Redskins: Breaking Down Washington's Game Plan
The Washington Redskins must commit to stopping specific playmakers on both sides of the ball to beat the suddenly resurgent San Diego Chargers.
On offense, that means staying out of long-yardage situations that will allow two dangerous interior D-linemen to focus on rushing quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Defensively, taking a possible Hall of Fame tight end away should be the priority, as well as attacking one side of San Diego's blocking schemes.
Offense: Run Inside to Set Up Play Action
Head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan should tweak their famed zone-stretch schemes to include more inside runs.
The Chargers struggled defending inside runs against the Houston Texans back in Week 1. A great example came in the first quarter, with the Texans inside the red zone.
They would create a cutback lane in the middle by initially fooling the Chargers into thinking they were running the stretch play to the left.
The line shifted to that side, but the Texans trapped the backside defenders with single blocking. Usually, the backside defensive end is either cut or left unblocked on the stretch play.
But the Texans split the defensive front and created a huge lane in the middle.
Arian Foster cut back into that hole for an easy nine-yard gain.
The Texans run the same zone-based system the Shanahans favor and produced 120 yards between Foster and Ben Tate.
Washington can rely on its own rotation at running back to keep things fresh and attack the inside of San Diego's 1-gap 3-4 front.
Alfred Morris is showing signs of getting back to his 2012 rookie form. His brute force inside can be complemented by quick hits from the speedy Roy Helu Jr.
Their dual-threat can set up play-action passing opportunities. The Texans showed how easily that formula can work on another play from their Week 1 clash in San Diego.
This time they would fake a stretch play to help release tight end Owen Daniels behind the linebacker level of the Chargers defense.
After initially lining up in a bunch to help draw attention away from Daniels, fullback Greg Jones (33) went into motion.
He led the way on an apparent stretch run, and the fake immediately drew three linebackers to that side. That allowed Daniels to escape through the traffic and across the formation.
Foster sold the fake, and most of San Diego's front seven went with him.
Daniels was left wide open on the other side for an easy 18-yard completion.
This was classic play-action bootleg passing straight from the Shanahan playbook. Houston head coach Gary Kubiak is a Shanahan disciple, and Kyle Shanahan has worked as his offensive coordinator.
Using the same formula the Shanahans took to Washington, the Texans amassed 458 yards. Washington's offense can do the same provided it leans on that formula.
That means a heavy dose of the running game. Given how often Washington runs the stretch play, it can easily use the same kind of deception the Texans deployed for several big plays in Week 1.
When the Redskins do have to pass, it would be wise for the Shanahan offense to account for defensive linemen Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes.
The hulking young pair have combined for five sacks and create plenty of push on the middle of the pocket. Pressure through the middle has been the bane of Griffin's life this season, and his O-line will need help inside this Sunday.
That should mean keeping two blockers in the backfield. The Shanahans have often deployed full house backfields this season, usually featuring one or even two tight ends.
These additional blockers should be used to chip on Liuget and Reyes inside. The Chargers are not blessed with dominant talent on the edges, so the focus has to be on the interior.
When the play-action pass is working, Griffin only needs a few patterns to aim for. So the offense should be able to dedicate backfield blockers to both Liuget and Reyes.
Leaning on a trusted formula offensively should be matched by a selective defensive approach to slow down the Chargers.
Defense: Take Away Antonio Gates and Target King Dunlap
Coordinator Jim Haslett's defense can, for the most part, rely on the same press coverage scheme that frustrated the Denver Broncos in Week 8.
His solution was to put his best cornerback, Aqib Talib, on Graham all day. The unorthodox tactic worked brilliantly as Graham was held without a catch.
Here are a couple of examples of how Talib succeeded. The first comes from the opening quarter.
Talib shadowed Graham as the Saints split him out as a wide receiver.
At the snap, he immediately got his hands on Graham in press coverage.
That allowed Talib to redirect the big tight end. It put the aggressive cornerback in a great position to swat down a short slant pass.
If that looks familiar, it should. It is the same press-style coverage Haslett's secondary employed against Peyton Manning and his receivers.
Later in the second quarter, the Saints moved Graham once more and tried to free him from the slot. Talib again took coverage responsibility for the prolific hybrid playmaker.
As soon as the ball was snapped, Talib jabbed both hands into Graham. Instead of releasing him to the linebacker behind, Talib stayed plastered on Graham in pure press man coverage.
When the pass did reach Graham, supporting defenders, such as the deep safety, quickly closed in and surrounded him. The result was another incomplete pass.
Because they used their best cover man against him, the Patriots were able to risk aggressive, man coverage against Graham.
Haslett can do the same if he deploys DeAngelo Hall, who is having a fine season, on Gates. That may seem like a risk given the strides by San Diego's young wideouts, Vincent Brown and rookie Keenan Allen.
But there are two important things to remember about Gates. The first is that while he is no longer as explosive as Graham, that shouldn't fool Haslett into thinking the dangerous veteran doesn't still pose a major threat.
The Chargers still do a lot of the same things with Gates that the Saints do with Graham, such as moving him around formations. He remains a big part of what they do on offense, evidenced by his 42 receptions already, just seven shy of his entire total for 2012.
Secondly, quarterback Philip Rivers still looks to Gates when he gets into trouble. Rivers may be playing better than ever thanks to more weapons like running back Danny Woodhead.
But when he really needs a play, Rivers still goes to Gates. Taking away that safety valve will lead to mistakes.
Haslett can also ensure mistakes from Rivers by targeting hapless left tackle King Dunlap in pass protection. While rookie D.J. Fluker is thriving on the right, Dunlap has floundered shielding Rivers' blindside.
Haslett can design overload pressures to attack Dunlap, who should already have his hands full with outside linebacker Brian Orakpo.
Keeping Rivers under pressure and taking away his favorite target is the best way for Washington to slow down San Diego's fourth-ranked offense.
The Shanahans must commit to an offensive strategy that keeps Rivers on the sideline. When the Chargers do take the field, Haslett has to use his best resources to blank Rivers' go-to weapon.
All screen shots courtesy of ESPN, Fox Sports and NFL.com Gamepass.
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