Struggles in the red zone defined the early part of the Washington Redskins' season. But the use of different personnel packages has yielded seven touchdowns from goal-line trips in their last three games.
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has added some wrinkles to the team's goal-line attack. They include using different ball-carriers and overloaded offensive lines.
Unbalanced Offensive Lines and Rotating Runners
In recent games the feature of Washington's goal-line offense has been unbalanced lines. Shanahan has overloaded the O-line with multiple tight end sets and extra linemen.
Against the Denver Broncos in Week 8, Shanahan deployed a three-tight end set to create a hole at the 2-yard line. Logan Paulsen lined up next to left tackle Trent Williams, while Jordan Reed and Niles Paul were stacked on the other side.
Alfred Morris would run away from the overloaded right side. Instead, he would be freed on the left, thanks to blocks from Paulsen and fullback Darrel Young on the edge.
Morris would make a sharp cut behind the blocks from Young and Paulsen and power in behind Williams.
On the backside, Paul and Reed combined to cut off the pursuit behind Morris. The use of tight ends to supplement the front five also let center Will Montgomery quickly release to the linebacker level.
That gave Morris the crease he needed to force his way into the end zone from two yards out.
One week later against the San Diego Chargers, Shanahan tweaked that set to help a different ball-carrier score from short range.
This time Shanahan substituted one of his three tight ends for an extra offensive lineman. He brought in backup tackle Tom Compton and put him on the left side next to Williams. He also stacked Paulsen and Paul over on the right.
Compton would quickly move to the linebacker level and block inside 'backer Manti Te'o. He would be the primary lead blocker for Young, despite the Chargers expecting Morris to get the ball.
To sell that deception, the offensive line would shift away from Young and toward the two-tight end side.
Paulsen and Paul would make one-on-one blocks on the right, with Morris faking a supposed stretch run behind them.
The deception worked, and the Chargers all went in the direction of Morris. The defensive end on Young's side was so concerned with pursuing down the line that he didn't even see Young sneaking behind Compton.
Young powered his way over the goal line from a yard out.
This was the first of Young's three touchdowns against the Chargers, two of which were keyed by supplementing the line with Compton.
But it is not just power-based fronts that have led to increased success at the goal line.
Spreading Out Goal-Line Defenses with One-Back Sets
Shanahan has been challenging goal-line defenses to spread out against some sets. In particular, he has relied on "12" personnel, or one running back and two tight ends.
In this example from Week 7 against the Chicago Bears, Washington aligned in a "12" personnel package from the 3-yard line.
The look featured a tight end in a flex alignment in each slot with a wide receiver on the same side. That immediately challenged the Bears to spread out in response to multiple potential receivers.
Placing quarterback Robert Griffin III in the pistol alignment further increased the idea this could be a passing play. But the Redskins would keep the ball on the ground, only this time it would be Roy Helu Jr. getting the carry.
He would run to the left, away from the supporting safety. Tight end Niles Paul and wide receiver Aldrick Robinson would seal the edge with key blocks.
Helu would press the stretch play to the edge and then cut back behind their blocks.
On the backside, Paulsen made a valuable block on defensive end Shea McClellin. This allowed both guards to move up to block the inside linebackers and destroy Chicago's pursuit toward Helu.
He would complete a three-yard touchdown run.
The beauty of this personnel package is how balanced the front is. With a tight end and wide receiver on each side, the Redskins could run the play either way.
It is a simply a matter of waiting to see if a safety comes down to cover either tight end, then running away from that safety.
Later in the same game Shanahan tweaked this formation to again get Helu free near the goal line. This time he swapped out a tight end for another wide receiver and rearranged the personnel into an "11" package, one running back and one tight end.
Prior to the snap, Joshua Morgan came down in motion to join the tight end side of the formation.
That created an overload on the left side of the O-line. Helu would run behind Morgan and Paulsen.
Once the ball was snapped, Morgan and Paulsen both collapsed the edge of the Bears defensive front, allowing Helu to cut behind them.
The result was another three-yard scoring dash for Helu and his third touchdown of the game.
Washington had again fooled the Bears with a pass-first set near the goal line.
On four different plays the Redskins used as many different personnel groupings and three different ball-carriers to succeed at the goal line.
Greater success at the goal line has defined an overall improvement from the offense.
All screen shots courtesy of CBS Sports, Fox Sports and NFL.com Game Pass.
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