Use Bunch Sets to Beat Man Coverage
The Chiefs' heavy reliance on man coverage has been terrorized by bunch formations in recent weeks. Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan must follow the same template to manufacture big plays through the air.
The Chiefs have struggled to react to bunch looks and stay with receivers running multiple crossing patterns. The San Diego Chargers used this dynamic as the foundation for their 41-point assault in Week 12.
In their rematch with the Denver Broncos last week, the Chiefs were exposed by a three-route concept in the red zone.
Deep safety Kendrick Lewis would be challenged by multiple routes. Decker would run a post route, while Tamme would also run a vertical pattern to the end zone.
Depending on which route Lewis went for, quarterback Peyton Manning would aim his pass to the free man.
As Welker drew attention underneath, Lewis went for Tamme's route.
Manning saw the safety move and didn't waste a second firing a strike to Decker, who had worked inside the cornerback.
Kansas City's fondness for Cover 1 concepts is being exploited each week. Their cornerbacks are suddenly struggling to win in press coverage and their safeties are being overwhelmed by tough decisions.
The Redskins can do the same to the Chiefs secondary. Shanahan can design some intriguing bunch looks as he did on this play against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 10.
He put wideout Leonard Hankerson at the top of the bunch and split running back Roy Helu Jr. and tight end Jordan Reed out to flank him.
Hankerson attacked vertically to the inside, while Helu ran a swing route underneath to the flat. Reed darted between these routes on a crossing pattern over the middle.
The beauty of the play design was how it gave quarterback Robert Griffin III two viable targets. He could aim for either Hankerson behind the linebackers, or Reed running across the front of them.
Griffin opted for Reed, who made a nice catch for a 17-yard gain.
This was the kind of creative use of personnel the Redskins don't do enough of. By moving playmakers around and running multiple patterns from bunch looks, they can get behind the Chiefs secondary for big gains.
Of course, for any passing game to work, the Redskins will have to counter the Kansas City blitz schemes. The Chiefs have been more aggressive with their pressure concepts this season under first-year defensive play-caller Bob Sutton.
The key to beating these schemes will be identifying and picking up potential blitzers. In particular, Sutton loves to send dynamic safety Eric Berry out of various fronts.
He did it early on against Manning and the Broncos in Week 13. Berry was operating at linebacker in Sutton's dime front.
He blitzed the middle through a gap created by a wide-angled rush from outside linebacker Tamba Hali (91) and slants from interior linemen Allen Bailey and Dontari Poe.
While Berry blitzed, rush end Frank Zombo dropped out into coverage on the other side. This pressure scheme let Berry break clean through the line to put an early hit on Manning.
The Washington offense has to be aware that the Chiefs will send blitzers from any angle. In particular, running backs Alfred Morris and Helu must identify late rushers and make blocks to keep Griffin clean in the pocket.
Set the Edges and Fill Cutback Lanes vs. Jamaal Charles
Stopping all-purpose running back Jamaal Charles will be the main focus for the Washington defense. The unit must set the edges and fill cutback lanes to keep Charles contained.
Charles loves to make cuts off tackle to escape for big gains. Challenging that approach requires winning on the edge and turning Charles inside.
The Oakland Raiders offered a good demonstration of how to do it during their Week 6 loss in Kansas City. In this example, Charles ran to the left side behind tackle Branden Albert.
The Raiders used a 1-gap 3-4 front to stymie the play. Stand-up end Lamarr Houston set the edge to turn Charles inside to tackle Vance Walker, who was shifted into the B-gap.
Houston took on Albert and stood him up, preventing Charles from escaping around the corner. His cutback lane was filled by Walker, who beat guard Jeff Allen inside.
Houston and Walker converged quickly on Charles as pursuing linebackers, free from blockers, also swarmed in. This kept Charles, one of the most prolific big-play runners in the NFL, to a minimal gain.
The following week the Houston Texans used the same formula to slow Charles down. This time Charles aimed to cut off the right side.
The Texans shifted end Antonio Smith into the guard-tackle gap on that side. They also moved rush linebacker Brooks Reed (58) inside to help clog the cutback lane.
Smith and outside 'backer Whitney Mercilus stood up blockers on the right to set the edge. As they did, J.J. Watt (99) sealed the corner on the other side.
This kept Charles inside where Reed took on a key block to free inside linebacker Brian Cushing (56) to make the tackle for no gain.
Charles had over 20 carries against both the Raiders and Texans but failed to reach 90 yards in either game. The Raiders kept him to 3.5 yards per rush, his lowest average of the season.
Both of these plays showed how 3-4 looks combined with the right techniques can contain Charles. The Redskins' 3-4 scheme must stop him from producing the big runs that often prove decisive for this offense.
That means outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan must set the edges. D-linemen like Barry Cofield and Jarvis Jenkins then need to clog the inside lanes.
Blitz Charles to Force Him Into Pass Protection
As much as they must be wary of him as a runner, the Redskins can't ignore Charles' skills as a receiver. He is after all the Chiefs' leading pass-catcher with 55 receptions.
Typical of any team coached by Andy Reid, the Chiefs have an excellent screen game and vast ways to get the ball in Charles' hands. Charles has been lethal on screen plays this season.
A good way to remove some of the threat is to challenge Charles with blitzes and force him into pass protection. The Broncos did this well in Week 11.
On this play, Denver sent two linebackers to Charles' side, with Danny Trevathan aiming directly for the running back.
That immediately forced Charles to block and prevented him from releasing for an underneath pass.
With Charles taken away, quarterback Alex Smith was soon swarmed on by the pressure and sacked.
Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has to risk an aggressive counter to the multiple ways the Chiefs use Charles in the passing game.
Take Away Alex Smith's Inside Receivers, Particularly Dwayne Bowe
Nobody can deny Charles is the driving force of the Kansas City offense. But it would be a mistake for Washington to underestimate Smith and simply write him off as a so-called "game manager."
The Redskins must instead work hard to take away Smith's inside receivers, particularly physical flanker Dwayne Bowe. Another play from the Week 11 clash with the Broncos shows this plan in action.
The Broncos took away Bowe, aligned tight on the line, as well as Dexter McCluster in the slot on the other side.
They bracketed both receivers, giving Smith no room to aim for.
The key was jamming Bowe, who is often Smith's primary read, at the line. This slowed down his release while the deep coverage rotated to box him in.
With Bowe taken away, Smith's next look was to McCluster in the seam on the other side. But this route was also doubled.
With both inside routes gone, Smith was forced to try a long heave to the outside toward Donnie Avery. The desperate pass fell incomplete.
Vertical, outside passing is not the strength of the Chiefs offense. The Redskins should be happy any time Smith has to try it.
Washington cannot disregard Smith's ability as a passer. He has thrown for 587 yards and five touchdowns in his last two games, with an average of at least seven yards a completion.
The Redskins have to be smart about where they make him go with the ball and not hesitate to clamp on routes to the inside.
This is an aggressive game plan, but at 3-9 the Redskins have no reason not to take risks. Head coach Mike Shanahan could well be coaching for his job and that should be reflected in a bold approach this Sunday.
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