7 Keys to Victory in Washington Redskins' Week 4 Matchup
Pressuring Alex Smith, spying Travis Kelce, gang tackling Kareem Hunt and targeting Terrance Mitchell are among the keys to the Washington Redskins scoring an upset win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football in Week 4.
The Chiefs are 3-0 behind an intelligently crafted, balanced offense and a bend-don't-break defense. It's a combination made all the more potent by the fine coaching of Andy Reid and his staff.
Yet the Redskins needn't mail it in at Arrowhead Stadium, not after the way they beat up the Chiefs' AFC West rival the Oakland Raiders in Week 3. The Burgundy and Gold can exploit the Chiefs in a variety of ways on both sides of the ball.
Washington's defense is armed with the edge-rushers to make life difficult for Smith, a quarterback no stranger to taking hits so far this season. Offensively, the Redskins boast the receiving talent to take advantage of the Chiefs' preference for playing man- and off-coverage.
Find out which seven keys can help Washington put a first L on the Chiefs and improve to 3-1.
Isolate Linebackers in Coverage
The Chiefs love to play off-man coverage on the outside and use pattern reading underneath. Shallow crossing routes can help the Redskins wreck this scheme by isolating linebackers in coverage.
Simply put, pattern reading is a form of zone coverage with a man-coverage principle mixed in. It involves defenders dropping to a spot to patrol a zone, but trailing any receiver who enters their zone in man coverage.
It's how the Chiefs most often have their linebackers cover over the middle and underneath, while cornerbacks plays off on the outside.
The use of off coverage, where the corner gives the receiver a cushion in order to avoid surrendering the big play, is open to being exploited by shallow crossing routes in front of pattern-reading linebackers. A great example occurred on the first play of Kansas City's 24-10 road win over the Los Angeles Chargers last week.
The Chargers had Tyrell Williams in the slot on the left side of the formation, with Mitchell playing off the receiver. Rather than go deep, Williams drifted underneath, just ahead of the line of scrimmage and across the formation.
He ran across the underneath zones until he was picked up by outside linebacker Dee Ford. Williams turned his route upfield and had too much speed for Ford, who was easily beaten up the sideline.
Only an errant throw from Philip Rivers prevented the Chargers from a huge gain right off the bat. L.A. had wasted the obvious mismatch their crossing route had created, but the play still showed how the Chiefs' linebackers can be isolated in space.
It's something the New England Patriots also managed to achieve in Week 1. Specifically, the Pats ran Brandin Cooks underneath and across the face of inside linebacker Derrick Johnson off play-action for 15 yards in the first quarter.
New England also routinely came out in empty formations with running backs split out to force the Chiefs into using linebackers in man coverage.
The Redskins have the players to repeat the same formula. Lining up in 3x1 formations with Chris Thompson at running back and Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson on the outside will isolate the Chiefs linebackers.
Pryor and Doctson's potential to get vertical will keep Mitchell and fellow cornerback Marcus Peters in off coverage. It means there'll be room to run slot receivers Jamison Crowder or Ryan Grant underneath and in front of the linebacker level.
Meanwhile, splitting Thompson and his considerable receiving threat out will pull linebackers such as Ford and Johnson into man coverage, an obvious matchup advantage for the Redskins.
As NFL Matchup on ESPN noted, the Redskins are making great use of 3x1 looks this season. Head coach Jay Gruden must use the look to isolate Kansas City's linebackers this week.
Go After Terrance Mitchell
He may have snatched a pair of interceptions in Week 3, but Terrance Mitchell is still the cornerback Kirk Cousins should go after. Washington's quarterback doesn't want to test the opportunistic streak of Peters too often.
Mitchell is also something of a ball hawk, as he proved in L.A., but he doesn't have as keen instincts, nor the athletic gifts Peters possesses. It means Mitchell can be beaten deep, something the Chargers exploited last week and a weakness the Redskins have the weapons to take advantage of.
Rivers and Travis Benjamin burned Mitchell for a 44-yard gain in the first quarter to set up the Chargers' only touchdown. It wasn't the only time the Chargers could have torched the Chiefs deep.
Mitchell has been used to getting targeted this season. Before Week 3, Pro Football Focus (h/t Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star) detailed how "Mitchell has been targeted a team-high 19 times this season and yielded just nine completions."
Washington can show Mitchell different matchups by putting Pryor, Doctson and Crowder over the fourth-year pro.
Use Double Moves and Comeback Routes Against Off Coverage
It's common for Mitchell, Peters and third corner Phillip Gaines to give receivers a healthy cushion. Their penchant for playing way off can be punished by double moves and comeback routes.
The Redskins' receivers must sell vertical routes out of their breaks to run KC's corners even further off, before coming back to the ball for solid gains underneath. Benjamin gave a great example last week when he reeled in an 18-yard gain during the second quarter.
The wideout saw Mitchell playing off and ran upfield out of his break, selling a post, before stopping on a dime and rotating back to the ball. Williams also burned Peters for 14 yards when presented with a similar cushion on the outside in the opening quarter.
Kansas City defensive coordinator Bob Sutton will have seen what Josh Doctson did when he burned the Raiders for a 52-yard score last week. Sutton will also know how dangerous 6'4", 223-pound Pryor can be going deep.
It means the Chiefs will surely stick with their familiar diet of off coverage, affording Washington the chance to exploit comeback routes and double moves all game.
Use Stunts to Collapse the Interior of the Pocket and Swarm on Alex Smith
Smith is expertly leading one of the most imaginative offenses in football. He's also taking his share of hits.
Through three weeks, Smith has been hit the seventh-most times of any quarterback, per NFL Matchup on ESPN. The Redskins can take encouragement from this number since they boast an array of talented pass-rushers, particularly on the edges.
Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky can unleash Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Junior Galette and Ryan Anderson on the outside. The quartet has combined for six sacks already this season.
Yet rather than attack the edges in Kansas City, Manusky must use Kerrigan and Co. to target the soft interior of the Chiefs' offensive line. Stunts, games and twists inside will quickly collapse the pocket and subject Smith to more punishment.
It worked like a charm for the Chargers, who sacked Smith five times in Week 3, many times after having an edge-rusher stunt through an inside gap. Melvin Ingram logged three of those sacks, including one to close out the third quarter.
Ingram aligned as a standup rusher on the inside but twisted around Joey Bosa at the snap. The latter slanted inside off the edge, collapsing the interior and chasing Smith into Ingram's waiting arms.
A similar tactic paid dividends in the second quarter when edge-rusher Chris McCain crashed inside while Ingram came off the edge. McCain got the sack as the pocket quickly crumbled around Smith.
Manusky can create the same problems for the Chiefs' blocking schemes simply by pairing Kerrigan and Smith or Galette and Anderson on the same side and running games between the two.
Beware of Variations on a Theme and Trick Plays
Jet sweeps, screens, shovel passes and wildcat formations. No team employs trickery as often and effectively as the Chiefs.
The secret behind KC's ability to fool defenses is variations on a theme. Trick plays are packaged in different ways but share similarities. Or else the same packaging disguises the same play freeing a different playmaker.
Kansas City's opening score against the Chargers is a great example of the Chiefs' sleight of hand. It came on a six-yard shovel pass.
The play began with Smith aligned in a pistol or short shotgun look, flanked by Hunt and dyamic and versatile burner Tyreek Hill. Before the snap, underrated wideout Albert Wilson went in short motion.
Smith quickly snapped the ball and faked a sweep to Hill with Hunt leading the way. As the defense flowed toward Hill, Smith turned and flipped the ball to Wilson, who scooted through the middle for a six-yard score.
This was nifty cloak-and-dagger stuff, but the Chargers may have expected it had they paid closer attention to Kansas City's Week 2 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Chiefs beat Philly 27-20, with seven of those points coming on a, you guessed it, shovel pass. This one went to tight end Travis Kelce in the fourth quarter.
It began with Smith in the shotgun and runner-receiver De'Anthony Thomas next to him. Kelce was in tight to the line, but flexed just off it, almost in a classic H-Back position.
Hill came across in motion pre-snap going one way, before Smith faked a handoff to Thomas who swept in the other direction. Smith kept the ball and flicked it to Kelce, who powered through the interior 15 yards for an easy touchdown while the Eagles were still trying to find Waldo.
While the window dressing was slightly different, both plays relied on the same concepts, namely misdirection, pre-snap movement and disguise.
Combatting those things doesn't require being psychic. Instead, it demands good recognition skills pre-snap and defenders knowing their keys to gadget plays, read-option and wildcat designs.
Fortunately, the Redskins displayed all of those things against the Raiders in Week 3. The Silver and Black love to involve explosive return man Cordarrelle Patterson on trick plays but found no joy at FedExField.
Patterson managed just one catch for seven yards and two rushing attempts for a paltry five yards.
Players such as Kerrigan and inside linebacker Zach Brown, who are both excellent at diagnosing formations and intent, will be the key to snuffing out KC's bag of tricks.
Gang Tackle Kareem Hunt
The numbers posted by Chiefs' rookie running back Hunt make for scary reading. There's the 500-plus scrimmage yards the fourth-round find has produced through three weeks, per NFL Research.
Then there's the fact no back in the NFL has proved more elusive than the former Toledo workhorse so far this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Yet it's not all doom and gloom for the Redskins as they prepare to face the league's most dominant back.
Take a look at the tweet from PFF again. Notice who is third in the elusive rating, one Marshawn Lynch of the Raiders, the same Lynch who was held to 18 yards on six carries by the Redskins in Week 3.
Washington's success shutting down "Beast Mode" came from a commitment to gang tackling. The same approach will be critical to keeping Hunt in check.
Getting to Hunt in a hurry and in numbers is essential to stopping a back who is piling up 4.21 yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. Putting crowds around Hunt will also challenge the rookie's ball security.
Protecting the football has been the only noticeable weakness in Hunt's game so far. He fumbled his first pro carry against the Patriots and put the ball on the dirt against the Chargers, but the Chiefs managed to recover.
The Redskins have already shown a penchant for taking the ball away this season. Josh Norman forced a fumble from Todd Gurley during Week 2's win over the Los Angeles Rams, while Kendall Fuller forced a fumble against the Silver and Black.
Kerrigan has also knocked the ball loose for a D with four forced fumbles to its credit after three weeks.
Swarming on Hunt in numbers can hold the rookie up while those late to the party work to strip the ball.
Hunt will get his big plays in Week 4, he's too good not to. However, the Redskins can do their bit to force some negative plays from the rookie and knock his confidence.
Spy Travis Kelce
The Chiefs offense is devastating opponents this season because there are more weapons around Smith. Hill's emergence in 2016, along with the rapid rise of Hunt this year, have given defenses more problems to solve.
Even so, the strength of the KC offense is still the connection between Smith and Kelce. The Chiefs' tight end is a true game-breaker who combines flexible move skills with deceptive vertical speed, excellent hands and formidable power after the catch.
Knowing where Kelce is at all times will be vital for the Redskins this week. Better yet, Manusky should have the tight end spied wherever he goes. D.J. Swearinger has the size, physicality and quickness to shadow Kelce.
The safety has already become an influential figure on defense after joining the Redskins this offseason, per Jake Kring-Schreifels of the team's official website: "Swearinger’s organization of meetings and vocal huddles have made this group play inspired football. Whatever inspiration is guiding him deserves some kind of validation."
Sweainger is playing fine football, but the 26 -year-old will need help against Kelce. Brown can help by blanketing No. 87 underneath.
On the face of it, matching a middle linebacker against a pass-catcher as dynamic as Kelce may appear a mismatch in the making. Yet Brown is a veteran with outstanding range, one who can lock up receivers in short-area coverage, while Swearinger acts as Kelce's regular minder over the top.
Don't underestimate the value of keeping Kelce quiet the way the Chargers did in Week 3, holding the tight end to just one catch for a single yard. The Chiefs won in L.A., but the game was closer than the 24-10 scoreline suggested.
KC stumbled through most of four quarters because they were unable to make the most of intercepting Rivers three times. They didn't maximize the turnovers because Kelce was shut down.
Keeping Kelce quiet, swarming on Smith and Hunt and attacking man coverage can inspire the Redskins to a second huge upset in a row against a much-fancied AFC West opponent.