On September 16, 2018 the Indianapolis Colts will make the trip to the nations capital to square off against the Washington Redskins. In this week two match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our new look Colts.
The Redskins finished 2017 with 7 wins and 9 losses. The last time these two teams faced off our Colts blew the ‘skins out of the water winning 49 to 27, way back in 2014. In 2014 our defensive coordinator was Greg Manusky and it was Redskins coach Jay Gruden’s first season in charge. The 2018 Redskins have retained Gruden and now employ Manusky as their DC. Neither team looks much like it did in 2014, but we can all hope the outcome of this game resembles the contest four seasons ago.
Let’s figure out what we can expect in week two.
Jay Gruden uses a pass first, west coast offense. He prefers short throws relying on a quick release and yards after the catch. Gruden got his shot as an offensive coordinator with none other than the Cincinnati Bengals. While Gruden likes to throw the ball, he does not ignore the ground game, as evidenced by the Redskins second round selection of Derrius Guice. Guice is out for the year but a familiar face will step in and attempt to establish the run for Gruden’s offense.
Building his reputation with the Bengals as a coach that focused on the details, he seemingly always had his teams executing at a high level. He has often taken advantage of simple but effective passing concepts that protect the ball and many deficiencies a quarterback could have.
To get an idea of how Jay Gruden might look to attack our new base 4-3 cover 2 defense that has been installed by Matt Eberflus, I went back and looked at the Redskins two 2017 match-ups against Flus’ old team the Dallas Cowboys. These are just a few concepts we may see on Sunday.
Nothing like a zone run:
This is just a classic zone run play. The issue with the zone and the Colts 1 gap scheme comes from the fact that the gaps all shift as the offensive line all take their initial steps at the snap of the ball. If the Colts have any hope at all of slowing down their ground attack they are going to have to play very disciplined assignment football.
Don’t focus on the result of this play:
The result of this play had nothing to do with what the x’s and o’s were. Ultimately this was a broken play that the Redskins were able to turn into yards.
Instead if you notice the Redskins come out with three pass catchers bunched at the top of the formation. To counter it the Cowboys are showing a single high safety with what appears to be a pattern matching man to man coverage designed to help cover bunch formations. The ‘Skins, true to form use a short passing concept that Cousins wasn’t able to take advantage of.
One thing I noticed in these two games is how often the Cowboys were in man coverage. Don’t get me wrong they use man to man coverage every week but against the Redskins they used less zone than what I had seen them use against other teams. Ultimately it may not mean anything, we don’t know the thought process behind the decision, did the Cowboys believe they had a matchup advantage in man that the Colts may not share? Were they concerned their zone schemes would be beaten too often? Was it because they were playing against Kirk Cousins? We don’t know. For now all I can tell you is that it happened and it’s something to monitor on Sunday.
Great play call:
The Cowboys look to be in a cover 2. The Redskins have this play drawn up that will win against cover 2 far more often than not.
Because the slot receiver and tight end both run out routes at the same depth and the wide receiver releases vertically it’s next to impossible for the linebackers and defensive backs to cover everyone. In the play above the corner lined up across from Ryan Grant had to make a decision, continue with Ryan Grant and give up the underneath completion or take away the underneath and trust your safety to get over to take care of Grant.
The corner came up and relied on his safety, except there aren’t a lot of guys not named Earl Thomas that can cover that much field that fast. Grant found a hole in the zone and did what he needed to do to get the ball in the end zone.
Split zone play action:
This is one of my favorite concepts. If you use the split zone run with anything that even resembles success this play has a chance to work, really well. To start, the linebackers are unlikely to follow the tight end across the field, after all with the split zone run that tight end is just going to block someone and if you flow with him you’re taking yourself out of the play too. So more often than not the linebackers will ignore him, which leads to what you see above.
By the time the linebackers realize it’s play action the tight end is already open. On this play he only picks up a few yards. The Colts linebackers have, in a single off season, become very athletic. However, despite their athleticism they are very inexperienced and I’m afraid this is a play that will create confusion and a big play for the Redskins.
In what was a strange but exciting off season for NFL quarterbacks the Redskins let Kirk Cousins leave via free agency and traded with the Kansas City Chiefs for former first overall pick Alex Smith. Many considered Cousins a franchise level quarterback, the Redskins disagreed, opting to bring in a 34 year old passer, giving him a big money extension and shipping a very good young corner back and a third round pick.
Could they have simply resigned the much younger Cousins and hold on to their defensive back and day 2 draft pick? The Redskins didn’t seem to think so. I work and live in Kansas City and a side effect of my place of residence is I naturally end up seeing more Chiefs football than most Colts fans probably have to endure, Alex Smith isn’t an upgrade from Kirk Cousins. I don’t think he’s a downgrade either, the Redskins gave up really valuable assets to make a lateral move for a much older player. All told the Redskins saved something like $20 million (give or take, I’m not doing a deep dive on the ‘skins cap situation) over the course of the next four years. Alex Smith will be under contract in DC until his 39th birthday and they decided to give him $71 million in guarantees. Ouch.
What is Alex Smith good at? Smith is really good checking the ball down. He’s excellent finding an open receiver who finds a zone and sits down. Smith completes a high percentage of his throws which may or may not be cheapened by the fact that Andy Reid and the Chiefs throw A LOT of screen passes.
Week 1 Smith showed us he is who we thought he was:
With only one attempt more than 15 yards down field Alex Smith played exactly as expected in week one.
Smith is also really good at throwing blocks, apparently:
Alex Smith dropped the elbow on him pic.twitter.com/vQdWMii644— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) August 20, 2018
What is Alex Smith bad at? Pushing the ball down field. It’s not that the guy can’t do it. When Smith let one rip in Kansas City he showed adequate arm strength. He doesn’t really have a weak arm, he has a timid arm. I don’t understand it, I’ve never seen anything like it but when Alex Smith has an open receiver more than 20 yards down field he usually won’t throw the ball. Chiefs fans all across Kansas City could be heard yelling obscenities at their TV’s on 3rd and long Smith would pass up a streaking Tyreek Hill in favor of an underneath crossing route that usually helped bring it to 4th and short.
Just the preseason, but short throws should be expected:
Can't break it all down to just one play, but looking at an example of Josh Doctson's rapport with Kirk Cousins... do you put this on the QB, or the WR? And does Alex Smith make it better? #Redskins #FantasyFootball pic.twitter.com/6VZ9gD9JRa— Andy Singleton (@PeoplezPen) August 26, 2018
This pass went 20 yards but it sure seemed like Smith put a lot into it:
In this game it will be imperative our young, fast, athletic linebackers don’t allow yards after the catch and we pin the Redskins in 3rd and long situations as often as possible. While this is generally a recipe for success against most NFL squads, the Colts have a built in advantage in the matter, knowing Alex Smith is under center.
The Redskins took a chance on Derrius Guice in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Guice was considered by most to be a first round talent at running back but a bizarre list of events leading up to the draft scared many teams from drafting the talented back. The Redskins were not one of those teams. Coming into the preseason all indications were Guice was as good as advertised and Jay Gruden was going to run his offense through the young back. That is, until he suffered a torn ACL in a meaningless preseason game.
The other backs on the roster at the time; Chris Thompson, Rob Kelly, Samaje Perine and Byron Marshall were all deemed inadequate, so the Redskins did the only reasonable thing they could do: Sign Adrian Peterson!
Peterson isn’t the same back he used to be. In fact at 33 he doesn’t have the same burst or long speed we’re used to seeing from the future first ballot hall of famer. With that said Peterson still looks like he can carry the load and is still running with the same aggression he’s always run with.
I won’t ever predict that a 33 year old running back will have a big day against our defense, but I do expect the Redskins to use him effectively and I do expect the Colts to give up more than 100 yards on the ground.
We will see Chris Thompson in on passing downs as Thompson is better in the pass game than Peterson but I do expect Peterson to get a lot of carries as the game wears on. Both backs were used heavily in week one against the Arizona Cardinals and I expect the same on Sunday.
The Redskins are returning Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder and tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis. Together the four men reeled in 171 catches for 2,150 yards and 14 TD’s. Crowder lead the team with 66 receptions for 789 yards, he also brought in 3 touchdown catches, despite leading the team Crowder doesn’t seem like a traditional (or even a TY Hilton type) WR1. Coming into his fourth year in the league his career year came in 2016 when he caught 67 balls for 847 yards and 7 touchdowns.
This is the kind of play where Crowder can be dangerous:
The Redskins goal each week should be to try different ways to get Jamison Crowder open in space.
I wouldn’t say that a lack of a clear cut WR1 is a problem for the ‘skins, they have done a really good job spreading the ball around with five players bringing in more than 500 yards receiving in 2017.
Washington also added to their receiving corps and added former Seattle Seahawks starter Paul Richardson. Richardson, coming off of a career year, cashed in with a five year $40 million deal. Surely he must have had an amazing year to earn such a contract? How about 44 catches for 703 yards and 6 touchdowns.
If I could offer anyone with children just a little piece of advice: don’t let your sons grow up to be running backs.
I don’t expect any one receiver to make huge plays over the top of the Colts defense, instead I expect to see them find holes in zone coverage and try to move the ball methodically down the field. In years past both Vernon Davis and Jordan Reed would have been huge matchup problems for what was a slow linebacking corps in Indianapolis, while Davis is a very good player, Jordan Reed is a special player that will present problems for every team they face this year.
From left to right; Trent Williams, Shawn Lauvao, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses make up the starting five we can expect to see. When healthy Williams is a premier left tackle in the NFL. Lauvao has held on to his starting job despite the fact that he’s not great. Roullier was a pleasant surprise for the Redskins as a 6th round pick in 2017, starting seven games and playing very well considering his draft position and also having played college ball at Wyoming. Brandon Scherff is a very good right guard and as a former top 10 pick, he should be. Morgan Moses is a perfect example of where the NFL is currently with tackle play. Moses isn’t bad but he isn’t very good either. Despite this the Redskins rewarded the average tackle with a five year $38.5 million deal.
This group of blockers is good enough to give us fits in the run game. They use a lot of zone blocking concepts but will mix gap schemes and as long as Adrian Peterson is up to the task, I believe he’s going to find room to run early and often. My matchup to watch in this one will be Morgan Moses vs. Anyone and everyone who lines up opposite of him on passing downs. Hopefully a young Colt pass rusher can make a play.
What To Watch For With The Colts Defense This Week:
The cover 2 defense has naturally built in weak spots:
In the Tampa 2 look the middle linebacker has a vertical zone to try to take away the deep middle. With that said it leaves an opening underneath. These are usually the weak spots of the cover 2 defense. You might hear someone talk about flooding a zone, what that means is an offense will send multiple receivers to a zone covered by one defender. So if a cornerback has a receiver run a hitch and a slot receiver runs a post corner route while a tight end runs a vertical route to pull the safety deep, all of a sudden that corner’s zone has been flooded and he has to make a decision.
This is something to watch for this week, not because I think it’s going to be a huge weakness for the Colts, but rather, can Alex Smith throw the passes needed to fit balls into the weak spots of the Colts zone coverage? It will be interesting to watch and something I will be watching closely.