How Will Teams Attack Redskins' D
I had a long conversation with a member of the organization last night, and talk eventually turned to the defense. The early signals thus far are distressing - shaky run defense coupled with a lack of a serious pass-rushing thrust - and given those issues it will be interesting to see how teams attack the Redskins in the coming weeks.
The obvious assumption is the Saints, being a pass-first team with various weapons, will try to spread the Skins defense with four-and-five-receiver sets and go after the depth in the secondary. But if they don't have to, will they? Some are wondering why, if teams are able to play the Redskins "straight up" as the Giants did with two-receiver sets and a fullback, they'd take risks and use spread formations frequently.
The next few weeks could go a long way to determining how the rest of the NFL perceives the Skins, and as we all know perception can very much influence reality in how clubs prepare and game plan. New Orleans and Arizona are not real power teams. They lack hard-charging runners and do not have overly physical offenses. If they can pound the ball on the ground, then this could be some season.
As the person I was speaking to pointed out, look at the NFC. It's a passing conference, strange as it is to think of it, even more than the AFC (where Jacksonville, San Diego, Tennessee and Pittsburgh, as well as clubs like Buffalo, Baltimore, Denver, are essentially trying to punch you in the face with the running game every week).
Very few top teams in the NFC have a smashmouth approach. So if those pass-oriented teams can run on you, and you still can't really get after the passer (we'll see if/when Jason Taylor's knee responds and how he comes along), then you're back to relying intensely on your back end to hold everything up, and you get what we've essentially seen for the last few years, with corners in man coverage trying to keep pace with big, strong fast receivers in difficult match-ups.
The Giants are one of those bullying, smashmouth clubs. They can beat up defenses more than most, so you can't extrapolate what they did to the Skins last week across the board. And the team that gutted the Skins on the ground in the preseason - Carolina - uses that same approach. So this may not be apples to apples. The next two weeks will tell us a lot. Dallas will go with heavy personnel and run right down your throat when it wants to with Marion Barber, but Jason Garrett wants to spread the field and stretch an opponent out as well. They have a great hybrid mix. The only other teams in the NFC that will really try to run it down your throats are Atlanta, Chicago and Minnesota, and both have such unsettled/unproven QB situations that those teams can be so one-dimensional that they won't strike fear into opposing defenses weekly.
Thus it's imperative to stop the run against teams that use the pass to set up the run in many games (think Philly), and that's what most of Washington's schedule is littered with. If they can establish a solid ground attack, and are able to sprinkle in multi-receiver sets when it's most conducive to success, rather than as a base formation, then the odds are the offense wins.
As I wrote on Thursday night, Skins defensive coordinator Greg Blache's preference to rely on his talent to win individual battles and get to the quarterback, as opposed to utilizing exotic blitz packages to compensate for what the defense lacks, might be something that ends up changing over time. Jason Taylor was the only real "upgrade" to the D Line on paper, and his ability to play the run will be tested within the division at the very least. The front seven must make some major strides starting this weekend (the linebackers must be much more stout, take better angles and not over-pursue), and you know Blache is harping on that all week.
The loss of Marques Colston certainly takes away a favorable matchup for the Saints, and I believe it will make TE Jeremy Shockey even more of a fulcrum on which this game could swing. Given their struggles in the run game, the Skins might end up with FS LaRon Landry doing more work inside the box, where he is essentially an extra linebacker and can be a major force. But given the lack of explosion in Rocky McIntosh's game right now, and the fact that the other outside LB, Marcus Washington, wasn't even on the field on third down a lot of the time against the Giants, you have to wonder who besides Landry can really cover Shockey right now. And if they do split Shockey out wide quite a bit, then any interest in keeping Landry inside the box might go out the window.
There are going to be a lot of tricky decisions to be made within the chess match Sunday, bottom line, and that's part of what makes this sport so great.
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