To give Seahawks' fans a better idea of what to expect on Sunday, I traded some questions with SBN's Redskins' blog, HogsHaven. Their resident Xs and Os specialist, Mark Bullock, provided some really interesting insight into Washington's schemes and evolving identity this season. Big thanks to Mark for the in-depth answers!
DK: Everyone knows about Robert Griffin, Alfred Morris and the advent of the read-option looks in the Redskins offense. Would you say that the read-option is the Redskins' offensive foundation? About how often do the Redskins line up in that look?
Bullock: I wouldn't say the read-option is the Redskins's offensive foundation, more that the Pistol offense is becoming so, certainly for their first and second down offense. On third down you'll still see more of a Mike/Kyle Shanahan west coast offense passing game with high-low read concepts and plenty of crossing routes. The Redskins seem to line up in the Pistol on the majority of their first and second down snaps because they can run their two favorite plays, the zone read bluff and the traditional zone-blocking stretch game, from very similar looks. It can put a tremendous strain on a defense, forcing it to cover the entire field.
But as for how often they run the read option, it varies depending on how defenses are playing it. Against the Seahawks, I wouldn't be surprised if we only saw it a couple of times, to keep Seattle's defense honest. I think the emphasis will go on the trademarked Shanahan zone scheme as the Redskins try to catch that speedy Seahawks' defense over-pursuiting the outside and leaving big cutback lanes.
DK: Can you describe the rest of the Redskins offensive scheme? Do the 'Skins line 'Griffin under center, in pro-style' type looks much these days, and how effective are they in that area?
Bullock: I touched on it in the first question, but the Redskins appear to be running the Pistol offense created by Chris Ault at Nevada on first and second down. They still maintain the majority of the old Shanahan concepts on third downs, and LOVE to use play action.
The Redskins will pass more using play-action than pure dropback passing. Griffin's ball-handling skills have fooled many cameramen throughout the season and creates huge holes between the linebackers and safeties for their favorite backside slant/post routes (LINK).
I mentioned earlier I think the Redskins might opt against much of the option game, but they certainly have plenty of different plays up their sleeve. Back in October I broke down how the Redskins option game was evolving over the season (LINK) and they have since added more (LINK). One of the other things to watch out for are the Redskins run/pass option plays. These plays give Griffin the option to hand it off or throw it to a receiver based off the look of the defense or read of a certain player. I also broke that down back in October (LINK).
DK: The big three in Washington's offense seem to be RG3, Alfred Morris, and Pierre Garcon. Which 'under the radar' players on offense should the Seahawks be worried about?
Bullock: WR Aldrick Robinson comes to mind. He's not the best route runner and won't see the field all that often, but he's seriously fast and can lift the lid off of a defense on any given play. The Thanksgiving day game against the Cowboys was an excellent example of how the Redskins set up the play-action and he burnt the Cowboys safeties deep for a 68-yard touchdown (LINK). He only needs to beat a guy deep once to score, and if he does that, then the Redskins will use him as a decoy to create openings for other players.
I'll give you two other guys as well. Receiver Joshua Morgan has been used as a utility man, lining up out wide, in the slot and even in the backfield at times. But one of the overlooked aspects of his game is his blocking. He's one of the better blocking receivers in the game, maintaining quality blocks downfield to set up screen plays or longer Morris runs.
The other is running back Evan Royster. Alfred Morris jumped over him on the depth chart quickly and rarely subs out. But whenever Royster enters the game, it's almost always to block or catch a screen pass. So that's a little tip for you.
DK: On defense, the general impression we Seattle fans get is that the Redskins like to blitz a lot -- I'm sure there's more to it. How would you categorize your scheme and how do you think Jim Haslett will try to defend the Seahawks' offensive attack?
Bullock: Last week against the Cowboys, there wasn't really a hell of a lot more to it. They went kamikaze blitzing to get after Tony Romo, and it worked. Admittedly there was a little bit more theory behind it, as I broke down here (LINK), but it was effectively full on blitzing for most of the game. But last week is more of the exception.
To start the year, the Redskins played a lot of zone coverage, managed very little pass rush and got picked apart. During this seven-game win-streak, they've switched to more man coverage and run a few more creative blitzes with stunts and have seen much more success. I think the Redskins first focus of this game will be to shut down the running game the best they can. Marshawn Lynch is a beast and can break tackles, so they will need to show form tackling and not try to just rip the ball loose (DeAngelo Hall, I'm looking at you...).
The 3-4 defense tends to do a better job against the zone-blocking scheme than the 4-3 because there are more linebackers to plug up cutback lanes. But cutback runs have hurt the Redskins this season, so it remains to be seen how well they cope against Lynch and co.
DK: Which players on defense will be most key to shutting down the Seahawks and who is the most underrated defensive player on that unit?
Bullock: Working on the basis that the Redskins will focus on shutting down that run game, nose tackle Barry Cofield will be the key component this week. He's struggled at times adjusting from a 4-3 defensive tackle to a 3-4 nose tackle, but has shown signs of progression of late. If he can draw double teams or blow up blocks, then that will either help linebackers get a free route to the ball, or close off cutback lanes.
As for the most underrated player on the unit, it's difficult to say. They've all come under critizism at times this year, but I guess I would go for defensive end Stephen Bowen. He's the best pass-rusher out of the entire group of defensive lineman and will quite often demand more double teams than nose tackle Barry Cofield. He doesn't have the sack numbers this year (three) that he did last year (seven), but he's put more consistent pressure on the quarterback than any other defensive lineman and that helps get a one on one match up for any blitzing linebackers.