The 1st Level
Brandon Mebane, Rocky Bernard, Darryl Tapp and Patrick Kerney
Casey Rabach, Pete Kendall/Jason Fabini, Chris Samuels/Stephon Heyer and Chris Cooley/Todd Yoder
Most of my scouting notes come from the Redskins contest against the Minnesota Vikings. I liked this matchup because the Vikings have two of the most dominant interior tackles in the NFL, the Williams twins, and so do the Hawks, though less heralded, Mebane and Bernard. Let's break this down:
Mebane Vs Rabach
Rabach was regularly handed his lunch by Pat Williams. So badly, in fact, that after the first quarter he was very rarely matched one on one versus the dominant nose tackle. The Hawks must expect Mebane to do likewise. Mebane has the same skill set as Williams, but plays less over center, and more between the center and left guard. Redskins' center, Casey Rabach, is quick, but not strong. He, like his two interior linemates, Kendall and Fabini, moves very well through space, but gets little push off the snap. Worse, Rabach is easily shed. The problem this presents for the Redskins is that both Kendall and Fabini are regularly directed to pull block, meaning that, ideally, Rabach must single block the opposing defensive tackle. Williams wasn't just able to control his gap(s) against Rabach, he was able to knock him out of the way and tackle or disrupt the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage. If Mebane can, and he really should, dominate Rabach like Williams did, it will look a lot like this:
...and set up a batch of other mismatches favoring Seattle.
After averaging 1.7 yards per rush in the first quarter, the Skins adjusted, employing a couple interesting strategies. The Skins were forced to have Rabach and Samuels combo block left/right, respectively, or Rabach and rookie Stephon Heyer combo block right/left, respectively. This somewhat odd strategy usually left the end unblocked or only blocked by a tight end/H-back.
Chris Cooley/Todd Yoder Vs Rocky Bernard/Brandon Mebane
With a guard pulling nearly every rush, and Rabach incapable of single blocking Pat Williams, the Skins called on Chris Cooley to shoulder a significant amount of run blocking. Primarily, they put Cooley in motion to, hopefully, seal off the open hole created by the pulling guard and/or tackle. Cooley would line up as a wide receiver, or H-Back, and usually then motion to the opposite side pre-snap. The guard from that side would then pull out to the opposite side where the ball would be rushed. Cooley isn't expected to outmuscle his opponent, just slow him down. The top/right diagram represents a prototypical rush by the Redskins: Cooley blocks the outside edge, Samuels and Rabach combo block the right defensive tackle, Kendall pulls to the right, Sellers picks up the left defensive end, and Fabini and Heyer combo block Kevin Williams. This play went for 5 yards.
Chris Cooley/Todd Yoder Vs Darryl Tapp/Patrick Kerney
When Cooley wasn't filling for a pulling guard, he or Todd Yoder were frequently matched one on one against the opposing defensive end. In those plays Samuels and Rabach would double Pat Williams, Kendall would pull, -or- Rabach and Heyer would double Kevin Williams, Fabini would pull, and, either way, Cooley or Yoder would attempt to block the edge. This was moderately successful for the Skins, perhaps because neither Kenechi Udeze nor Ray Edwards are particularly dominating defensive ends. It's much less likely to be successful against the Hawks, where both Kerney and Tapp are excellent at chasing down rushers with backside pursuit. Thus:
(Blue "T" represents tackle)
The Skins are a slightly above average team at preventing their rushers from getting stuffed (12th). That has a lot to do with numerous heavy personnel packages, that is, multiple TE/H-Backs, I and offset I formations, or a heavy trips package, often involving an additional offensive lineman working as an H-Back. It does not, unfortunately for the Skins, have much to do with their offensive line's run blocking. The Seattle Seahawks are an excellent team at stuffing the run (4th). That is a credit both to their interior linemen, linebackers and to a lesser extent defensive ends. The Skins had to adjust to an obvious mismatch, Rabach Vs Pat Williams, and the resulting adjustment frequently left the Vikings defensive ends unblocked, or only blocked by a TE/H-Back. Though Mebane is not as dominant as Williams, he should cause problems for the easily overmatched Rabach and force similar adjustments by the Skins. Should the Skins adjust as they did against the Vikings, they will suffer a harsher penalty for leaving the Hawks' ends unblocked or under-blocked. It's all contingent on Mebane winning his matchup with Rabach, but the Hawks defensive line should be able to dominate the Skins on the first level, both making tackles for a loss themselves and disrupting run plays that allow the linebackers to shoot the gap and make tackles for a loss.