The Redskins arrived at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis fresh off a convincing win in a dome down the Mississippi River in New Orleans.
Robert Griffin III kicked off his career with an exclamation point, running an offense that blended elements of Mike and Kyle Shanahan’s West Coast offense with concepts of the spread offense Griffin ran at Baylor.
While package plays are nothing new in a West Coast scheme – one of the trustiest plays in the Packers’ playbook is a combines a quick hit to the tight end packaged with a screen pass – the Redskins had fully embraced the concept.
Running an offense in which he was already comfortable and that meshes very well with the traditional Shanahan offense allowed Griffin to explode against New Orleans. He passed for 320 yards with 12.3 YPA and a 139.9 passer rating, while rushing for 42 yards with 4.7 YPA.
The Rams, however, were fresh off a near-upset over the Lions, led by Jim Schwartz, a former protégé of St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher. Fisher’s team, like many of his teams in Tennessee, displayed highly spirited play and featured an extremely-well coached game plan.
The Rams’ coverage concepts and ability to recognize the Lions’ offensive tendencies caused Matt Stafford to throw 3 INTs.
Against the Redskins, the Rams showed the same resiliency that has been absent from the team since Kurt Warner was under center for the Greatest Show on Turf. While many recent Rams teams would have gladly rolled over with a 21-6 deficit, these Rams kept their noses to the grindstone until they emerged with a 31-28 victory.
Fisher was under fire for what was originally reported as benching Steven Jackson for spiking the ball to cause an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. However, Fisher stated after the game it was due to a hamstring injury. No matter what the reason, it speaks elements of Fisher’s success as a coach.
If Jackson was injured, it reflects Fisher’s policy of proceeding with extra caution with soft-tissue injuries. Jackson has a history of lingering injuries to his hamstrings and quads compounded by his hard-charging style. Fisher was employing a long-term outlook towards his health if this was the case.
If Fisher benched Jackson for his outburst, it also speaks about the culture change that Fisher has instituted. A well-coached team that responds well in the face of adversity does not exhibit examples of defeatism. This reacting negatively to poor officiating (of which there were many instances) and other circumstances beyond its control.
The ball-spiking could be seen as a sign of the former defeatist attitude of the ugly years under Steve Spagnuolo and Scott Linehan.
Despite the criticisms that Fisher received after backup Daryl Richardson fumbled to give the Redskins a chance late in the game, it could be argued that they would not have been leading without Fisher’s attitude-infusion.
No matter how the issue is dissected, the Rams simply out-performed the Redskins. RGIII saw his passing YPA decline to 6.8, which would be 4.6 not counting the 68-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson. The Rams played well-disciplined defense and did not allow the large chunks of yards after the catch to the Redskins receivers.
On the Rams’ side, Sam Bradford threw for a very nice 8.9 YPA and was only sacked twice. That was despite playing behind a much-maligned offensive line that was further decimated by injuries. The Rams also rushed for 5.59 YPA, including 6.4 for Steven Jackson before he was injured or benched.
How did the Rams pull off such a well-executed game plan for the second week in a row? They played disciplined, recognized tendencies and followed a few concepts designed by Fisher to shut down RGIII and his package plays. Brian Schottenheimer created an outstanding to exploit the Redskins zone defense, as well
And here is how they did it:
Defending Against the Run
Early in the game, the Rams displayed their recognition of the Redskins’ tendencies. Against this running play, Janoris Jenkins flew in to make a stop from his position at cornerback. Despite his speed, Jenkins and his running mate Cortland Finnegan made instinctual plays based on their recognition.
The wide receivers did not release in this play, but immediately opened up to block. Both Jenkins and Finnegan diagnosed the run and disregarded the play action by reading the receivers. Jenkins shot to the line of scrimmage and took down Alfred Morris.
To the Redskins credit, Morris was able to rip off gains of 27 and 29 yards en route to a 6.1 average. But in the end, the Rams were able to shut down the running game when it really mattered.
Shutting Down the Package Plays
With such a great play design, the Rams had to be disciplined in their assignments. In this play, Griffin has the option to hand off to Morris or hit a wide receiver on either side of the formation for a bubble screen.
Before the snap, Griffin reads the defense and sees the off coverage to his left. His blockers on the right block for the possible run, while the left side of the line releases with their only option being a screen. Griffin throws left towards the space. Both Jenkins and defensive end Robert Quinn diagnose the play. Jenkins misses the tackle but slows the receiver up enough that Quinn can run it down from behind.
Taking Away the Numerical Advantage of the Zone Read
Griffin, like many college quarterbacks, ran the zone read to great success at Baylor. The play has made it into many NFL playbooks that feature even remotely mobile quarterbacks, and Washington is no different.
When ran, the play isolates a defensive end as the only defender to stop either the quarterback or the running back. When ran for a touchdown, Quinn commits heavily to the running back. With the numbers game favoring the Redskins Griffin scores easily.
Running to the strong side of the formation, Griffin finds Chris Long playing the zone read perfectly. He breaks down in position to make the play either way that it is ran. Griffin hands it to the running back and Long shuts it down.
Trapping Griffin in the Pocket
When the Rams rushed the passer, they often employed linebackers to “spy” Griffin, staying back to eliminate running lanes and force him to stay in the pocket. Griffin managed to score a rushing touchdown when safety Craig Dahl blew this assignment.
In this play, the linebackers watched Griffin while the pass rush maintained their gaps and approached cautiously. With their containment, Griffin started moving backwards and the defenders went for the kill, causing an intentional grounding penalty.
Keeping Bradford Upright
The Redskins pass rush gave Drew Brees fits last week in the Superdome, and the Rams’ offensive line is vastly inferior to that of New Orleans. Although Bradford is not the most fleet of foot, the Rams bought him time with play actions and bootlegs.
As shown, the Redskins brought interior blitzes quite frequently and Bradford was able to move out of the pocket and make completions. One of the ways was by finding holes in the Redskins’ zone coverage.
How Amendola Shredded the Redskins
Danny Amedola finished the contest with 15 receptions, showing an innate understanding of how to find open spots in zone coverage. In fact, his performance was reminiscent of a fellow slot receiver out of Texas Tech, Wes Welker.
On the same play that Bradford rolled out, Amendola ran a quick out route. The zone coverage mirrored Bradford as he rolled out, and as he drew them towards the sideline, Amendola reversed his direction to create a passing lane for Bradford.
Bradford Playing Decisively
To further nullify the Redskins’ pass rush, Bradford made quick reads depending on the reaction of pass coverage to the route development. He ran quite a few plays that were designed to open up one of two receivers depending on the defender’s reaction, like this high-low concept.
Brandon Gibson releases upfield, initially drawing the coverage of the cornerback. Jackson releases out of the backfield, drawing the attention of both the cornerback, who has to defend the flat, and the linebacker, whose responsibilities include Jackson if he were to run an inside hook or crossing route.
With the defenders moving up, Gibson settles in behind the coverage and Bradford hits him for a completion before the safety can reach him to take over coverage. Like many plays featuring Gibson and Amendola, they are designed to open up the field for yards after the catch and both took advantage of the daylight.
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