Washington Redskins vs. Seattle Seahawks
Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013
4:30 p.m. (EST)
Redskins' offense vs. Seahawks' defense
The Redskins' offense has been a powerhouse at times this season, but the unit opens the playoffs against the defense perhaps best suited to stop it.
From a schematic standpoint, the basis of the Redskins' offense is extremely simple: a read-option that either involves handing the ball off the running back Alfred Morris, or rolling Robert Griffin to the right and having him throw the ball to the flat, or deep downfield. They throw in the occasional option pitch and other wrinkles, but the fundamental key to stopping the Redskins' passing attack is shutting down Griffin's bootlegs.
When Griffin's chased out of the pocket, the defense has to shift its priority to making sure he doesn't take off with the ball. This leads to numerous defenders being out of place in coverage, which creates a lot of opportunities for dumpoff passes to turn into highlight-reel plays due to receivers having running room after the catch.
The Seahawks, though, have no shortage of athleticism at the defensive end position, and the team's defense has fared well against both Carolina's Cam Newton and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick, two other quarterbacks whose offenses heavily utilize read-option elements. The Seahawks' defense held the 49ers to 13 points, the San Francisco's lowest score since Kaepernick took over as the team's starting quarterback in Week 10. The Seahawks held the Panthers to 12 points, only three of which were scored by Carolina's offense.
With the speed to limit if not stop the Redskins' options and bootlegs, the Seahawks' defensive personnel match up well against the Redskins' pocket passing game. 21 percent of Griffin's passes are thrown behind the line of scrimmage, with a large number of those passes being designed screens. The size of the Seahawks' large cornerbacks Brandon Bowner and Richard Sherman, (who are as tall or taller than all of the Redskins' receivers), coupled with the defensive line's ability to shoot gaps and get behind the line of scrimmage, make screen plays a disadvantageous matchup for the Redskins.
The rest of the Redskins' dropback passing game is based largely on slants and other quick, short passes. The Seahawks' defensive backs, especially star cornerback Richard Sherman, have the size and strength to easily disrupt this with press coverage.
With defensive linemen capable of slowing the read-option, and cornerbacks who can press the Redskins' receivers in the short passing game, the biggest determining factor in the battle between Washington's offense and Seattle's defense will be the play of strongside linebacker K.J. Wright.
The Seahawks' defensive line scheme frequently leaves a large amount of space in the left B-gap (between the offense's left tackle and left guard) when pass-rushing, and against a runner of Griffin's caliber, such a hole in the defense has the potential to be devastating.
Wright's ability to watch that gap and play the "spy" role on his own to keep Griffin from running off the left guard when pass plays break down will determine how successfully Washington can move the ball against Seattle's defense. If Wright is undisciplined and sloppy with his containment, Griffin can repeatedly escape the pocket and keep creating big plays on offense. If Wright can keep Griffin from running through the left B-gap, the rest of the Seahawks' matchup advantages can bottle up the Redskins' offense.
Seahawks' offense vs. Redskins' defense
The Redskins' defense is at its worst when defending against the type of things the Seahawks are capable of doing best, so Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is going to have his hands full.
The Seahawks' offense is going to be most successful if it lets quarterback Russell Wilson's legs control the game. The Redskins' defense flows fast to the football, following the offensive line's pulls and traps to get to the running back's holes. The downfall of a "fast-flow" defensive style, though, is a lack of backside containment.
The Seahawks can exploit this by running a lot of play-fakes of naked bootlegs, with Wilson rolling to the right after handoffs and occasionally keeping the ball off of play-action for a big run or pass if the defense flows too fast to running back Marshawn Lynch.
The Carolina Panthers employed this strategy against Washington in Week Nine, and it was a resounding success. With quarterback Cam Newton as the triggerman on their read-option attack, the Panthers, 1-6 at the time, were able to snap their five-game losing streak and defeat the Redskins 21-13.
Another lesson learned from watching the Panthers-Redskins game is that Wilson is likely to see an atypically large amount of opportunities to make plays on these bootlegs because of the number of defenders the Redskins' defense will have to commit to defending Lynch, whose hard running style will likely punish the Redskins for their tendency to make arm-tackles.
In terms of pure dropback passing, two factors lean in the favor of the Seahawks' offense. The first is that the Redskins' base defense is easily stretched when opposing offenses motion a running back out wide for an empty backfield. This benefits the Seahawks, as Lynch is averaging 8.3 yards per reception - his highest average since his rookie season in 2007.
The Redskins' more important weakness in the passing game, though, is that they're a much better man coverage team than they are in zone coverage. Man coverage will leave more defenders with their backs turned to Wilson, giving him ample opportunities to pick up yards on the ground before half the defense even sees that he's taken off running. As a result, the Redskins are going to have to play more zone coverage than they'd like, which benefits the Seahawks' offense.
If the Seahawks establish the threat of Wilson rolling right after handoffs and on play-action, and frequently motion Lynch all over the field to help attack weaknesses in the Redskins' zone defenses, Seattle will have little difficulty scoring.