- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Thoughts and observations after rewatching the Washington Redskins' offense against Oakland:
The hurry-up offense was a fantastic strategy and clearly worked. It created momentum for the offense and it tired out the defense. It also forced the Raiders’ defense into basic looks and mostly seven-man fronts, which allowed the Redskins at times to create numbers advantages that they could not do initially.
On the first two series the Raiders changed their front look on almost every play. As the no-huddle drive unfolded, they were forced to stay in a basic 3-4 look much of the time. After the initial play, the Raiders never used an eight-man box on the ensuing eight plays. Running back Alfred Morris gained 8 yards on his first carry out of this because of the numbers: Even though Oakland had four of its front-seven defenders aligned to the Redskins’ right side, Washington still ran that way. It had four blockers to counter: guard Chris Chester, tight end Logan Paulsen, right tackle Tyler Polumbus and tight end Niles Paul. Each won their block; Morris gained 6 of his 8 yards before contact. Two plays later he gained 9 yards because of his patience: Morris ran to the left side and waited for Paul to gain control of his man. Once he did Morris shot inside. And one play later, this alignment created a four-on-three situation to the Redskins’ right as Morris gained 7 more yards.
Another consequence: fatigue. Give offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and the staff credit for how they called this sequence. They called a bootleg to the right followed by an outside zone to the left followed by an outside zone to the right. They kept the interior running side to side and tired them out. Defensive end Lamarr Houston was not showing a lot of energy running from the backside on Morris’ 9-yard run. Their linemen did not have the same pop off the ball and were a little more upright, making them easier to block.
To show (OK, tell) you the difference: On the first play of the game the Raiders had eight in the box, including six on the line. This forced Paulsen to take an outside release en route to the inside linebacker, a tough path. Morris gained no yards. In the hurry-up, they did not have to contend with such looks.
Running back Roy Helu still gets to the hole too fast at times, but on some runs he compensates with such quick feet that it doesn’t matter. On a 7-yard run early in the fourth quarter, Helu hit the hole a bit fast, but it caused the linebacker to fill the hole. Thanks to blocks by Trent Williams (once again, not his best game) and Kory Lichtensteiger -- and Helu’s own quick feet -- he cut back to the left for a positive gain.
Helu’s 14-yard touchdown run displayed his subtle cuts, which influenced three defenders. Helu hit the hole through the left side and appears headed back to the right. Because of this, a linebacker engaged with Chester starts to widen that way, eventually causing him to bump into an oncoming safety. The other safety, Charles Woodson, aligned on the defense’s right between the hash and the numbers, sprinted at Helu. Again, Woodson thought he was going to the right. But Helu cut back and Woodson couldn’t get a clean shot at him because of his angle and that momentum carried Helu into the end zone.
Oakland has a loud stadium considering it only holds 53,549. But, as you know from the RFK Stadium days, passion and an enclosed stadium equals noise. Especially in the end zone to the Redskins’ left. On one play in the third quarter, after the snap Williams was still in his stance and Polumbus had just barely gotten out of his. Meanwhile, the Raiders had a good jump and the end raced inside Polumbus; Williams allowed penetration also on this 1-yard loss for Morris.
Credit Lichtensteiger for an assist on the 16-yard pass to Pierre Garcon on third-and-7 in the second quarter. He initially blocked down to help center Will Montgomery. But the Raiders tried to overload this side and Lichtensteiger had to kick back to his left to pick up a blitzing corner. It bought Robert Griffin III time.
It’s noticeable that Leonard Hankerson is running more consistent routes and it’s leading to more catches (though the Redskins have been passing a lot more too, which helps all the receivers). And this is the first time in Hankerson’s career that he’s gone four straight games with at least two catches. But let’s not go crazy yet. He still has to prove he’s a quality No. 2 receiver. He did have a nice catch-and-run for 17 yards off a formation I love: the stack. It works great versus man coverage. This time, Hankerson was positioned behind and to the right of Santana Moss, covered by Tracy Porter. Moss ran into Porter at the snap, then cut to his right. That enabled Hankerson to break underneath and gain 12 yards after the catch. Well-designed and executed.
This is why it’s good to have guys like fullback Darrel Young on the team. On Garcon’s 15-yard screen pass in the first quarter, Young starts blocking cornerback Mike Jenkins at the 24-yard line; he kept driving him back to the 34, lost a little control and then regained it and shoved him another three yards and then toward the sideline. At the end he gave him an extra shove. Young plays with attitude.