On Sunday night, the Redskins held an explosive Raiders offense to just 10 points and 128 total yards. Oakland’s only scores (a touchdown and a field goal) came on drives that started inside the Redskins’ 20-yard line after turnovers. Needless to say, Washington took it to the Raiders. So how exactly were they able to do it?
Derek Carr likes to get the ball out of his hands quickly for easy completions. The Raiders offense is largely predicated on these constant positive plays. As a result, the Redskins were conscious of trying to take these plays away. On Oakland’s second snap of the game, the Redskins offered an initial glimpse of this gameplan by playing cover-2. With both corners sitting on the outside, Carr held onto the ball and made an ill-advised decision to force a deep throw into double coverage. The result was an interception.
Another way that the Redskins took away those easy quick throws was by playing off coverage but then sitting on routes on the perimeter. On the play below, you can see that the Redskins are playing man free (man-to-man coverage with one deep safety) with their corners playing about 8-10 yards off on the outside.
The Redskins had their slot defenders lock up on their receivers, and their linebackers sat inside.
As Raiders receivers got deeper into their routes, Washington’s outside corners, Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland barely retreated. You can see that Norman looked like he was squatting, and both corners were playing with a little bit of lean towards the line of scrimmage.
Clearly, neither was worried about getting burned on a deep route despite not having any safety help over the top.
It can be risky to play this type of coverage with only one deep safety. Most teams will only have their corners sit on routes if they have safety help or if there is a blitz called and they are anticipating a quick throw. Because of this, if there is only one deep safety and the two corners on the outside are playing off, the read for the quarterback is generally that deep go-routes are dead and quick throws to the outside are available. But with Washington’s corners sitting on the outside instead of dropping, they were ready for anything short. Carr had nowhere to go with the ball on this play and the result was a sack. A similar story played out for most of the night.
The natural response to this on offense is to run go-routes or double moves. However, this is easier said than done. Several times, the Redskins looked like they would be playing single-high (one deep safety) only to rotate to 2-deep at the snap. The Raiders could not rely on calling go-routes or double-moves with two deep safeties occasionally rotating over the top at the snap.
The other element preventing the Raiders from successfully attacking deep was the Redskins’ pass rush. They were able to overpower the Raiders offensive line at times, which meant Carr often did not have time to hold onto the ball and attack downfield. Not only were the Redskins able to win individual matchups up front, but also the manner in which they rushed the passer was especially effective. Washington’s outside pass rushers were conscious of not rushing too far upfield. This left Carr with no escape lanes to make things happen with his legs as the pocket collapsed around him.
Had the Raiders been able to get something going on the ground, Washington’s approach might have changed. But the Redskins defensive line did not allow for much push at the line of scrimmage, and their linebackers did a great job of reading and reacting quickly to Oakland runs. This contributed to the Raiders facing 3rd-and-long on what seemed like every drive of the game.
It is still way too early in the season for teams to have already defined themselves. But through the first 3 weeks of the 2017 season, the Redskins defense looks like a significantly improved unit versus a year ago.