By Nathan Coleman (@JHawkChalk89)
The 2018 Washington Redskins offense brought a knife to a gunfight. While the league was in the middle of an offensive renaissance, our Nation’s Capital decided to turn back the clock to the Stone Age. Of course, there are several reasons why the team failed to field a potent offense, chief among them is the annual injury-bug that has plagued Jay Gruden’s tenure as head coach. Although I expect positive regression from an injury standpoint, there is still plenty of stones left unturned for the Redskins scoring attack.
Below you will find five areas of growth that I think the Redskins can improve on heading into next season.
1) Pick Up the Pace
There are four types of teams when it comes to pace of play in the NFL.
- Offenses with high-play volume and efficiency such as the Rams and Patriots. This style is the best of both worlds, pairing large play volume with equally impressive results.
- Offenses with high-play volume but lower efficiency such as the Lions and Ravens. What these teams lack in productivity they make up for in sheer number of plays.
- Offenses with low-play volume but high efficiency such as the Chiefs and Chargers. These teams take advantage of their opportunities often showing a propensity for quick strike scores.
- Offenses with low-play volume and efficiency. If there is one style that you don’t want your team to model its offense after its low PPG and YPP.
It’s no surprise that Washington fits the dreaded 4th category of pace. The team was starting backups-a -plenty, including the signal caller who often dictates the pace and rhythm of the offense. What’s more alarming is that since Jay Gruden took over, the team on average ranks 23rd in plays per game.
In today’s pass-happy NFL there is no reason to run a slow-paced offense reliant on methodical drives especially when you can bank on being inefficient. Adding insult-to-injury the slow pace of place is often coupled with poor play-calling and squandered opportunities for optimal decision making. With the current makeup of the roster, the coaches should be preaching heavy play volume at all cost.
2) Run the No-Huddle
I know what you’re thinking, how is an injury prone team supposed to run the no-huddle with backups or inexperienced players? It’s a fair question given that an NFL offense is complicated enough without adding in a up-tempo attack. My rebuttal is that the no-huddle forces coaches to simplify the terminology and play-calling which can actual help new/inexperienced players. The table below highlights offenses that found an advantage through the no huddle.
Note: “A play is successful when it gains at least 40% of yards-to-go on first down, 60% of yards-to-go on second down and 100% of yards-to-go on third or fourth down. “
The Rams are on the extreme side of the spectrum given their superior coaching, personnel, and play calling, but even so they effectively utilize the no huddle in a myriad of ways. As Warren Sharp notes, “Do something different and do it well.” No team abandoned the huddle more than the Rams and coincidentally no team reaped more of the added benefits.
When an offense is hit with injuries and inexperience, coaching staffs must display mental agility by being proactive as opposed to reactionary. Like the Redskins, the Dolphins were mostly devoid of talent, yet they managed to find an edge through the no huddle.
Utilizing an up-tempo inside the redzone was rare for teams. Under the puppet strings of Sean McVay, the Rams ranked first in total plays, scoring 10 touchdowns with a staggering success rate of 66%. Normally the red zone allows defenses to stack the box, but Los Angeles no huddle forced opponents to defend the entire field. As a result, Todd Gurley faced stacked fronts at one of the lowest rates in the league and took advantage by scoring a league leading 7 rushing touchdowns(out of the no huddle) in the red zone.
While LA displayed an innovative up-tempo attack, the Redskins in contrast only ran one red zone no huddle play the entire season. An influx of the no huddle will have cascading effects on the entire team. Not only are plays more successful by an average of 6% but it also will force a higher tempo of pace(as highlighted earlier).
Another less obvious benefit as noted by Smart Football, is the ability for additional reps in practice. Forgoing huddles forces offensive to shorten their play calling terminologies in order to expedite snapping the ball and executing. The ripple effect is that coaching and players on both sides of the ball will see more plays to hone their efficiencies.
3) Throw Doctson in the Slot
As Rich Ribar of Rotoworld has noted, the age of the big-slot receiver is slowly approaching. Traditionally the slot is manned by undersized, agile receivers who can create space for easy completions. I believe the league is slowly catching on to how potent it can be to move your best players around the field despite their size. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Thomas, Deandre Hopkins, and Juju Smith-Shuster are just a few names who have taken advantage of added snaps in the slot. Michael Thomas in particular saw a career high 19% of his snaps in the slot, where he saw the most targets converting for the highest QB rating and yards per target out of any of the 3 alignments.
Now I know what your thinking, “Josh Docston is a bust why should we play him in the slot when we have the hotness that is Trey Quinn?” Obviously I’m not advocating for a full-time role but rather a simple increase in snaps. The truth is I could write a 10,000 word essay as to why Josh Doctson has failed as a Redskins receiver but its too painful to write. Instead I’m going to channel my energy into a positive solution.
Why should coaches play Doctson in the slot more than 12.7% of the time? Opposing defenses rarely shadow coverage in the slot. That means that typically pass catchers are lining up against the opposing team’s third best cornerback (who Ribar points out averages a slight 5’10” 180 pounds). Playing out of the slot also means more free releases, more cushion, and mismatches against lesser DBs and linebackers. Passes thrown to the short middle of the field also have a lower depth of target meaning the ball travels shorter distances leading to some of the highest efficiency throws in the league.
Using the former first rounder as a decoy is simply a waste considering a decoy actually has to draw the defenses attention. Doctson would be better served at using his only apparent strength which is contested catches where he ranked 4th in the NFL. I like the idea of JD running corner, seam and dig routes against smaller defenders where he can use his 97th percentile catch radius to wrangle in some balls.
4) Throw from “12 Personnel”
Let’s be honest, drawing positives from the DC offense last season is like finding a needle in a haystack. Though most fans will chalk up the team’s lack of scoring to injuries, it’s not the only the culprit. From a roster-talent perspective the unit’s strength lies in having two tight ends with the ability to pass-catch. We also know that passing from 12 personnel (as opposed to the uber common 11 personnel) leads to a 6% success rate boost, .9 more yards per attempt, and a 13 point increase in QB rating.
The logical move from a play-calling perspective would be to pass more out of two tight end sets that can allow Vernon Davis and Jordan Reed to match-up with linebackers and safeties. Instead Washington only utilized 12 personnel 17% of the time while only attempting 49 passes.
5) Target Tight Ends On First Down
Not only was Washington hesitant to utilize their dual tight end personnel packages but they failed to capitalize on an exploitable edge. Per Sharp Football, first down passes have an average target rate of 23% for RBs, 21% for TEs, and 57% for WRs. Surprisingly, despite tight ends seeing considerably less of the target share, the position sees the highest success (61%) rate of the three. This makes sense given that tight ends have a lower average depth of target on routes, leads to higher completion throws. Teams like the Chiefs, Eagles, and Colts have taken advantage of the added efficiency by targeting their tight ends well above the league average.
Surprisingly, Washington ranked seventh in success rate and yards-per-attempt when targeting the position. The problem was that the Redskins only passed to tight ends 24% (21% league AVG) of the time. Some might point to the perpetually injured Jordan Reed as the reason why the team couldn’t seem to feature the position. In reality, Reed still played in 13 games, and finishing 4th in target share and 6th in separation. The real issue is lack of volume targets and his target quality/accuracy ranked outside the top 32 for the position.