Scouting Report: Dynamic OLB duo makes Redskins dangerous on edges
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The Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins have both had Donovan McNabb as their quarterback in the past year. Now they're united in trying to find an answer at the position after moving on from him. Neither team has much to play for at this point except pride and draft position. Sam Monson of ProFootballFocus.com, which breaks down tape of every NFL game, takes an inside look at the Redskins.
The Redskins operate an offense that anybody who has watched coach Mike Shanahan's teams for years will be instantly familiar with. They may not have a John Elway or even a Jake Plummer at quarterback, but the Redskins still run a basic Shanahan offense involving zone blocking, one-cut running, and west-coast passing concepts. They like to use the run to set up play action, and will move the pocket and their quarterback around on bootlegs and sliding protections. The offense is set up to exploit an aggressive defense and then use running backs or routes in the passing game to cut back against the grain of the defense and run counter to the flow. Their line has been hit heavily with injuries and they have started to run more man blocking concepts to make things easier for the backups that have been thrust into the lineup, but the bread and butter of the offense remains zone blocking and one-cut running.
On the other side of the ball the Redskins run a pretty traditional 3-4 defense with a line of heavy linemen and a pair of rushing outside linebackers. In the past they have tended to go to a four-man line in pass-rushing situations but this season they have been sticking to their outside linebackers remaining in a two-point stance and rushing from the edge in that way. This allows them to potentially drop and send blitzers up the middle instead and helps to disguise the pressure they are bringing in obvious pass-rushing situations. In coverage they will mix things up depending on the situation, playing man or zone coverage, and also playing with just one or two high safeties. They are quick to utilize an eighth man in the box if they feel they need extra help against the run and aren't afraid to matchup in the secondary
Timeless linebacker London Fletcher-Baker (5-foot-9, 245 pounds) only seems to get better as the years go by. He may have lost a step but he has more than made up for it with refined instincts and a fantastic ability to read the game and get in the right position at the right time. Fletcher-Baker is constantly around the football and isn't weak at any one area of his linebacker responsibilities. He may not be as physically dominant as other linebackers, but he is somebody that needs to be accounted for on every play because he will read it and find a way to get himself involved if he isn't.
The duo of OLBs Brian Orakpo (6-3, 263) and rookie Ryan Kerrigan (6-4, 267) is beginning to settle in as an impressive force. They have combined for 17 sacks, 14 more knockdowns and 73 additional pressures as they consistently apply pressure around the edge. Neither player is a liability in the run game, and they will drop into coverage just enough to keep an offense honest and not able to rely on them not being there. Kerrigan may not be playing well enough to earn rookie of the year honors (especially with Von Miller and Aldon Smith tearing it up), but he is playing more than well enough to be a factor on the game.
CB DeAngelo Hall (5-10, 197) might be the best known of the Redskins' defensive backs but the best player in coverage is CB Josh Wilson (5-9, 189), who has allowed just 40 receptions to Hall's 57 despite being targeted the same 83 times this season. He has allowed over 300 fewer yards and at 1.5 fewer yards per reception. Wilson also leads Hall in passes defensed, and quarterbacks have a rating of just 74.0 throwing at Wilson compared to 101.1 throwing at Hall.
Strengths and weaknesses
The Redskins' O-line remains a major issue, especially now they are deep into the roster playing backups. Big-money free agent acquisition OG Chris Chester (6-3, 305) has been a particular disappointment, struggling badly in his run blocking this season, though his pass blocking has actually been reasonable and he is yet to allow a sack. Second-year LT Trent Williams (6-5, 314) had been the best performing of the Redskins linemen, but testing positive for banned substances ten times over the course of September and October landed him with a suspension that keeps him out of the rest of the season.
Quarterback remains a huge issue for the Redskins, as you might expect any time the competition is between Rex Grossman (6-1, 218) and John Beck (6-2, 215). For the moment, it's Grossman's job to lose, but with his history of poor decisions and interceptions in bunches, that eventuality may be just around the corner. Either passer can be badly rattled with pressure and will struggle to adjust to changing coverages. Grossman has been playing pretty well if protected, so the key to this game may well be whether the Vikings can get the better of the Washington patchwork protection.
The bottom line
Both teams are looking to end the season having identified ways they can build for 2012, but in the end this game is about nothing more than pride and playing hard in the face of an ugly season. The Redskins rose to see off a Giants side last week with everything to play for while the Vikings rolled over and played dead against the Saints. If that level of desire tells the tale then Washington may win by default.