There’s always a chance…
The Packers rush defense
The Packers defense is giving up 123 yards per game for the 2019 season, which ranks them 25th in the NFL. Despite reports that the run defense has gotten gashed in recent games following a hot start for the Packers defense in the first six weeks, that number has been surprisingly consistent throughout the season.
For example, over the most recent 6-game stretch, the Packers defense has allowed 121 yards per game. Those six games came against (not in order):
- 49ers – 2nd in rushing
- Raiders – 10th in rushing
- Panthers – 12th in rushing
- Giants – 23rd in rushing
- Chiefs – 24th in rushing
- Chargers – 27th in rushing
This seems fairly representative of the league in general.
The Redskins rushing offense
What have the Redskins done from a rushing standpoint this season?
Washington is ranked 20th overall, at 99.4 rushing yards per game, but, as everyone knows, it’s been a tale of (at least) two seasons for the Redskins.
What has the team done on the ground since Bill Callahan took over?
In Callahan’s 7 games, the team has rushed for 121.3 yards per game, which would be good for 11th in the league if that pace were to be applied for the full 12 games played so far this season.
Of course, the offense overall has been a work in progress under Bill Callahan, with Dwayne Haskins starting only the past 4 games, and getting more comfortable every week.
The running game, in particular, has been handicapped most of the season, with Adrian Peterson benched in Week 1, Derrius Guice on injured reserve and missing Games 2 – 9, and Chris Thompson out for five games, returning last week against the Panthers.
In fact, there has been only one game all season in which the team’s top three running backs were all healthy and active; that game was this past Sunday against the Panthers. In that game against Carolina, the Redskins rushed for 248 yards.
- Adrian Peterson 13 carries – 99 yards – 7.6 ypc – 1 TD
- Derrius Guice 10 carries – 129 yards – 12.9 ypc – 2 TD
- Chris Thompson 3 carries – 14 yards – 4.7 ypc
The Panthers are ranked 29th in rushing now — after giving up 248 yards to the Redskins. Before that, they were giving up 127.5 ypg, which would have put them in 27th ranking, close behind the Packers, who gave up 125.5 ypg through the first 11 games.
What I’m trying to get at here is that the Packers are not strong against the run — certainly not significantly stronger than the Panthers. In fact, I suspect they are more susceptible than raw numbers will indicate, since, with a 9-3 record, they won’t have faced a lot of running in the 4th quarter against teams trying to kill the clock on them. In this week’s Five Questions article with Acme Packing Company writer Jason Hirschhorn had this to say:
[O]pponents have figured out how to take advantage of Green Bay’s porous run defense. The unit ranks 28th against the run by DVOA, and they have no real means for improvement in that area until the offseason. When the Packers produce large early leads, that weakness doesn’t come into play as frequently, but it remains an issue that will plague them the rest of the season.
When asked how the Redskins should game plan against the Packers, Jason’s answer was to the point:
Bill Callahan probably doesn’t need prodding, but he should run the ball at all costs. In doing so, Washington will largely avoid the ballhawks in the secondary while exploiting the aforementioned weak run defense. That approach also keeps Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense off the field.
I think there’s a chance that the Redskins could use this rather simplistic game plan effectively, as they did last Sunday against the Panthers. Granted, the Packers are not the Panthers, but the difference is more one of offense than defense, and the Redskins are developing week-to-week at the offensive skill positions, and in terms of scheme and play-calling.
Even falling behind early may not be enough to stop the Redskins from running, as evidenced by the 14-point deficit they gave up in the first quarter in Carolina on Sunday.
Consider these remarks by Offensive Coordinator, Kevin O’Connell on Friday:
It’s no secret, we want to run the football. We’ve had some success in more games than others, but we stick to the run. That’s what we want to do and it’s my job to make sure that I’m building things in around the run game, how we want to do it that particular week and make sure we’re doing it with the play-pass and trying to move the quarterback a little bit. But also, when we do decide to pass it, we’ve got a great reason to, we’ve got a great plan to try to get our playmakers the ball in space, so it all works together.
[These three running backs] are hard to tackle. Derrius’ ability to make people miss in space is something that I’m always trying to find on early downs in the pass game.
So, from the standpoint of touches ‒ that’s how I talk to AP and Derrius, I say touches — one guy might have 10 carries, the other guy might have five, but then the other guy with five carries has four receptions. It’s touches. It’s how many times in the game can we get those guys in space while also giving them power run game to impose their will on the defense, which obviously they were able to do last week.
[We try to keep them fresh] as much as possible. I think you saw Derrius hit a long run the other day and then AD comes in. Then there’s other times where you want to say, ‘Hey he just took it 40, 50 yards, let’s let him finish the drive,’ and we give him the short yardage, below the line type runs.
I like to say it’s really on [Running Backs Coach] Randy [Jordan] as much as possible, but every now and then, one of those guys will come over to me and say, ‘Hey coach I need this,’ or ‘Next time you call that pop or power, give me that one.’ I have the ability to call personnel groupings and what we do, I can tag a number on any personnel grouping. So, if the guys upstairs are saying, ‘Hey it’s been mostly 29 [Derris Guice] on first down, let’s make sure we get AP in there or 25 [RB Chris Thompson] and make sure we’re balanced.
Listening to that, I get excited. What must it be like for a defense to get gashed for an 18 yard run by Derrius Guice, jog downfield to get set for the next play, only to see Guice trot to the sidelines to be replaced by Adrian Peterson?
The combination of Guice, Peterson and Thompson allows the Redskins to be relentless in the run game from a variety of formations and looks — presumably as many as Dwayne Haskins can handle.
And Haskins’ development is a huge part of whatever success the Redskins have enjoyed, or will enjoy, this season.
A strong stable of explosive running backs like Guice, Peterson and Thompson is a huge help, fIrstly, because each running play represents one less time that the rookie Haskins has to face a defensive puzzle and solve it in the passing game. Secondly, because a strong run game keeps the clock running, reducing the number of possessions in the game, limiting the number of times the Redskins defense has to face Aaron Rodgers and stop him. Thirdly, because play action and screens can affect the pass rush from players like Za’darius Smith and Preston Smith, and simplify what the defense presents to the quarterback’s vision on passing plays.
But I’m also excited because I sense that Kevin O’Connell, with improving tools from week to week — Haskins quickly improving, Guice and Thompson getting healthy, Harmon and Sims finding their way into the passing attack — I sense that Kevin O’Connell seems to be more and more sure of how to put together an effective plan that isn’t based on the pass catching tight ends, Reed and Davis, that he no longer has available, but, instead, on the mostly young and explosive weapons he does have available.
Here’s more Kevin O’Connell:
There’s so much of this system in the past that we built around the tight end position. Having 86 [TE Jordan Reed] and 85 [TE Vernon Davis], it was a luxury and we had them both up for games. We always wanted to have a system built on those guys where we could get the reps in the offseason and take it to the season with us, and really attack — be in attack mode — maybe more than a lot of teams in this league with 12 personnel, two tight end sets.
Now, we’ve shifted a little bit. It’s those three rookies; it’s the running backs; it’s how we isolate those guys while also still making our formations look the same — not giving up too many tendencies.
It’s fun to be able to game plan where you know, if number one isn’t open, the secondary progression has a great chance to win, or the run-actions with [WR] Kelvin [Harmon] and [WR] Terry [McLaurin] — if you can get them one-on-one — they’ve got a great chance to win. Really, you start to see why we felt really strongly about that rookie class when they came in.
Clearly, the missing ingredient to create the synergy between the run game and the passing game has been Chris Thompson, who, when healthy, has provided an extra dimension to the offense, previously under Gruden and now under O’Connell:
It’s just his detail, his understanding of route-running. I can think of the play last week where we hit [Thompson] on a sail type route in two minute where we’ve been talking about that play, him and I, since we first tried it a couple years ago, maybe in the opener last year against Arizona. But we’ve had variations of that play up.
That was a little bit different with the fly action with [WR] Steven [Sims Jr.]. It’s never going to be a clean, blatant, wide open type of catch, but just Chris’s feel of leverage and understanding who he’s running the route off of, and maybe what the picture looks like pre-snap and post-snap, and his detail in that. All of those things are coach speak for ‘He’s just a really good player.’
He gives us the ability to obviously attack linebackers in pass coverage whenever we can. That’s the beauty of the impact of those young guys — that it’s starting to give us that feel of being able to isolate the running back, and maybe even the tight end in certain spots where we can take advantage of that.
Is an upset possible?
When a 3-9 team takes on a 9-3 team — especially when that 9-win team is the Green Bay Packers, at Lambeau Field, in December — it’s hard to believe that the 3-win team will come away with a victory.
But the Packers are 2-2 in their last four games, with wins against the Giants and Panthers, and losses to the Niners and Chargers. Are the Redskins so much worse than the 4-8 Chargers that this game should be ceded as an automatic win to the home team?
The Redskins are also 2-2 in their last four games, with wins over the Lions and Panthers, and losses to the Bills and Jets. The Jets game was disturbing, but the Panthers game was probably the Redskins’ best and most complete performance of the year. I think there are reasons for optimism about the Redskins team and about the outcome of Sunday’s game.
Haskins is not yet the quarterback we need him to be, but he is clearly improving with every game, and for the past two weeks he’s been good enough.
Importantly, there’s been a huge boost in the running game with the return of Guice and Thompson. It has led to more offensive production (yards and points) and seems to have re-energized the offensive line.
Guice showed, in his ten carries, the talent that Redskins fans were hoping for when he was drafted last season.
NextGen Stats from Week 13 point to some absurd play from Guice, listed below:
- Of all NFL running backs, Guice spent the least average time behind the line of scrimmage at just 2.51 seconds.
- Guice saw a stacked box on 60 percent of his carries, second-most in the NFL.
- Guice was the most north/south runner at 1.81 yards ran/rush yard gained.
Looking at the data, here’s what can be ascertained about Guice: He decides where he is going fast, and he attacks that spot. There is not much-wasted movement, and he is obviously able to avoid and run right through defenders.
If you don’t believe the data, just watch this video. Again and again.
Well playing at LSU, that stacked box shit don’t mean a thing https://t.co/C5c0VMONGa
— 2️⃣9️⃣ (@DhaSickest) December 4, 2019
I’m still a little incredulous that future Hall-of-Fame back Adrian Peterson is coming into the game to spell Guice. AD himself ran for 99 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers — a performance that barely rated mention because of Guice’s accomplishments in the same game.
The Redskins, for the first time ever, had all three backs — Guice, Peterson and Thompson — healthy and active against the Panthers. They ran for 248 yards, and added another 23 yards in the passing game. Last Sunday they ran all over the Panthers, who had been giving up an average of 127.5 yards per game. What might they do this Sunday against a Packers defense that had been giving up an average of 125.5?