- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Thoughts and observations after re-watching the Washington Redskins' offense versus Chicago:
The Bears made it their mission, it seemed, to slow running back Alfred Morris. But it’s one reason why the bootlegs worked so well: when Morris was in the game the backside ends and linebacker more often than not went right to the ball. When Roy Helu was in the game they were more apt to play contain. It made a difference on some of Helu’s runs. Also, the Bears often aligned their linebackers 2 or 3 yards off the ball, allowing them to shoot gaps quicker. At times, the Bears’ linemen would hit the gap behind the direction of the play, causing a Redskins’ lineman to turn back a little to reach them only to have a linebacker rush through on their outside shoulder. Didn’t always work.
After watching the game again, I can see why the Redskins went with the reverse to Aldrick Robinson. They had Morris in the backfield and the ends typically had crashed. But on the play before the reverse, the end started up first, as if playing a bootleg, then went to the ball. He took the same action on the next play, but continued upfield and tackled Robinson.
Helu did a terrific job in the red zone for a couple reasons. He did a better job setting up blockers than he has on some other runs. His cuts are terrific, too. Helu runs better in the red zone, where defenses overflow to stop plays and can’t react to his quick cuts. But when Helu is in the game teams often anticipate a pass. And this enabled the Redskins to stay balanced with their approach in the red zone, always a key to success here. On two of Helu’s runs, the backside linebacker and end played contain, anticipating a bootleg by Robert Griffin III. The first time, a 14-yard touchdown run to the left, I don’t think they would have made a difference regardless (guard Kory Lichtensteiger, tackle Trent Williams and receiver Pierre Garcon all had good blocks). The second time, on a 10-yard to the right side, I think they would have had a chance to stop him sooner.
One of Helu’s best runs occurred on the final drive, his 8-yard run around left end. I’m still not sure how he picked up any yards. Center Will Montgomery was driven back on a stretch zone to the left. Because of this he bumped into Helu, who stumbled, yet recovered to bounce wide for 8 yards. Good blocking kept the lane open, but Helu’s balance saved him.
The Redskins forced the Bears into a nickel defense on Helu’s game-winning touchdown. That meant tight end Logan Paulsen had to seal a safety inside instead of a linebacker when Helu cut back. Easy pickings.
I love the no-huddle as a changeup, but there are times when the defense looks confused and that I think it hurts the offense, too. Or, at least, does not work to their advantage. The Redskins lost yards on one such occasion when the defense clearly wasn’t set, but perhaps by being unsure and even a little out of position it helped the Bears.
The no-huddle worked well, too, when they used a fresh back. It was effective when Helu was in the game in the first half and they used it, his speed overpowering a tiring defense. In the second half, the Redskins went to some no-huddle looks with linebacker Lance Briggs out of the game; very smart considering he is the Bears’ defensive leader.
I could go on and on about Jordan Reed. I won’t. Well, maybe a little. And I’ll have more later in the week from tight ends coach Sean McVay about him. But I love how Reed sells his fakes and is fluid in his cuts, allowing him to maintain his speed downfield after a hard plant one way or the other. It enables him to gain a little more separation. He creates yards sometimes on subtle plays that don’t look fantastic, but others would not make. Like the 10-yard catch-and-run in the right flat. He has to turn inside a little bit, but could grab it, turn and keep going.
Here’s another example: On Reed's 26-yard gain during the game-winning drive, he caught a pass over the middle (thanks to a zone read fake that sucked all three linebackers to the ball and left a wide open alley; yes, this play continues to work). First, he gained separation against safety Major Wright on the left side, getting open by about 3 yards. He caught the ball around the 34-yard line and kept running to his left as the other safety Chris Conte approached. Without slowing Reed gave an exaggerated move outside and cut back inside Conte. He looked like a running back and it helped him gain an extra 7 yards.
This was either a subtle change or just a good heads-up play by right tackle Tyler Polumbus. First, he did a rather solid job in this game. A couple bad moments, but overall solid. But I loved what he did on Morris’ 9-yard run on third-and-1 late in the game. The Bears had crashed hard all game on the zone read and this time was no exception as end Shea McClellin was headed inside again. The Bears had success against Morris doing this. Typically McClellin faced no resistance. But this time Polumbus delayed leaving on his block for a split second, enough to bump McClellin. It prevented him from crashing harder and was a help. It’s not the sort of wow block that makes highlights, but it did contribute.
Morris carried three times in the fourth quarter for 30 yards; Helu ran five times for 9 yards in the final quarter. Helu gained 30 yards on four red zone carries. He gained of his 41 yards on four red zone carries. He gained 11 yards on seven runs between the 20s.