Rubber Bands of Steel, Part Two — Washington’s Play Action Game

In the first part of yesterday’s Redskins’ preview, I looked at the wide stretch, a foundational running play in the Redskins playbook. I showed some stills from the Texans game to demonstrate how the zone blocking puts pressure on a the front seven to maintain line discipline and to avoid getting hooked away from pursuit.

Let’s re-visit the third still, because it hints at the next progression in Washington’s attack:

Look again at Dallas’ weak-side OLB, Anthony Spencer and how he’s locked on to the Texans tailback. He’s paying no attention to QB Matt Schaub, even though Schaub is executing a fake bootleg turn. In fact, QBs in this system are coached to make a bootleg turn on all stretch plays, to keep a pass option in the pursuit players’ minds.

Spencer made the proper read here. When this play, the 19 HO strong, is run, the fullback will often block away from the play’s flow, and take on the backside OLB or DE if he’s facing a 4-3 front. The fullback is on the tight end’s side, tipping that this is a run.

But What If The Call is Pass?

What happens if the play is run the more conventional way, with the fullback blocking on the weakside? And what if Spencer or a Demarcus Ware sells out to beat the fullback’s block and chase the tailback down? He may succeed, but that zealous pursuit set him up for the next call — the fake-stretch bootleg. In that instance, the offensive line and the running back would sell the stretch run wide, while the fullback would take his backside contain block and release into the flat. The tight end, here seen blocking Demarcus Ware on the strong side, would release inside and run a crossing route, giving the the quarterback an intermediate level target. Meanwhile, the Z, or flanker would run a post at the deepest level.

If Mike Shanahan can open the game and establish his stretch plays to the perimeter, either inside or outside his tight ends, he’ll put the Cowboys OLBs in a quandry. Is the run they seem to be seeing a true run, or a play-action pass? They have to read their play keys quickly and correctly, because if they play run and the call is a bootleg, they’ll vacate the fullback for an easy completion. On the other hand, if they become too conscious about rubbing out Donovan McNabb’s rollouts, they’ll leave their run lanes open, and Clinton Portis will get a massive cut-back lane on the backside.

The Cowboys’ safeties and inside linebackers also have to quickly and correctly recognize run-or pass. Otherwise, they’ll be slow in forcing runs and give up large chunks of real estate. If they force too quickly and McNabb rolls out with the ball, they’ve given up the deep middle for bombs. Houston, if you’ll recall, threw a moving-pocket wrinkle at Dallas two weeks ago. They put a bunch formation on the right side and faked a run away from it. When Schaub rolled out wide, he had Jacoby Jones breaking free in the deep middle for a score. These are just the types of throws successful early running sets up.

News that the injured veteran defensive spine, ILB Keith Brooking and SS Gerald Sensabaugh, have returned to practice is the best bit of Cowboys news this past week. As much as the kid inside linebackers, Sean Lee and Jason Williams intrigue me, and as much as Barry Church’s preseason play encouraged me, I would not want to trust their pass-run recognition skills over 60 snaps Sunday night. They would be facing a play calling master, and somewhere along the line, Shanahan would set up a rookie starter and burn him.

Shanahan may do the same to the veterans, but I feel far more comfortable with their recognition skills. The Brookings and the Sensabaughs have seen this offense many times.

Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Senior Analyst Cowboys at Sports Talk Line
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for
Rafael Vela

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  • Bdunn72

    It seems like this is one area that we should be well-prepared to defend. Wade has coached with and against Shanny for years. If anyone knows how to defend against the zone rushing attack, it should be him. We may not have any film of the Skins running his system, but the system itself should be extremely familiar.

  • Chandus

    Raf, you received some love from the Skins site in SBNation… That’s nice to see.

  • UrinalMint

    Does Washington have the personnel to run this as effectively as Houston allegedly did against Dallas? That I highly doubt.

  • AndyStaple

    I’m a skins fan, but respect that you put this amount of time and deconstruction in gameplans. Grade A Writing and Material.

  • Michael Emery

    Glad continue to be able to follow Raf… Ive made this journey over the past 4 blogs because of a referral from a good friend. I haven’t been disappointed yet. Keep up the great work Raf… We are here for you.

  • AustonianAggie

    Donavan McNabb is also killer on roll outs… or was. I guess we’ll see what he has left. Because it’s early in the season and Washington is well rested, I think they can put up a formidable game.

    I think Wade Phillips will have a defensive play up his sleeves that will totally disrupt the new Redskin’s offense. Maybe a suprise appearance of the 46 defensive scheme?

    • AustonianAggie

      though Dallas played best last year with a less exotic scheme

    • Emmitt>Barry

      I guess the flip side of this stretch or fake stretch/play action set is that, when it’s run in the traditional way with the FB blocking weakside, it leaves a tight end responsible for Demarcus Ware. Now, the TE may only need to occupy him for a second or two, because either the QB will be rolling away from Ware or the RB will be attempting to cutback upfield beyond him fairly quickly…but you’d better hope your TE is capable of getting a good chip on him, because otherwise Ware has the speed to destroy that play, either by chasing down the QB from behind or by shoving the TE inside to close that cutback lane.

    • fiverings37

      sit on the run, McNothing could not pass on us when he had good receivers, he can’t beat us if they have to pass the ball to do it.

  • Cash

    Tom Willis

    • That’s PETER Tom Willis to you, mister!