Behind Enemy (Side)Lines: Washington

"Behind Enemy (Side)Lines: Washington" will be an ongoing series with the opposing team's beat writer. This week's installment features a question and answer session with Andrew Walker, lead writer and editor with Washington and Redskins.com.
1. How has Washington's offense changed under Jay Gruden?
I'd say the most noticeable change - or at least the most talked about change this offseason - to the Redskins' offense under Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay will likely be less of a focus on read option plays moving forward. Under Mike and Kyle Shanahan in 2012, Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris found a ton of success running the read option en route to an NFC East title, the team's first since the 1999 season. But Griffin III had that gruesome knee injury in the first-round playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks that season, and after surgery and a pretty quick recovery period, he came back last season to find, in general, that the league had found an answer to the read option.
Gruden and Griffin III have been working together to make the quarterback a better drop back passer, but they're still going to try to utilize plays that take advantage of Griffin III's speed, so the read option will still be sprinkled in here and there. Also, as the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator the past three seasons, Gruden was known to use a lot of screen plays and quick-hitter routes, and he definitely has the horses to be successful with that in D.C. with guys like Pierre Garçon, DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts and tight end Jordan Reed. Morris, meanwhile, should still rack up plenty of yards on the ground, because since he came into the league in 2012, he's been one of the best at breaking tackles and making his first - and sometimes second and third - man miss.
2. How has DeSean Jackson come in and fit into the offense? What's his chemistry been like with RGIII?
The Redskins made one of the biggest offseason splashes by plucking DeSean Jackson off the free agent market just days after his much-discussed release from the Philadelphia Eagles. Although the team initially signed former Arizona Cardinals receiver Andre Roberts to be that No. 2 guy behind Pierre Garçon - the league leader in receptions in 2013 - Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen just couldn't pass up on the opportunity to sign a guy like Jackson, who has been one of the most dynamic players in the league the past few seasons. Jackson should fit in to the Washington offense just as he has in the past with the Eagles - a deep threat that can blow the cover off the top of a defense, can free up other receivers and the running game, or can be a guy that, as previously mentioned, you throw to on a screen play and see what he can do with some open field ahead of him.
As for his chemistry with Robert Griffin III, I think the fact that Griffin III was the initial guy to personally reach out to Jackson to show interest in him upon Jackson's release is the most telling fact about their relationship. Griffin III just happened to be in Los Angeles - Jackson's hometown - when he was released by the Eagles, so Griffin III was able to talk to him face to face and immediately try to persuade him to come join the Redskins. Then, after Redskins fans like Kevin Durant and Wale also pled with Jackson to come to Washington, the receiver was seen hanging out with Griffin III, cornerback DeAngelo Hall and others in D.C. during his first (and only) visit he took as a free agent.  Griffin III loves throwing the deep ball, and Jackson loves catching it. It seems like it should be a good match.
3. How is RGIII's health? How concerned are the coaches in keeping him healthy this season and is it possible to do so, i.e. by trying to limit his exposure outside the pocket to avoid future injury?
As of now, Robert Griffin III's health is just fine. He's ditched the bulky knee brace he wore last season as he continued recovering from knee surgery, and, in practice, he looks to have gained back that elite speed he was able to display first as the Heisman winner at Baylor, and then in his spectacular rookie season. But Griffin III showed this preseason - particularly against the Cleveland Browns - that he still is prone to taking a couple unnecessary hits here and there, so he's had discussions with Jay Gruden about taking advantage of the quarterback slide or simply throwing the ball out of bounds and moving on to the next play. Griffin III is one of the more competitive, driven guys I've been around, so it's been hard for him to, in his eyes, "give up" on a play, so sometimes he tries to make something happen when there's just nothing really there. But I think it won't take long until he finds that happy medium of being able to escape the pocket and escape danger, or just cut his losses and move on.
4. What will be the keys for Griffin and the O-line to contain a duo like Watt/Clowney?
The keys for Robert Griffin III and the Redskins' offensive line to contain a duo like J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney are two words: Alfred Morris. Jay Gruden said the best way to neutralize a strong pass rush is to counteract with handing the ball off and letting your bruising running back get a bunch of yards, and I think that's exactly what they plan on doing Sunday at NRG Stadium. As much as Griffin III wants to unleash DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon and others down the field, he'll probably get many more opportunities if the offense is able to first establish a run game with Morris and backup running back Roy Helu Jr., who is the better pass catcher between the two. Also, I'm interested to see how Watt and Clowney fare against Trent Williams, who is regarded as one of the best left tackles in the league. It should be a fun matchup. But, if the Redskins fall behind early, they won't be able to rely on the run game as much, and that's when I think you'll really see Watt and Clowney pin their ears back and try to tee off on the Redskins.
5. After coming off a disappointing season and changing head coaches (much like the Texans), how has Gruden injected optimism back into this team?
I see many parallels between what the Texans and the Redskins have gone through in the past few months. Both teams brought in rookie head coaches with offensive pedigrees who are trying to infuse their brand of enthusiasm and football into their buildings. As it pertains to Jay Gruden, the culture change around Redskins Park has been very apparent - and that's not to say Mike Shanahan wasn't considered by many to be a good players coach, because he was. But Gruden is just younger and seems to have a great connection with his players, whether it's the first guy on the depth chart or the third backup at a certain position. Gruden is active at practices, too, and is commonly seen (trying to) cover his wide receivers with some press coverage at the line, as well as going back to his days as a legendary AFL quarterback and throwing a few passes here and there.
Everything Gruden has done - from his team meetings and practices, to his interactions with the media - has been well received to this point, but - as I'm sure O'Brien can relate - Gruden is antsy to just get the regular season underway and see exactly what kind of team he's able to put out on a weekly basis.


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"Behind Enemy (Side)Lines: Washington" will be an ongoing series with the opposing team's beat writer. This week's installment features a question and answer session with Andrew Walker, lead writer and editor with Washington and Redskins.com.
 *
1. How has Washington's offense changed under Jay Gruden?
 
"I'd say the most noticeable change - or at least the most talked about change this offseason - to the Redskins' offense under Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay will likely be less of a focus on read option plays moving forward. Under Mike and Kyle Shanahan in 2012, Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris found a ton of success running the read option en route to an NFC East title, the team's first since the 1999 season. But Griffin III had that gruesome knee injury in the first-round playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks that season, and after surgery and a pretty quick recovery period, he came back last season to find, in general, that the league had found an answer to the read option.

Gruden and Griffin III have been working together to make the quarterback a better drop back passer, but they're still going to try to utilize plays that take advantage of Griffin III's speed, so the read option will still be sprinkled in here and there. Also, as the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator the past three seasons, Gruden was known to use a lot of screen plays and quick-hitter routes, and he definitely has the horses to be successful with that in D.C. with guys like Pierre Garçon, DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts and tight end Jordan Reed. Morris, meanwhile, should still rack up plenty of yards on the ground, because since he came into the league in 2012, he's been one of the best at breaking tackles and making his first - and sometimes second and third - man miss."

  1. How has DeSean Jackson come in and fit into the offense? What's his chemistry been like with RGIII?
     
    "The Redskins made one of the biggest offseason splashes by plucking DeSean Jackson off the free agent market just days after his much-discussed release from the Philadelphia Eagles. Although the team initially signed former Arizona Cardinals receiver Andre Roberts to be that No. 2 guy behind Pierre Garçon - the league leader in receptions in 2013 - Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen just couldn't pass up on the opportunity to sign a guy like Jackson, who has been one of the most dynamic players in the league the past few seasons. Jackson should fit in to the Washington offense just as he has in the past with the Eagles - a deep threat that can blow the cover off the top of a defense, can free up other receivers and the running game, or can be a guy that, as previously mentioned, you throw to on a screen play and see what he can do with some open field ahead of him.

    "As for his chemistry with Robert Griffin III, I think the fact that Griffin III was the initial guy to personally reach out to Jackson to show interest in him upon Jackson's release is the most telling fact about their relationship. Griffin III just happened to be in Los Angeles - Jackson's hometown - when he was released by the Eagles, so Griffin III was able to talk to him face to face and immediately try to persuade him to come join the Redskins. Then, after Redskins fans like Kevin Durant and Wale also pled with Jackson to come to Washington, the receiver was seen hanging out with Griffin III, cornerback DeAngelo Hall and others in D.C. during his first (and only) visit he took as a free agent.  Griffin III loves throwing the deep ball, and Jackson loves catching it. It seems like it should be a good match."

 

  1. How is RGIII's health? How concerned are the coaches in keeping him healthy this season and is it possible to do so, i.e. by trying to limit his exposure outside the pocket to avoid future injury?
     
    "As of now, Robert Griffin III's health is just fine. He's ditched the bulky knee brace he wore last season as he continued recovering from knee surgery, and, in practice, he looks to have gained back that elite speed he was able to display first as the Heisman winner at Baylor, and then in his spectacular rookie season. But Griffin III showed this preseason - particularly against the Cleveland Browns - that he still is prone to taking a couple unnecessary hits here and there, so he's had discussions with Jay Gruden about taking advantage of the quarterback slide or simply throwing the ball out of bounds and moving on to the next play. Griffin III is one of the more competitive, driven guys I've been around, so it's been hard for him to, in his eyes, "give up" on a play, so sometimes he tries to make something happen when there's just nothing really there. But I think it won't take long until he finds that happy medium of being able to escape the pocket and escape danger, or just cut his losses and move on.

 
4. What will be the keys for Griffin and the O-line to contain a duo like Watt/Clowney?
 
"The keys for Robert Griffin III and the Redskins' offensive line to contain a duo like J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney are two words: Alfred Morris. Jay Gruden said the best way to neutralize a strong pass rush is to counteract with handing the ball off and letting your bruising running back get a bunch of yards, and I think that's exactly what they plan on doing Sunday at NRG Stadium. As much as Griffin III wants to unleash DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon and others down the field, he'll probably get many more opportunities if the offense is able to first establish a run game with Morris and backup running back Roy Helu Jr., who is the better pass catcher between the two. Also, I'm interested to see how Watt and Clowney fare against Trent Williams, who is regarded as one of the best left tackles in the league. It should be a fun matchup. But, if the Redskins fall behind early, they won't be able to rely on the run game as much, and that's when I think you'll really see Watt and Clowney pin their ears back and try to tee off on the Redskins."

 

  1. After coming off a disappointing season and changing head coaches (much like the Texans), how has Gruden injected optimism back into this team?
     
    "I see many parallels between what the Texans and the Redskins have gone through in the past few months. Both teams brought in rookie head coaches with offensive pedigrees who are trying to infuse their brand of enthusiasm and football into their buildings. As it pertains to Jay Gruden, the culture change around Redskins Park has been very apparent - and that's not to say Mike Shanahan wasn't considered by many to be a good players coach, because he was. But Gruden is just younger and seems to have a great connection with his players, whether it's the first guy on the depth chart or the third backup at a certain position. Gruden is active at practices, too, and is commonly seen (trying to) cover his wide receivers with some press coverage at the line, as well as going back to his days as a legendary AFL quarterback and throwing a few passes here and there.
     
    "Everything Gruden has done - from his team meetings and practices, to his interactions with the media - has been well received to this point, but - as I'm sure O'Brien can relate - Gruden is antsy to just get the regular season underway and see exactly what kind of team he's able to put out on a weekly basis."

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