Washington Passing Concepts: Simple, But Deadly

When Washington hosts Green Bay on Sunday afternoon, the Packers defense will look to slow Kirk Cousins and the offense down. Mark Schofield looks at the Washington passing concepts and what has become a formidable passing attack for Jay Gruden’s team.

What stands out on film about the Washington offense is that the team does not run a lot of exotic passing combinations. Rather, they rely on some of the more basic route structures,  executing them in a precise manner. When you add timely play-calling to the mix, it can be a tough combination for a defense to stop.

Yankee Concept

When Washington looks for the a big play, one of the route concepts they call upon is the Yankee concept. It is most often run with play action and max protection. Yankee is effective because it puts defenses in a bind: Since the concept is used with heavy run formations and only two receivers, defenses often respond with a single high safety in either Cover 1 or Cover 3.

On this play from 2014, the Dallas Cowboys have eight men in the box and are playing Cover 1 against Washington’s 12 personnel group. Note that the receivers are both aligned inside the numbers: Yankee is often run with at least one receiver in a tight split. Washington is running a play action fake to the right with the yankee pass concept.

The Cowboys linebackers flow hard downhill, biting on the play action fake, and opening space behind them for Pierre Garcon’s over route. The single high safety is responsible for deep middle, but cheats toward Garcon’s over route, widening the void. This allows DeSean Jackson’s post route to get behind the deep safety, and inside the cornerback ‒ who is expecting help to the middle of the field. The ripple effect from the linebackers biting ends up in a big gain, despite a severely underthrown ball:

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Washington also used this design for a big play this year against the New York Giants. The offense lines up with Kirk Cousins under center and a heavy run formation, with reserve tackle Tom Compton (#68) reporting as an eligible receiver. Alfred Morris (#46) is the single running back in the backfield. Compton lines up in a wing alignment to the right with Jackson on the outside. To the left side of the formation, tight end Jordan Reed (#86) sets in his two-point stance just outside left tackle Trent Williams (#71) with Garcon (#88) split out wide:


The Giants have their base 4-3 defense on the field, with Jason Pierre-Paul (#90) in a two-point stance outside the LT. Strongside linebacker Devon Kennard (#59) settles near the line of scrimmage as well, just outside Compton’s right shoulder. Neither safety is playing deep, with free safety Landon Collins (#21) and Brandon Meriweather (#22) showing a two-high look before the snap:


The Giants roll to Cover 1, with Collins coming toward the flat and Merriweather playing the deep single-high safety. Washington uses play action design here, faking a split zone concept. Off the snap Cousins opens to his left and shows  the outside zone run to Morris, with the RB aimed at the left edge. The offensive line ‒ including Compton from the wing ‒ all block to the left, while Reed cuts across to the backside edge where Kennard is waiting. After the fake, Cousins uses a half-roll back to the right side, where his TE is ready to keep a clean pocket:


Washington uses the Yankee concept here: a max protection, two-receiver route that they like to use with this pair of receivers – as indicated by the ITP Glossary entry on this route structure. As with the example, Garcon runs a deep over route, while Jackson runs a deep post. As the play develops all three linebackers flow to the run fake, including Kennard on the backside.

While the second-level defenders try and retreat, bad things are happening in the secondary for the Giants. Garcon gets inside of Prince Amukamara (#20) and has a step on the cornerback. On the other side, Jackson gets inside leverage on Jayron Hosley (#28), beating the attempted jam. Meanwhile, the safety to that side of the field, Merriweather, is staring into the backfield and actually takes a step or two down toward the line of scrimmage:


Jackson sets up his inside break by using a dino stem, bending the route to the outside. This prompts Merriweather to widen in response, creating an alley for Jackson to break back to the inside and get underneath:


Merriweather attempts the baseball turn to try and stay in position, but it is too late. The ball is coming out and Jackson’s speed creates separation:

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Cousins delivers a beautiful throw coming out of the play action fake and half-roll. Jackson runs under the pass at the 14-yard line and cruises into the end zone with the score. From this angle, we can see how the safety gets caught peeking in the backfield, and then gets twisted by Jackson’s great post route:

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The Jumbo Sail

Washington also uses the sail route concept when throwing out of jumbo formations. On this play against the Cowboys they are facing 1st and 10 on the Dallas 44-yard line. The offense lines up with Cousins under center and 12 personnel, with Compton again in the game as a tight end.  Reed and Compton are in a tight wing alignment on the left with Ryan Grant (#14) to the outside. Garcon lines up as the single receiver to the right. The Cowboys have their base 4-3 defense on the field, and place linebacker Kyle Wilbur (#51) over the two tight ends:


Washington runs the sail concept working off play action. With the secondary dropping into Cover 3, Cousins has a nice three-level read, with the routes working to high-low the defenders:


Garcon’s deep corner route occupies the playside cornerback. After executing the play fake, RB Pierre Thomas (#39) releases to the flat which occupies the flat defender, safety J.J. Wilcox (#27), and allows Reed to find space in the intermediate area of the field ‒ behind Wilcox but in front of cornerback Ayodeji Olatoye (#29):

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For his part, Cousins does a great job of keeping his eyes downfield in order to freeze the safety in the middle of the field, before finding Reed on the intermediate route.

All Go, No Quit

Another route concept Gruden and the offense rely on to push the football vertically is the four verticals, all-go concept. This is another standard route design that you will see on Saturday afternoons and Monday nights. With the ability of Reed to work against safeties and linebackers, Washington likes to use this concept from a tight-end trips formation, which requires Reed to bend the route over the middle to the opposite hash mark, allowing him to use his speed to create separation against defenders.

On this play against New York, Washington faces 1st and 10 on the Giants’ 25-yard line. Cousins lines up under center with 11 personnel on the field, with Reed on the right side and two receivers outside. Garcon is the single receiver on the left. The defense has their 4-2-5 nickel in the game and they show Cover 5 before the play, with both cornerbacks and the nickleback in press alignment, and two safeties deep:


Washington goes with  four verticals ‒ the three WRs running straight go routes. Since Reed is the third receiver on the right, he needs to bend his route across the formation with the opposite numbers as his aiming point. For their part, the Giants roll into Cover 1, with safety  (#43) dropping down into a robber position before picking up the TE:


Cousins takes the snap and executes a play fake to Morris, before retreating into the pocket. He keeps his eyes trained on the deep safety, trying to hold him in the middle of the field. With a single-high safety, Cousins will try and influence the safety to one of the two inside vertical routes ‒ and when the safety breaks he’ll throw to the other route. But here, Meriweather does a good job of staying patient.

But while one safety is patient, the other is being left behind by the TE:

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Cousins sees Reed get separation from Dahl, and delivers a well-timed and placed throw that the tight end hauls in at the 8-yard line. Dahl recovers and makes the tackle, but not before the TE picks up 20 yards and gives Washington 1st and goal.

Not Just Saturdays

The NCAA route concept is another three-receiver design that gives the QB two high-low reads. The three routes are a post, a dig and an underneath drive or shallow route. This concepts has a number of variations, depending on the formation and which receivers run the given routes in the play.

One of the variations that Washington runs is the NCAA Mills design, which combines the Mills concept, which contains a post, a dig, and the underneath crossing route.

In their game against the Buffalo Bills, Washington faces 1st and 10 on the opponent’s  32-yard line. They line up with Cousins in the shotgun and 11 personnel on the field, with Jackson and Reed in pro alignment to the left, while Jamison Crowder (#80) and Garcon are in an inverted slot to the right. Buffalo has their 4-2-5 nickel defense on the field with a single-high safety look. One cornerback is in press alignment over Garcon:


Jackson runs the post route, while Reed runs the dig route. This is the Mills aspect of the design. Crowder adds the third element, executing the shallow crossing route from left to right:


This sets up a high-low between the post and the dig ‒ Jackson and Reed ‒ as well as between the dig and the shallow ‒ Reed and Crowder. Cousins can read from high to low, working from post, to dig, to shallow crosser in order.

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Buffalo drops into Cover 1 at the snap, giving the receivers man coverage to work against. Jackson uses the dino stem on his route, angling outside to the corner before breaking back to the inside. He and Cousins look to make the same, slight adjustment on the play, as the throw keeps Jackson on the vertical and away from the free safety. It pays off in a big way, resulting in a nice gain for Washington.

Half Field Smash

This next play is a great example of how an offensive coordinator can design a play that simplifies the progression reads for a quarterback by cutting the field in half, yet still gives the QB five potential options.

Washington faces 2nd and 6 on the Philadelphia 43-yard line, with Cousins in the shotgun and the backfield empty. The offense has 11 personnel on the field: Jackson and Reed in a tight inverted slot to the right, and Garcon, Crowder and Thomas in a bunch to the left. The Eagles have their 4-2-5 defense on the field, showing Cover 2 in the secondary, with a cornerback and nickelback in press alignment to each side:WashingtonPreviewStill10

Washington runs two different passing concepts on this play, one to each side of the field. To the bunch side of the formation they implement a spot concept. Garcon runs the corner route, Crowder runs the spot route breaking to the inside, and Thomas releases into the flat. On the right side of the formation the offense runs the smash concept, with Jackson running the corner route and Reed running the hitch:


The beauty of this play design is that Cousins will read the coverage ‒ and based on what the defense shows him ‒ will work on one side of the field or the other. Should the defense deploy Cover 2, the will QB work to the right side and decide between the corner route and the flat route (both of which high-low the cornerback to that side). If the Eagles run a single-high safety look, or man coverage, Cousins can work to the left side, most likely reading from the spot route, to the swing route, to the corner route.

With the defense dropping into Cover 2, Cousins opens to his right and reads the smash concept:

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CB E.J. Biggers (#38) gains depth in response to the vertical release from Jackson. Cousins makes the right read and decision, and dumps the ball to Reed on the curl route. This play is a great example of how an offense can structure the passing game to simple reads while keeping multiple options available to the QB. It also exemplifies how a quarterback’s progression reads can change from play-to-play, given what the defense shows in the secondary.

Each of these play concepts give Cousins a nice set of reads and options to choose from, and Washington has been executing these concepts well.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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