Washington Redskins Head Coach Mike Shanahan and Offensive Coordinator, son Kyle Shanahan are masters of what the NFL calls “window dressing”. This is where a team will run the same concept, but will tinker with it just enough to stop the defense recognizing it. Both Shanahan’s love to exploit holes in a defense and are happy to call the same play over and over until the defense proves they can stop it. But once a defense starts catching on, they’ll adjust something in the play; maybe add a fake hand off here or a fake end around there, just to distract the defense enough.
Here’s an example. One of the Redskins favorite play-action concepts involves using one receiver running a go route to clear out room behind him. Then they Redskins will have someone cross the defense into the wide open vacated area.
This play is set up to be a run-heavy look. There are three players in the backfield alongside Robert Griffin III, while receiver Pierre Garcon is aligned tight to the formation. It looks like Griffin will hand the ball off to Alfred Morris while the other two players in the backfield acted as lead blockers for him. But that fake is used to draw the Giants linebackers up to the line of scrimmage, making it harder for them to drop back to cover the pass. Garcon will run a go route straight up the field to clear a space in behind him, which fellow receiver Leonard Hankerson will cross into.
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Garcon finds himself ahead of his corner, with the free safety struggling to get over the top of him. Hankerson begins to cut inside.
Because of the play-action fake, the linebackers are late dropping back into coverage. The threat of Garcon running deep has the defensive backs attention, leaving a big hole in the defense for Hankerson to run into. Griffin pulls the trigger and has an easy completion for a big gain.
The Redskins ran this concept all season, so it was nothing new to the Giants. But earlier in the season, Kyle Shanahan adjusted it slightly to give a different look while still running the same concept.
Against the Steelers, the Redskins are using exactly the same concept, just with a different look. This time tight end Niles Paul is running the crossing route while the Redskins run a fake end around.
While the play looks different, the result is the same. The linebackers are drawn in by the fake end around and are late to drop back into coverage. The defensive backs are occupied by the clearing route, leaving Niles Paul acres of room to run into.
In the same game, the Redskins went back to the same concept, but again made a slight change.
Kyle Shanahan opts to stick with the same play-action and end around fake, but moves the tight end to the opposite side of the field. Instead of having to cross the field, tight end Logan Paulsen will just cut in behind the deep route of the outside receiver.
But just as before, the result is exactly the same. Linebackers are late to drop, defensive backs are occupied by the deep route and Paulsen is wide open.
The Shanahan’s love to use plenty of window dressing on their favorite concepts, and it makes them very difficult to defend. Having the ability to do this helps ease the pressure on the quarterback. Robert Griffin III had a lot on his shoulders going into his rookie season, but having few concepts with multiple different looks helps make his adjustment to the NFL much easier. But even though he’s entering his second season and his playbook will open up, don’t expect the Shanahan’s to stop dressing up their favorite plays in 2013.