The Packers' Opponent by the Numbers: Washington Week 3

A quantitative look at the Packers' Week 3 opponent.

Washington’s pro football franchise in recent years feels like a non-stop turnstile of faces, rarely resulting in much more than mediocrity. Dan Snyder’s merry-go-round is 24-23-1 the last three seasons, so it’s no surprise Washington is off to a middling start, defeating the lowly Cardinals in Week 1 and losing to the Colts last week.

Washington’s defense has been good with familiar faces like Ryan Kerrigan and Josh Norman at the forefront. Perhaps a little more under the radar is 2017 first-round pick Jonathan Allen, who’s been disruptive without much statistical production.

A new-look offense led by veterans Alex Smith and Adrian Peterson, however, has produced mixed results so far. After refusing to commit to a long-term future with Kirk Cousins, Washington now turns to Smith to bring consistency, ball security and leadership to the quarterback position. And while Aaron Rodgers’ 2005 draft counterpart has enjoyed a solid career so far, Smith has obvious limitations, especially at this point of his career.

-3.2 yards

That’s the average air-yards distance of Alex Smith pass attempts this year, relative to the first-down marker. Only two passers have been more conservative (Blaine Gabbert and Eli Manning) so far this season, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats.

Basically, Smith’s average pass is aimed more than three yards short of the sticks. His reputation as a checkdown artist may be a little overblown, but so far in 2018 he’s been dumping the ball off frequently to running backs and tight ends. Smith will still push the ball downfield if a receiver is wide open, but he avoids risky throws downfield and avoids turnovers. With so many short throws coming, tackling and limiting yards after the catch become the priority for Mike Pettine’s defense.

38%

That’s the percentage of Washington’s called running plays that are intended to go up the middle, the second lowest rate in the league according to Football Outsiders. By contrast, 56 percent of runs league-wide have been called toward the center or guards. Especially with Peterson taking over primary ball-carrier duties this year, Washington is an outside zone team, running stretch plays early and often.

Additionally, Jay Gruden’s offense features a fair amount of jet sweep motion and some zone read concepts that contribute to the outside running game. The Packers’ defense will have to be very disciplined, staying in cutback lanes. Clay Matthews is notorious for aggressive backside pursuit, and Washington’s staff will surely have a few restraint plays to keep him honest.

3.29

Washington’s 3.29 adjusted line yards per carry is 29th in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. This stat attempts to separate running back skill from run blocking success by giving the offensive line more credit for the first several yards of a run, then giving the running back credit for yards gained in the open field. The bottom line here is that despite a decent 3.9 yards per carry rushing average, the offensive line isn’t getting the job done. Starting left guard Shawn Lauvao will likely miss Sunday’s game, so the going may get even tougher.

The Packers, however, quietly have one of the NFL’s worst run defenses, albeit through just two games. A defensive front that seems formidable on paper has given up 4.6 yards per carry so far, so something’s got to give in this matchup. It feels like Washington will have to turn to misdirection, motion, eye candy and deception to create running creases on Sunday, but it could also be the case that the Packers’ run defense simply isn’t as stout as it seems it should be. Sunday will be a revealing litmus test.

90.0

That’s the 2018 grade on inside linebacker Zach Brown, according to Pro Football Focus, the highest individual grade for a player on either team this young season. The seventh-year veteran is now on his third NFL team but has been solid or better since he entered the league in 2012.

Interior linemen Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne and Matt Ioannidis help by taking on double teams, but Brown—along with his linebacker counterpart Mason Foster—is extremely tough for offensive linemen to get to at the second level. Brown often diagnoses plays quickly and gets a step ahead of the blocker assigned to block him. This could be an interesting sub-plot to watch, especially with all the optimism flowing out of Green Bay with the return of explosive running back Aaron Jones.

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Matt Kelley is a staff writer for Cheesehead TV. He can be found on Twitter via @hustleandheart1

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Comments (11)

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The TKstinator's picture

September 21, 2018 at 06:06 pm

I think the personnel along GB’s defensive front is simply too good to continue to suck vs. the run.
I also think, as a point of emphasis, Pettine revealed that “sound” vs the run combined with “good” vs the pass is his recipe for success on defense. Time will tell, like it always does.

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SJ EC's picture

September 21, 2018 at 06:49 pm

Great article! Admittedly, I’m not especially familiar with how Washington has been playing this season, so this was definitely helpful material.

Hopefully their weakened offensive line will give us some opportunities for the line to get inside pressure on Smith, and having Burkes back should help with the stretch plays.

Curious to see how our run game looks this week with Jones back - hopefully this will allow Rodgers to “rest” up a bit this game.

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mkelley's picture

September 21, 2018 at 11:06 pm

Thanks for reading! For whatever reason Washington has felt as identity-less as any team in the league these last several years. I definitely needed a refresher.

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PAPackerbacker's picture

September 21, 2018 at 09:21 pm

Packers run defense should improve if Burks comes back at 100%. Plus the Packers own ground game should improve with Jones returning from his 2 game suspension. Giving up 426 yards in the air last week is a little alarming but I think the secondary will buckle down and get the job done. I don't see the Redskins getting that kind of production with their air attack. I'd be more worried about Peterson and the running game. I'm hoping the Pack wins big but never take an opponent lightly especially with the likes of an Alex Smith and Adrian Peterson on the same team or the points could mount up quickly. I can see the Pack winning by 10 or more, if there are no turnovers.

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mkelley's picture

September 21, 2018 at 11:07 pm

This Washington offense seems like it would really frustrate a Capers-led defense of years past, so I'm interested to see if Pettine's improved the tackling and discipline. Should be revealing -- Go Pack!

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RobinsonDavis's picture

September 23, 2018 at 11:29 am

"...never take an opponent lightly..." so true. I expect Washington to take a page out of the Bears playbook and run, run again, and short pass, until the Pack can prove they can stop it. Our linebackers, slot, and SS are going to be challenged. Our D-line had the opportunity last week playing against some 2nd string O-line replacements of the Vikes, but frankly, I was disappointed with the pass rush....of course the Vikings should have been called for some blatant holds...I mean REAL bad and obvious, but that did not materialize. Regardless, we have had no pass rush from the d- line, but the more important concern will be to stop the run, I believe.

Look for Graham and/or Cobb to have some big opportunities here. I would not be surprised to see a play designed with MVS and Adams, potentially forcing the Redskins to have to isolate coverage deep.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

September 21, 2018 at 09:51 pm

Biegel is now on the Saints 53 man roster. It'll be interesting to see of he gets on the field in 2018.

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CAG123's picture

September 21, 2018 at 11:10 pm

I’m hoping the Packers come out and dominate this game hopefully they’re nice and motivated after they were robbed of a big win last week. This def should be flying all over the field on Sunday.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 22, 2018 at 10:14 am

This is a really nice article because it has some interesting but relatively unknown stats. Chris Thompson isn't running up the middle much. He's good for 4 to 8 carries per game, some option and the rest outside. He is a 5'7" scat back. I'd love to have a guy like that. AD is the workhorse. He fumbled already, and Thompson is a fumbler as well.

Washington has a lot of decent players but few really good ones. Kerrigan might be it for really good but not elite. I think Bahk and Bulaga match up pretty well against Kerrigan and okay against McPhee. Payne and Jonathan Allen aren't proven but are big talented guys in the middle. Mason Foster is a known quantity: a couple of ticks better than average when healthy. Norman is just an okay starting CB - look for him to be a cap casualty next year. CB Dunbar sucks even if due to playing ARI and INDY his PFF score is excellent. Take every Washington defensive player's PFF score with a grain of salt since they played one abysmally bad and one meh offense so far.

I am thought of as a Debbie-Downer, but Packer roll against Wash: 42-16 Packers. Go Pack!

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RobinsonDavis's picture

September 23, 2018 at 11:33 am

I don't view you that way at all TGR. I appreciate your perspective!

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Cartwright's picture

September 22, 2018 at 04:11 pm

If we can stop the run the game is in the bag. After these last two games that is suspect now but with the addition of Burkes and Jones we can now hold the edge. We are close to last without them, can we be close to first with them?

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