Facing Atlanta; What to Do with Alex Smith

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Welcome back to The Burgundy and Gold Report. The Redskins sit atop the NFC East with a 5-2 record and a 2-0 division record. The defense and run game is firing on all cylinders, but what’s going on with the passing game? Many fans have been quick to put the blame on Head Coach Jay Gruden for his play calling, but the fact is, quarterback Alex Smith is not in sync with his receivers and seems lost at times. Reviewing the quarterback and coach dynamic, as well as the play calling and the intangibles that Smith brings to the table are essential to understanding that they can still be productive.

Coach & Quarterback Dynamic 

Although Alex Smith & Gruden have a good rapport, chemistry is still a work in progress. Recently Gruden was asked why Smith hasn’t attempted more downfield passes. The coach made it clear that Smith has chosen run more often that not when running option and RPO. Smith is, without a doubt, playing the conservative game and is one of the best at not turning over the ball. The film reveals receivers running downfield wide open at times. Smith has a habit of sticking to his first read too long while others are open. This isn’t to say that the receivers aren’t cutting their routes short leading to passes that seem like overthrows. The dynamic and trust just isn’t there yet, but if the run game continues to chug along, it will open up more opportunities for Smith to take chances.

In all 5 wins this season, Washington has never given up their lead. The problem is the the offense gets predictable in the second half. Smith has the option to change calls at the line from run to pass if he sees something he likes, but it just seems he isn’t seeing the field. Playing a battered Atlanta defense seems like a great time to get Josh Doctson and others more involved in the downfield passing game. This quarterback/coach relationship will be something to keep in eye on during the second half of the season.

Play Calling

Quarterback Alex Smith is conservative by nature, but he showed in Kansas City how well the quick passing game can work. It’s understood that the Redskins don’t have a talent like Tarek Hill in the receiving game, but that does’t mean they can’t utilize more screens and play more short game. At this point, it’s Gruden’s responsibility to scale down the playbook and focus on Smith’s strengths. It appears that for the offensive line, run blocking is their strength and the pocket is often small in the passing game. However, they do have options. The offense has had a lot of success in 2-3 tight end set formation. Getting Vernon Davis involved will only help Smith’s comfort level. Utilizing play-action doesn’t always have to mean throwing bombs downfield. The look can also be used in the short game.

The ongoing injury issues with running back Chris Thompson have complicated Smith’s transition to Gruden’s offense. CT is used more in a receiver role than running back and without him, Smith would be losing his second biggest play maker. As previously mentioned, Atlanta is dealing with a multitude of injuries on defense, so this could be a game that Smith finally gets the passing game going.

Intangibles

The Redskins signal caller has had opportunities to gain extra yards with his legs, but has more often chosen to throw an ill advised pass. Considering the fact that left tackle Trent Williams will be out today, added pressure will be on the line to provide Smith more protection in the pocket. Getting Smith out of the pocket on bootlegs and zone reads should help the line’s deficiencies today. Gruden needs to use more “college game” today and continue to run out of shotgun and pistol formations. In fact, Peterson has a yard per run average just above 5.5 yards per carry, out of that formation. Getting Peterson going increases the potential for Smith to utilize play-action. If this run game stays the course, Smith can, without a doubt, take his game to the next level, as he’s historically done in the months of November and December .

Final Prediction 

20-13 Redskins

Thanks for checking out another B&G Report. The Redskins defense should rule the day versus Atlanta if they can bottle up receiver Julio Jones and quarterback Matt Ryan. Manusky will have the NFC East’s top-rated defense ready to play and keyed in on suffocating Ryan and the Falcons passing game. As for the Redskins offense, expect to see a healthy dose of AP along with Alex Smith taking more chances against a bad Atlanta defense.

HTTR🏹🏈

By Adam Aniba

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