ASHBURN, Virginia -- The absent players had altered their game plan already. The Washington Redskins already were down three starting offensive linemen. But they could still maintain packages they liked. Until more injuries struck. Then the Redskins had to scrap a lot of what they felt they needed to do in order to beat Dallas.
They will enter Sunday's game against Seattle just as banged up -- but in better position to craft a game plan for what they have and what they can do. Whether success follows is another matter. There's a chance six offensive starters won't play because of injuries.
"You don't know what injuries may happen in the game, but I'm sure we'll have more of a contingency plan as a result of what happened last week, so that if we have to shuffle players around they're ready to do that or we've talked about that leading up to Sunday," Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "It's certainly not a preferred option, but we've learned that it can happen and if it does happen, we still have got to find a way to win a football game."
Tight end Jordan Reed missed the Week 3 win against Oakland -- and the Redskins managed 27 points and 472 yards. But they had the right pieces to still attack a weak Raiders' defense, targeting the middle of the field with tight end Vernon Davis, slot receiver Jamison Crowder and running back Chris Thompson. Those three combined for 260 of Cousins' 365 passing yards (with 150 by Thompson).
In that game, wideouts Josh Doctson and Terrelle Pryor Sr. combined for three catches and 71 yards. Sunday against Dallas, those two were targeted four times with just one catch. With Crowder possibly out with a hamstring injury, more will be needed from the receivers.
"Obviously the receivers are going to have to step up," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "We have to get Doctson going and Terrelle. Maybe it's [Brian] Quick. Whoever it is."
The Redskins can still use screens; they can turn to quick passes -- the outside receivers at times were running longer routes last week. They can challenge Seattle's cover-3 look down the field, but will have to be careful when they attempt to do so.
"We may go with multiple running backs; there are other options we have," Cousins said. "We will just have to see as we go what works best, how we match up well and then throw to the open guy."
Run game becomes key
As one offensive player said, they must run well Sunday against a defense that ranks 26th in yards per carry allowed at 4.58 yards. The challenge, of course, will be running the ball if, possibly, four-fifths of the starting line can't play.
Reed is unlikely to play and tight end Niles Paul is in the concussion protocol. But they can still use two-tight-end sets with Vernon Davis and rookie Jeremy Sprinkle. But, tough Sprinkle is a big body, he's also inexperienced and still developing. He's also not a pass-catching threat like Reed.
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The problem last week was the last-minute piecing together of the line: two players signed within a week of the game were on the field at the end. On some plays, they had the guard and tackle working to the same linebacker -- a clear breakdown or misunderstanding of responsibilities, leaving another one free to make the tackle. Other times, stunts gave them problems. Right guard Morgan Moses after one stunt turned to rookie guard Tyler Catalina with a "what happened" motion.
"His last snap was in the preseason and in the preseason they're not going 100 percent," Moses said. "He doesn't know when the bullets are flying what to do."
But they now have an idea.
"You might not get that same [cohesion] like if you have two vets playing together for years who have almost a telepathic way of communicating," said rookie center Chase Roullier, who might make his second start. "But it only takes a couple reps to figure out where the guy next to you will be in certain situations."
It's not ideal; it's better than last week. The Redskins didn't like their run game out of three-receiver sets last week; indeed on eight of their nine carries out of this look they gained a total of 16 yards (Dallas used eight in the box against this set). Their ninth carry gained 16. Seattle's defense allows 3.62 yards to running backs out of a three-receiver, one tight end look, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Redskins would be happy with that average.
In recent games, the Redskins have also used more motion and receiver action to create lanes by freezing backside defenders.Or they'll use a receiver on a fake end around to accomplish the same. It's helped create narrow openings -- and it's also a tactic Houston used with success against Seattle last week to do the same.
But any success starts up front. Gruden knows that well.
"We still have to be able to throw the ball and protect, whoever's out there," Gruden said. "It'll be a good challenge ... But we're going to have to do it. We'll have to give them some help, maybe some quick game. But we're still going to drop back and wing it, what the heck."