The Falcons will be able to use some of their Week 4 experience on run defense against the Redskins this week. Against the Panthers, the Falcons saw a lot of run-option looks from quarterback Cam Newton and the running backs and it's something they'll see again. Atlanta's defense allowed the Panthers to gain 199 rushing yards and facing the second-best rushing team in the NFL this week, they expect to see those similar looks.
"I'm sure they'll study the film and look at how Carolina was successful," head coach Mike Smith of the Redskins. "I know that they've been doing some things very well through the first four games. We're going to make sure that we've shored up the issues we had in giving up 200 yards rushing last week, that's for sure. Then put our best foot forward in terms of preparing ourselves for this offense even though it's similar there are a lot of differences in what they do."
Behind dual-threat QB Richard Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris, Washington is averaging 171 yards rushing per game. They've done this because of Redskins coach Mike Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme, a run game theory he's used for numerous years of success in the NFL.
"That scheme is a zone scheme, one cut and get downhill," linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said on Wednesday. "That's something that Coach Shanahan has been doing for a long time. It doesn't matter which back is back there; they've been doing a great job running the ball wherever he's been. We have our hands full with the scheme and Alfred is playing well."
Griffin III makes the run game threat even more dangerous because Washington uses him, like Carolina and Newton, as a runner on designed runs. He's rushed for four touchdowns this season and is averaging 58 yards per game on the ground, but Morris is the back that makes the run game go. So far this season the rookie has been very successful at it, averaging 94 yards per game.
"He's been very impressive," Smith said. "Coach Shanahan has had a long history of not having top draft picks run the ball extremely well for him. ... (Morris doesn't have) super speed but he runs very well behind his pads. He's that one cut guy that zone blocking is designed for. He does a very nice job of one cut and he turns his shoulders north south when he gets in the secondary it's difficult to bring him down. I've been very impressed with him."
Weatherspoon said staying disciplined and on your feet is key to defending the zone blocking scheme from Washington. Linebackers speak about gap integrity often and against Washington it will be critical. Allowing two offensive linemen to get into a gap will open up lanes for Morris and the rushing attack. Weatherspoon said defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has preached to them this week about staying alive and on their feet because the motion of the O-linemen is all about getting guys on the ground. Penetration is not as important against the Redskins as it is against other rushing attacks.
"We'll be going sideways a little bit, but if our linemen stay alive I think that's something that's going to help us," Weatherspoon said. "Defeating the cut block is going to be big for them. The linebackers getting downhill even though the play is going outside will be big for us because he's looking to cut that ball back."
Washington offensive linemen will patiently allow the defense to flow where they want and wait for Morris or RGIII to make their read and cut back to the opposite side. While the Redskins passing attack can be dangerous because of RGIII's strong downfield arm, their rushing attack is what everything plays off of. Slowing down Washington on the ground will first and foremost fall on Atlanta's front seven. If they can get their job done on Sunday, everything for the Redskins becomes much more challenging.