In case you've been of the grid all week or still aren't sure this is all a dream, we can confirm the Washington Redskins have a chance to clinch the NFC East this Saturday with a win over the Philadelphia Eagles. If only it were that simple. There's the short week and another game with a shorthanded roster. Defensively, the injury focus with some "level of concern" centers on safety Dashon Goldson.
That's why DeAngelo Hall could be one to watch in a rematch with more at stake than bragging rights. The former corner-turned-safety would play a key role regardless but in Goldson's absence, it would magnify his role. Goldson has been a leader at that position all season long. Hall, who is just learning the position, will need to be a key communicator and contributor if the Redskins are to walk away with the crown.
The good news is that Hall's conversion to safety has gone better than many expected. He has been a staunch contributor in the run game, coming from deep positions to meet ball carriers head on. I said from the beginning that if the Hall-turned-safety experiment didn't work out it wouldn't be because of tackling issues and the veteran has done his part to back me up. Pass coverage is where he still needs to elevate his game. Hall has been around. He clearly understands route combinations, but he is looking at them from a different position, from different angles on the field. Let's look at the film:
1. Redskins played a lot of Cover-2 in the second half against the Bills. This is understandable since the Redskins had the lead and were inviting the Bills to run. From singleback, the Bills are running the deep post/deep crosser combination. The Redskins are in a Cover 2 zone, meaning Will Compton has the deep middle of the field, while the safeties split the deep end in to halves. Hall is the safety towards the top of the screen. The target is marked in white.
Compton loses the battle right off the line of scrimmage while he was looking for run. There was just too much distance between Chris Hogan's alignment and Compton's. Hogan bends his route to the outside so Hall opens his hips to the outside. Hogan then sticks his foot in the ground and heads for the post.
Hall, with the veteran move of not crossing his feet but doing an outside 180 to lose as little speed and steps as possible. Compton also trying to close the gap from behind.
If Tyrod Taylor doesn't hang this ball so high in the air, this is probably a touchdown. Hogan beats all three defenders to the spot.
The ball hangs and Hall is able to get back into the play, making contact with Hogan at the right time and breaking up the pass. I've done my homework on the Eagles offense and know that many of their deep routes are options to the post route if there are two deep safeties to split. The Redskins should be on the lookout for this route. Hall's most important key is figuring out his range on the back end. Whether age or the foot injury, it's not what it once was so he's going to have to make up ground with quicker decisions. I'll show you an example.
#2. Redskins are playing Cover 2 man under on this play. That means the two safeties are splitting the deep field in half while the underneath defenders play man coverage. Bashaud Breeland is covering Sammy Watkins at the top of the screen. Hall is the safety to their side of the field. His only job is to stay over the top of the deepest man to his side of the field.
Watkins gets an inside release by Breeland (which you want so you can funnel him towards the safety and give the safety a shorter distance to cover. Hall peaks in the backfield, determines Watkins is the deep route to his side and begins running. This looks like an okay position for Hall as he has a four-to-five yard head start.
Watkins has those young legs though and he stacks Breeland (stacks = getting past a defender then getting over top of him like a box out to make the only route to the ball for the defender being through the receiver). The five yard head start Hall had is eaten alive and Taylor puts the ball outside and Hall doesn't have a chance. I'll take Breeland in man coverage any day but you still want your safety in the right position.
3. Naturally, with all the Cover 2 being played by the Redskins, it was only a matter of time before Bills started calling 4 Verts which is it's natural counter. Redskins are in Cover 2 zone here. Flooding two zones with four receivers gives the offense a win in the numbers column. Even with a dropping middle linebacker, that still only puts three back there and you have to hope he's athletic enough to stay with whoever is running down the seam. The safeties have to be quick to react. There are a few ways you can call 4 Verts. Bills come out Gun Right Trips Left 999. That just means they are putting three receivers to one side and they are all running "9" routes, splitting the difference in the defense. Hall is the safety at the top of the screen.
With Keenan Robinson dropping in the middle and having a big cushion to stay over the top, DeAngelo Hall can focus on the other two "9" routes to his side. Hall starts trailing towards them as he's looking in the backfield to see where Tyrod Taylor is going with the ball. (Just a tidbit: Quinton Dunbar is assigned to the flat area on this play but as he peaks backwards and sees no one in the flat area, he turns around and tries to stay with Watkins at the top of the screen. Watkins is too fast to be caught by Dunbar because he peaked backwards but that's a veteran move for a rookie making a position change.) Hall should be a little closer to splitting the difference between the two routes.
Taylor drops it in the bucket and Hall can't get there in time resulting in another touchdown. This is a garbage time touchdown but you hate to see it completed, regardless. These are key practice reps for Hall who is still getting accustomed to a new position.
4. When the whole thing comes together for Hall, it looks great. Once again, the Bills are calling a 4 Verts play which is the way to attack a Cover 2 Zone which the Redskins are currently playing. Hall is the safety towards the bottom of the screen.
Hall sees Taylor begin his throw so he puts his foot in the ground. Bashaud Breeland is releasing the outside receiver as his responsibility is the flat zone. Hall has to come over the top.
Hall makes it over in time and absolutely lays the lumber into Marcus Easley to knock him out of bounds and separate him from the ball. Hopefully, with more reps this will become the more consistent play he makes.
The Eagles are going to take their shots this Saturday. It's do or die for them as well and I feel like I've seen the Eagles hit a million deep shots against the Redskins in recent years. Of course, it happened more often when they had DeSean Jackson but that is beside the point. The Eagles still have weapons that can cause problems and Sam Bradford has shown some recent improvement. With Jordan Matthews in the slot and speedsters like Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff running around, Hall is going to play a big role in trying to limit the Eagles downfield passing attack.
Paul Conner is the Film Analyst at Breaking Burgundy. You can follow him on Twitter @P_ConnerJr.