This week Washington linebacker Zach Brown — who visited the Raiders as a free agent this offseason — made some headlines when he told NFL Network’s Good Morning Football “We’re daring you to put the ball in the air” which seemed like an odd statement to make in the week leading up to facing Derek Carr and the Raiders’ aerial attack.
I wanted answers, so I dug a little deeper.
In his setup, GMFB host Nate Burleson noted that the Washington defense is 9th in the league against the run. He asked Brown if that level of play could continue this season. Brown’s response is where the statement came in.
“We feel like [if] we get a couple more sacks, we can be one of the best teams on 3rd down if we can get the quarterback down in the last two games,” said Brown. “For us, we gonna make sure we gonna have a light box, so we’re gonna test you and see if you can run on us. But at the same time, when you pass it we got great corners and a good safety, so we’re kind of daring you to put the ball in the air.”
It’s an interesting response in which Brown seems to almost contradict himself. They’re testing if they can run on them and daring them to throw it. So... defense then? This is where I might put a pondering emoji.
I had to get to the bottom of it. So I asked Bill Horgan of Hogs Haven to help clarify. He obliged.
To me, the key phrase in his answer wasn’t the part about daring teams to put the ball up; the key phrase was: “we gonna have a light box”.
When I hear Zach say that the team is going to have a “light box” then I take that to mean:
The defense wants to put 7 in the box, and rush the passer with 4 players most of the time; they don’t want to commit a safety to stopping the run or rely on the blitz to pressure the quarterback.
The defense is having success stopping the run with a ‘light box’ (per Burleson – 9th in the NFL).
The defense believes that it can get pressure on the quarterback rushing 4 – and I’d say that the team got consistent pressure on [Carson] Wentz & [Jared] Goff in Weeks 1 & 2 (though Wentz scrambled out of it too often).
A quarterback who counts 7 in the box and doesn’t expect a blitz should typically check to a run, but if the Skins are stopping the run (Burleson says they are) with 7 in the box (Zach Brown says they are) then the quarterback’s best option is to pass, even with 7 defenders back.
Brown says that the CBs & Safety position are very talented (I agree with his assessment of the cornerbacks), so that’s the dare – pass into 7-man coverage despite the fact that the number count in the box says you should run the ball because the ‘Skins are winning the battle to stop the run without loading the box.
This is all consistent with everything I’ve heard Jay Gruden say for four seasons now. His message is always this: Stop the other team’s run game and make them “one dimensional”. Force the other team’s quarterback to beat you throwing the ball because you’re not allowing the run to be an effective option. As soon as the opposing offense becomes one-dimensional, the pass rush can tee off, using good cover skills to make the pass rush effective and force punts or turnovers.
Thank you for your time, Bill. That was well-stated and very informative. We’ll see if that plan is successful against the Raiders or if they can have Gruden once again lamenting that it didn’t work.