Once a question, Redskins’ offensive line now a strength
Coming into the season, the Washington Redskins’ offensive line ranked 12th on Pro Football Focus’ preseason list of offensive lines. Respectable within the ranks, but not necessarily dominant.
Issues arose when center Kory Lichtensteiger was placed on the injured reserve list because of a calf injury on Sept. 27. The trouble worsened when left tackle Trent Williams was suspended Nov. 1 for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
But, instead, the offensive line hummed on, and may have even gotten better.
Since Williams’ suspension, the Redskins inserted Ty Nsekhe into the left tackle position, and didn’t miss a beat. Guard Spencer Long switched over to center, and it’s working. Depth, perhaps the grandest question for the group, has turned out to be a strength.
So far this season, the Redskins’ offensive line has allowed just 14 sacks, the second-fewest in the NFL. Considering quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown the fifth-most passes, it makes the lack of sacks all the more incredible. Cousins has gotten sacked just once every 31 pass attempts.
“They’ve protected well,” Cousins said. “That’s what we ask them to do, and it’s not an easy task against some really good pass rushers and some really good schemes, but they’ve protected well. They work hard on a day-in, day-out basis to be able to do that.”
Right tackle Morgan Moses is proud of his blocking unit. Moses, who has been dealing with a nagging ankle injury for the last several weeks, preaches the importance of the role each of his fellow linemen possesses. He says the guys take a “next man up” approach when the line options thin because of injury or suspension. He also credits offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who he says is the best offensive line coach in the NFL.
“It’s almost like giving us a cheat sheet, you know?” Moses said of having Callahan. “When you got something like
that and a great group of guys that are willing to work, it makes it a lot easier.”
Nothing appears to phase the line. Facing the Minnesota Vikings’ elite pass-rushers with a new left tackle in Nsekhe? No problem. They only allowed one sack. A new running back to block for in Robert Kelley? No problem. They’ve helped him gain 358 yards in his first four starts.
“Just overall, I don’t really think there is a weakness in their game,” coach Jay Gruden said. “They’re good pass-protectors, they’re good run players. They’re smart. They can pull. So I don’t really see anything that is hurting them.”
“Spencer Long is making a smooth transition to center,” Gruden continued. “Brandon [Scherff] is continually getting better. Morgan [Moses] is fighting through the injury, but he’s still playing at a high level, and obviously Shawn Lauvao is a consistent plug-in guy who is playing extremely well, too.”
Moses says the key to their success is the communication and trust they operate with. Following the Redskins’ poor defensive effort to start the season before bouncing back against the Baltimore Ravens, linebacker Will Compton stressed the importance of communication in his teammates’ success. Moses agreed.
“It’s very important because the defense mixes up looks, rotates their safeties so we can’t see the blitz coming,” Moses said.
Those quick forms of communication allow the Redskins to make the appropriate adjustments, and, more times than not, it’s working.
“[We got to] keep up the aggressiveness, but really it’s just all about balance and making sure we keep the defense guessing,” Long said.
The most impressive thing may come down to how well Nsekhe has played as a replacement for Williams. Moses spoke highly of Williams, saying that since Moses joined the team in 2014, Williams has assisted him in multiple ways. He’s shown Moses how to block in specific situations, going over the playbook with him, even providing write ups for defensive linemen Moses may face in upcoming games.
But the journeyman Nsekhe has been able to competently replace Williams during the All-Pro’s suspension.
“He’s a great guy,” Moses said of Nsekhe. “Obviously, if you see him, he’s a huge human being. And he’s strong, man. He knows the game and he’s just been waiting for his moment. His moment has came and he’s been able to thrive on that situation.”
“We have got good depth,” Gruden said. “Obviously you lose a left tackle that’s the best left tackle in football and you replace him with another guy who is playing at a very high level — that says a lot about the depth of this football team.”
Nsekhe is essentially a starting tackle now, and when Williams returns from suspension following the Redskins’ game against the Arizona Cardinals, Nsekhe gives Washington options. Nsekhe could move to right tackle to give Moses a break and help him recover. If a guard goes down, either Nsekhe or Williams could fill in.
This elite-level of play has been a result of the Redskins’ focus on the offensive line in the last few years. Moses was drafted with the 66th overall pick in the 2014 draft. Long was selected 12 picks later. Scherff was selected with the fifth overall pick a year later. Williams has been a mainstay for the last several seasons and Lauvao was signed as a free agent in 2014. Nsekhe bounced around the Arena and Canadian Football Leagues before finally landing in Washington.
That makes the core of the Redskins line relatively inexperienced, something that doesn’t go unnoticed with Moses.
“You got Trent and Shawn as the savvy vets,” Moses said. “The rest of us are year two and three in. So if you look at that, man, there’s plenty of growth for us ahead.”
Washington Redskins center Spencer Long switched over from guard earlier this season and the shift has worked out well. Despite injuries to center Kory Lichtensteiger and the suspension of left tackle Trent Williams, the depth of the offensive line has transformed from one of the team’s question marks to a strength.
Washington Redskins tackle Morgan Moses says communication and trust they operate with is the key to the offensive line’s success and turnaround.