New England head coach Bill Belichick isn’t one to focus too heavily on records.
It’s no secret that Sunday’s matchup between the undefeated Patriots and the winless Washington Redskins will be one featuring teams heading in different directions, particularly on offense. While the Patriots are led by a future Hall of Famer Tom Brady and boast the NFL's ninth-best passing offense, the Redskins are near the bottom of the league in several offensive categories and are uncertain as to who will be under center for the rest of the year.
But that isn’t what Belichick sees as his team prepares to visit FedExField; he sees a balanced offense filled with talented players who can hurt defenses. Because of that, Belichick isn’t taking the Redskins lightly, no matter who ends up starting at quarterback.
“Every team in this league has good players,” Belichick said during a Tuesday conference call. “The records don’t really mean anything this week. It’ll just depend on how the two teams compete on Sunday afternoon. That’s all that really matters.”
The Redskins' 0-4 start this season has come as a shock to everyone in the organization from the head coach down to the players. Although the offense has some bright spots like standout rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin, losing running back Derrius Guice and tight end Jordan Reed to injury and left tackle Trent Williams to a holdout have hampered the offense's production.
Those losses have been apparent through the first four weeks. After scoring 27 points against the Philadelphia Eagles in the season opener, the Redskins' total decreased each of the next three weeks. On Sunday, they mustered a single field goal in a 24-3 loss to the New York Giants.
But Belichick said the Redskins offense is one that is well-balanced with the potential for big plays, and the amount of talented skill players on the roster ensures that the Patriots’ defense will have to be prepared for the passing game as well as the running game.
“[The offense] makes you defend everything -- the running game, the play action, the quick throws, the screens and the vertical passing game where they’ve hit a number of big plays,” Belichick said. “[Head Coach Jay] Gruden does a good job of springing those guys free and getting them vertically into the defense for potential big plays.”
The offense fits into Gruden’s philosophy and background, Belichick said, meaning it has flashes of the West Coast style and gives the quarterback the chance to make decisions and get the ball to their skill players.
One way the Redskins have been able to do that is through play-action and run-pass options, or RPOs. Play action passes have become a staple of a Redskins offense that throws the ball 70.31% of the time, which is currently fourth in the league behind the Arizona Cardinals, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Atlanta Falcons.
The Redskins also use RPOs, which Belichick called “the ultimate play action,” in a number of different formations, which makes the offense even more difficult to defend.
“They do a good job of using their running game formations and actions,” Belichick said. “The also have passes that, because of the action, are just hard to defend schematically. They mix all those in together as a way to keep the defense off-balance.”
As for which quarterback will be the one to call those play-action passes, Belichick has no idea. After all, Gruden has yet to name a starter and likely won’t until later in the week. Case Keenum, Colt McCoy and Dwayne Haskins are all under consideration.
In terms of playing time, Haskins has been on the field most recently, replacing Keenum in the second quarter of the Giants game. But while there were flashes of talent from the first round pick, Haskins also showed some rookie growing pains by throwing three interceptions.
McCoy and Keenum are both seasoned veterans who have led NFL offenses in the past, but injuries have been an issue for both, as Keenum was in a walking boot for “precautionary reasons” after Sunday’s game, while McCoy is just now coming back from a leg injury that kept him out of the first four games.
Still, Belichick and the Patriots are preparing for all three players, and regardless of who comes out to lead the Redskins’ offense, he believes his team will be in for a tough task.
“They are all pretty good,” Belichick said. “McCoy is an outstanding player with a great deal of experience and so is Case. Haskins is a young, talented player with good size and can move. [He’s] a big, strong guy in the pocket and has a great arm. We’ll have to get ready for all three players and that’ll be a big challenge for us.”