In his second season with the Washington Redskins, Pierre Garcon has firmly established himself as the team's primary wide receiver. He has already surpassed his 2012 numbers in both receptions and yards.
Garcon caught 44 passes for 633 yards in 10 games last season. In just nine games this season, he already has 61 receptions for 803 yards.
That puts Garcon on pace for a career-best year and speaks to his recent level of dominance. The 27-year-old has caught seven passes in each of the last three weeks, including two straight games going over the 100-yard mark.
Garcon's breakout campaign in Washington has been defined by two things. The first has been the creative approach of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to take coverage away from Garcon and getting the ball in his hands.
The second has been Garcon's own ability to make plays in the open field via elusive, tenacious running and acrobatic catches.
Well-Designed Screen Passes are Creating Numerous Big Gains
One of the best ways the Redskins have of getting Garcon in the open field is off well-designed screen passes. Week 10's clash with Minnesota Vikings, a game where Garcon tallied 119 receiving yards, showcased two great examples.
The first occurred with 8:53 left in the second quarter and the Redskins facing 2nd-and-10 at their own 48-yard line. Garcon began the play in the backfield aligned as a running back.
Shanahan put three receivers, including running back Roy Helu Jr., a decent blocker, out on the right side of the O-line. They were positioned to block for Garcon on a screen that way.
Before the snap, Garcon motioned over to the three-receiver side of the formation. The screen was now set.
Once Garcon received the screen pass from quarterback Robert Griffin III, two blocking convoys quickly formed around him.
Helu and the two wide receivers, shown in the yellow circles, moved to get blocks near the sideline. Behind Garcon, guards Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester, along with center Will Montgomery, moved out to block pursuit defenders in the middle.
This carefully crafted blocking created a wide lane for Garcon to attack.
It also let Garcon's ability in the open field take over. He broke two tackles, the first when he ran over safety Andrew Sendejo (34).
The next saw him power through a hit by linebacker Chad Greenway (52). That allowed Garcon to complete a 32-yard catch and run.
Later in the game, the Redskins set up another effective screen for Garcon, this one on 3rd-and-15 in the third quarter. Shanahan again created a three-receiver look on the right, this time by bringing rookie tight end Jordan Reed in motion.
That set up a trio of blockers for Garcon. The wideout would be targeted on a middle screen behind the rush from Minnesota's front four.
As he caught the ball behind the pressure, Garcon had the freedom to turn and attack the open field.
As he did, Reed, wide receivers Santana Moss and Leonard Hankerson, along with Helu, all made key blocks.
Those efforts enabled Garcon to again overwhelm would-be tacklers. First, he fought out of the clutches of linebacker Erin Henderson.
Then he eluded an arm tackle by Sendejo, before finishing a 30-yard gain.
Shanahan has developed a varied array of screens that help get Garcon free in the open field. Play designs like these let Griffin quickly get the ball into the hands of his leading playmaker in the passing game.
Misdirection and Formation Helping Set Garcon Free
Shanahan will also use misdirection and deception to help create big plays for Garcon. A great example came in the first quarter of Washington's Week 9 clash with the San Diego Chargers.
The offense had the ball at their own 31 and faced 2nd-and-10. Shanahan initially deployed a three-tight end set.
Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul were the in-line blockers, shown in the yellow circle. Prior to the snap, Reed went in motion to the other side of the front.
From there the Redskins would run a fake zone stretch play to the left, the signature run of their offense. Meanwhile, Garcon would release behind the linebackers drawn up to the run.
Griffin executed a play-action fake to Alfred Morris that drew San Diego's inside linebackers to the line, letting Garcon escape behind them.
Griffin also rolled out of the pocket, giving extra time for Garcon to work across the field and extra time to deliver an accurate pass.
Griffin connected with a wide open Garcon along the right sideline. He completed another catch and run for 30 yards.
The play was Garcon's opening catch of the game and the springboard for a 172-yard receiving effort, his most productive game of the season.
This kind of play-action, rollout combination is a staple of the Shanahan passing game. It succeeds in getting a receiver like Garcon open in between intermediate and deep coverage with the room to make yards after the catch.
But Shanahan can also take coverage away from Garcon with formation. A brilliant example was provided during Washington's Week 7 shootout with the Chicago Bears.
Early in the second quarter, Griffin and the offense faced a 2nd-and-13 at Chicago's 32. At the start of the play the Bears shadowed Garcon with their best cover man, veteran Charles Tillman.
But Shanahan would soon draw Tillman away by bringing Helu in motion and splitting him out as a wide receiver.
He would also ensure Garcon would not be doubled down the field by placing three receivers, including two tight ends, on the other side of the formation. That brought a safety up to the line, shown in the black circle, and forced the Bears into single coverage on the outside.
Bringing Helu across the field drew Tillman away from Garcon and into coverage along the sideline. That left Garcon singled up against a linebacker, James Anderson, an obvious matchup advantage for Washington.
Garcon would use a quick in-and-out move to get behind Anderson, where there would be no immediate safety help.
With Tillman initially focused on Helu, Garcon, shown in the yellow circle, was wide open to haul in Griffin's pass for 19 yards.
This play revealed how the Redskins have clever ways of drawing coverage away from their No. 1 receiver. It is just one of several smart variations employed by Shanahan, who is a great designer of plays.
His mercurial schemes, combining elements of deception with creative formations, are putting Garcon in positions to terrorize defenses with his flair for the big play.
He has responded after a slow start to the season to show greater effort and more consistency. Those are two areas where Garcon, as talented as any receiver in the league when the mood strikes, has struggled in the past.
But he has recently applied himself to the role of reviving the receiving corps and has responded well to how the coaches are using him.
Along with Reed's performances, Garcon's dominance has given Washington a more expansive and versatile passing game. With a playmaker like Garcon taking attention away from Griffin and Morris, this offense could still key a turnaround from the team's 3-6 record.
All screen shots courtesy of NFL Network, CBS Sports, Fox Sports and NFL.com Game Pass.
All statistics via NFL.com.
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