Nathan Miller: Robert Griffin III – First Ballot Inductee? Not so Fast…


Contributing writer Nathan Miller believes Robert Griffin is an excellent prospect about to meet a brick wall. Miller thinks Griffin’s deficiencies have been masked by his gaudy box score totals and defenses that didn’t get to scout his tendencies. Photo by Mike Davis.

By Nathan Miller 

Nathan Miller is a guest contributor as a part of an invitation to readers and writers to submit material. You can find his other post on Darren McFadden here

First-ballot Hall of Famer. Sounds ridiculous? Well it should. Griffin has ridden a wave of excitement into the league and expectations are stratospheric thanks to the deafening sound of RG3 Groupies.

Some argued that he was the better choice than Andrew Luck in the NFL Draft. Others felt he was trying too hard to earn this No.1 overall pick and questioned his true intentions. They talk about Griffin’s football intelligence, his athletic prowess, and game-changing ability. Although Griffin has rewarded many fantasy owners who drafted him in the mid-rounds of their summer drafts, there is more to a quarterback’s game than great athleticism. Ask Michael Vick, Vince Young, Cam Newton, Steve Young, John Elway, and Terry Bradshaw.

It would be arrogant to not recognize his gifts as an athlete, and an inspiring captain of his offense. Robert Griffin has demonstrated that he is capable of playing at the highest level. He is an accurate passer, an intelligent player, and a super-human athlete. He will likely graduate into the company of elite players in the future, but only after honing his skills at the highest level and upon closer evaluation, this might take longer than many think.

The reason for the longer time frame is a two-fold question where the answers might prove troublesome: Can Griffin stay healthy long enough to realize his potential and can he correct a tendency to tip his hand to the defense?

Taking Unnecessary Hits

This is the most talked-about and obvious of Griffin’s flaws. Fortunately, it’s also the easiest to fix. Many hope his recent concussion knocked sense into him. He had previous stated that his aggressive running was part of his game, but he’s no good to Washington in a catatonic state.

Griffin takes the ball to end and he needs to do a better job of protecting the ball and himself. He has to remember to get down so he can play another down. On the plus side, safety Mark Barron gets a great opportunity to showcase his best “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan impression.

In a play that leaves one shaking their head the Redskins are down by one with 0:46 left in the game on a 2nd-and-six where Griffin runs for 15 yards. He reaches field goal range but instead of sliding to end the play, he continues running at full speed into a herd of defenders. He gets crushed unnecessarily and risks injury and/or a potential turnover.

Most young quarterbacks try too hard to be the hero, but we know that these players aren’t so insulated from each other that they don’t see their peers or predecessors taking vicious punishment and losing weeks, months, and years to their careers.  The problem is an immaturity that comes from being young, feeling impenetrable, and having an ego that needs to be held in check. Tom Coughlin’s decision to bench former Virginia Tech star David Wilson might be the best thing that happened in the running back’s young career, because he realized that he wasn’t above the team. This is the same thing that Vernon Davis learned with Mike Singletary benched him.

Having an ego is healthy, but there are many ways that players with special gifts behave as if they are above the team. Sometimes it’s arrogance in the form of calling undue attention to them as individuals. Other times, it’s about the arrogance of placing oneself in dangerous situations. There’s a balance that needs to be learned for players like Griffin.

Here is the infamous “mild concussion” hit. It is a 3rd-and-four and he is nowhere near the end zone. I could maybe rationalize this one if he was at the goal line and within scoring range, but this play is over from the snap. The receivers are well covered and force Griffin to run, which ultimately results in a loss of yards and a temporary state of confusion for the rookie.

Pre-Snap Tell

What I have noticed from Weeks 3-5 is that once a defense becomes aware of his patterns, it could easily distinguish with some degree of accuracy where the ball is going before it is even snapped. I neglected his first two games when focusing on this tendency, because I wanted to give him time to get up to speed before critiquing him. However, there are formations and situations on passing downs where there’s a high degree of certainly a defense can tell which side of the field the ball is going. Moreover, there is only one receiver on that side of the field, which often pinpoints the exact destination.

His typical routine often includes a quick view of the immediate line. This is to be disregarded. However, he will blatantly stare at the hot receiver and this could get brutal for him going forward if it continues.

Here is a prime example: Shotgun formation and the line settles in. He walks into position, looks directly to his left, glances at the line, and the ball is snapped. He takes a three-step drop, all the while staring directly at his intended receiver to the left for several seconds before finally throwing to him.

Again, walks to his position, looks only to the single receiver on the right side of the play, and then takes the snap. He then proceeds to stare the receiver down and throw.

Single-back formation. Griffin glances at the line on his way to center. Once under center, he looks to the right, does his cadence, takes the snap, stares down the only receiver on the strong side, and then delivers the ball. In this case there are two tight ends on the strong side, and one could pose the argument that although indicating the play side, it was a 33 percent chance of success to target one receiver. However, although one cannot tell conclusively based on the footage, I would put several George Washington’s down on the fact that he was likely staring at the receiver. As I will illustrate shortly, it’s what he does best. Also, one of the tight ends stays to block, increasing the probability of a correct guess.

The next thing the defense sees is him staring down his receiver. It’s a pretty obvious statement to where he’s going.

Shotgun formation: Griffin glances at the line (stop me if you’ve heard this before) and looks only to his weak side which contains a single receiver. He then proceeds to wink at, blow kisses to, and high-five the intended receiver before taking the snap, staring him down, and delivering the ball. One can only assume that after seeing this repeatedly, that defenses will begin to connect the dots, and will do so at a maddening pace.

Tunnel Vision 

In the progression of problems, RG3’s tunnel vision goes hand-in-hand with pre-snap tells. At this point of his pro career, Griffin has absolutely no ability to look off defenders. Some of this may be part of the Shanihanigans of simplifying the game plan for Griffin. However, it goes much further beyond that.

Thus far, I rarely saw him go beyond a second read. In the rare instances he did go to a second read, it was typically a check-down to his back. Even more uncommon was a throw to another receiver in the area as the first read.

Griffin does have his own process of “looking off defenders.” His version has two faces:

  1. The first usually involves him staring blankly into the center of the field. Defenders at this point may cue in on a tight end or slot receiver. Usually there is an outside receiver running a crossing pattern that will arrive in the area he is looking at 3, 2, 1, throw. I did not see this often, but one could say this is a version of using one’s eyes to mislead the defense. He is still throwing to his first read, but not staring them down (which is not his specialty).
  2. The second, and more concerning use of his eyes, is in fact no use at all. There are a few throws that he stares down a receiver outside the numbers on the left, and then abruptly turns and throws to a receiver on the opposite side of the field. In all of these instances, he made no attempt to ascertain the situation before throwing. One of these attempts is successful. The others were miserable targets where he is extremely lucky he wasn’t picked off.

I highlight these two eye uses because although they are a liability at this point, it does show an attempt to grow as a passer. One cannot acquire these skills without practicing them, and it does appear that he is trying to utilize them. At this point his proficiency is limited, at best, but it should get better with time.

Here are some examples of Griffin’s tunnel vision:

He looks only to the intended receiver pre-snap. After the snap he stares the receiver down before throwing.

Staring, staring, staring, throw. Griffin doesn’t take his eyes off his first read before throwing. His typical “stare-down time” is 2-3 seconds.

This play is an example of poor decision making. Griffin takes the snap, stares down the receiver, and delivers the ball. The simple stare-down is one issue, but his refusal or inability to move to another receiver or throw the ball away if the coverage is good is a much larger problem. The intended receiver is covered about as well as one can be, and Griffin delivers anyway.

Staring, staring, staring…throw.

Here is another situation with good coverage. He stares, pumps several times, and dances around for three seconds before throwing the ball anyway.

Tunnel Vision Discussion

What’s the big deal with the tunnel vision? He’s still completing passes, so who cares?

What we are seeing before our very eyes are teams taking notes, and making corrections. Opposing defenses have not seen the Shanihaned-Griffin before, and since they haven’t had enough games to scout they were playing Griffin based on what they perceived the threats to be. With each passing game, Griffin’s weaknesses are going to become more of a liability.

I expect a plateau or decline in his performance in the coming weeks until he develops more as a passer in this league. This will result in more interceptions, sacks, and tipped passes. This was evident in Week 5 against Atlanta.

Griffin’s eyes once again go straight to the intended target post-snap. After staring him down, he throws the ball, which is easily tipped by the defense. I think we can expect to see more of these tipped passes in the future.

The above play exemplifies one of the more curious concerns with Griffin.  There is something that I noticed in plays when Griffin took a sack, which I found compelling because it takes “tunnel vision” to a dangerous level. The above play shows a pocket closing on Griffin. Although he has a clear lane for escape, he does not sense the pressure or notice the lane at all. The right side of the field is completely dead to him. It doesn’t exist. Also, he is so involved in watching his intended receiver that he fails to feel or see the pressure coming and he is sacked for a loss.

The above play shows Griffin once again staring down a receiver. On his periphery is the defensive end that intent on laying out Griffin. I cannot fathom the lack of vision that is taking place here. Griffin is not only staring at his receiver, but he so focused on the down field route that he lacks any sense of the impending threat. In this case he doesn’t even need to sense it because the threat is in clear view. Before the sack, Griffin does nothing to indicate he was aware of the defender. He takes a good hit, and fortunately gets back up.

Here is Exhibit C. Griffin drops back and stares down his receiver. A cornerback is closing on the right, and a nose tackle is bearing down ahead. For the sake of this argument, let’s completely ignore the cornerback. Griffin could have read that threat better pre-snap, but it is ultimately a blindside hit. What is a gross concern is his complete lack of awareness of a 300-plus-pound nose tackle that is in his face. Griffin does nothing to indicate he senses the threat, and takes a powerful hit from both defenders simultaneously.

Defensive Adjustments

Defensive strategies will change and adjustments will be made based on past opponent’s success, or lack thereof. Case in point in the Week 4 contest versus the Buccaneers, Griffin had three runs inside Tampa Bay’s 10. This has been a recipe for success for Washington because of Griffin’s athletic ability. Tampa Bay was burned on the same play twice, but corrected to stop it the third time.

Quarterback draw. The offensive line pass blocks and invites the defenders to take an outside route. The result is a gaping channel for Griffin to trot through for a touchdown.

Quarterback draw. Once again, the offensive line pass blocks and guides the defenders to the outside. The result is another pleasant hole for Griffin to make his way through. Although Griffin fumbles, Pierre Garcon recovers it for the Washington touchdown.

For a third and final time, the same draw play.

However, this time the defensive line jams across the line with a defensive end pulling from right to left. The result is enough confusion to eliminate any possibility of a hole developing. Griffin is then forced to bump it to the outside, and is greeted by defenders for no gain.

As outlined and illustrated above, Robert Griffin III has more than a handful of elements that need to be tweaked, adjusted, and acquired over the course of the season, and more likely into the next few seasons before he realizes his full potential. The success he has seen early this season will not continue throughout the year and one can already see a decline in play even if it isn’t evident in the box score just yet.

The depth of knowledge that he needs to consume is too much for him to increase or even continue his current success. The biggest question is how long can he sustain his physical health to get the needed time on the field to learn his craft? He needs to protect himself. Not just do a better job of it, but to begin protecting himself in a more fundamental way.

I am boggled by the degree to which he is locked onto one receiver. He needs to open his field of vision and see not only other potential targets, but the city bus zeroing in on him. I am excited to see Griffin in the NFL and anticipate further development over the next few years. He is the next in a line of electric quarterbacks that bring a unique skill-set to the league. His talents are obvious, and his opportunity is there.

I just hope he gives himself the chance to capitalize on it.

Nathan Miller can be contacted at nathan@revelationsports.com or Twitter @eklektique1

Categories: EvaluationsTags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

9 comments

  1. And yet -through 6 games – RGIII leads the NFL in completion percentage, 2nd in yards per attempt and 3rd in QB rating,

    Imagine how much better he can be if he corrected all this “locking in” stuff.

  2. great article. really nice work

  3. So, I’m wondering what you were actually paying attention to while you were watching. Setting aside the protecting himself issue, let’s start with the “tells.” Your first example (7.gif) is from 11:09 to play 2nd quarter against the Bucs. First, the line settles in, RG3 scans the field as the fullback (who has already caught 2 passes at this point) motions wide left. RG3 looks to the left where two receivers are now set up, glances right and signals for the snap. I’ll give you that he stares down the left side but it’s a slant and the ball is out of his hands in under 2 seconds.

    You make a better case in your second example (12.gif), a play run with :07 left in the first half. You are right that he only looks at the right side of the field, something of a tell. What your screen cap and incorrect description ignores is that there are two receivers split right (TE Fred Davis in the slot and Josh Morgan wide) and he very clearly looks at both of them. After the snap, the experienced safety, Ronde Barber, is clearly reading Griffin’s eyes as he glances at the TE, slowing Barber’s break towards the receiver, leaving a tight window into which Griffin completes the pass, a slant that he again gets out of his hand in under 2 seconds.

    As for your third example (13:33 to play in the 3rd; 13.gif) I just don’t think you watched the play more than once. You did count the number of receivers on that side correctly this time at least, though when you say that one of the tight ends stayed in to block your being disingenuous since that TE is Fred Davis and he has disengaged from his block and is leaking out to the right by the time Griffin has completed the play action (an important detail you left out of the description in order to pretend that the next thing the defense saw was Griffin staring at a receiver who is not in the picture that you claim shows him staring said receiver down. Instead, the fake drew all three linebackers up towards the line of scrimmage and they were busy bailing out at this point). Griffin does keep his eyes to the right side of the formation since there are 3 receivers over there, clearly looks from one of the tight ends (it’s difficult to tell which because they are in the same vicinity) over to the receiver, Morgan, and completes the throw. I’ll see your George Washington’s and raise you a few Franklins on that one. I’m just not sure what he gave away on this play beyond which side of the field he was going to look at and I’m guessing whatever advantage the defense might have been able to gain was more than negated by the play fake. I will say that he probably had a shot at a deep ball to Garcon if he can avoid the defensive end who is in his face as he throws.

    And now for example #4 (19.gif), which came with :17 to play in the Bucs game. Once again I have to question your counting skills. The team comes to the line with 2 receivers (Moss and Hankerson) split left with TE Fred Davis on the line. Griffin does plenty of scanning while Davis goes in motion left, at which point he does pretty emphatically look left — where there are now 3 receivers lined up (moving inside out: Davis, Moss, Hankerson), not one. He does stare down the left side but again it’s a two yard slant and the ball is out of his hands in just over a second (complete to Moss incidentally), not exactly an eternity for the defense to have figured out which of the three receivers is getting the ball and taken magical advantage of knowing which side the ball is going to.

    You’ve also cherry picked four of what I count as six times he focused pre-snap more on the side to which he was throwing the ball in this game. Of your four examples, three were completions, 2 of them for first downs.

    Let’s move on to the “tunnel-vision” shall we?

    Your second example in that section (6.gif and 8.gif) again comes from the Bucs game, this time with about 12:15 to go in the 2nd quarter. Griffin throws to TE Niles Paul, one of two receivers in the area (Hankerson is running down the sideline behind Paul). First, this play is an example of Griffin scanning both sides of the line pre-snap, not giving any sort of tell that I can see. Second, he does stare down the left side of the field, maybe even the receiver. He throws into tight coverage but where only his receiver can get his hands on it (which Paul does before dropping the pass). If this is the worst decision he’s going to make then sign me up.

    Next example, again from the Bucs game (9.gif), he focuses on one side of the field, where he has 3 receiving options and a fourth draggin across from the left side. It looks like he checks Moss on the slant (and/or Garcon on the drag), then wants to go deep to Hankerson and finally checks down to Fred Davis at the sideline. Could he have checked out the left side of the field and maybe moved a safety? I guess, but the play was pretty clearly designed to go right and I didn’t see a whole lot of staring. If he was staring Davis down, the Bucs defense must be awful because there wasn’t a defender within five yards of him.

    Next is 17.gif. I’ll give you this one, although it’s pretty clear he’s decided to take advantage of the max protect to take a shot deep with one on one coverage. The “dancing around” is him waiting for the receiver to get down the field. He throws up a jump ball into good one on one coverage fifty yards down field and hopes his taller receiver out jumps the corner.

    Let’s look at 4.gif, 2:20 left to go in the first quarter of the Bengals game. Michael Johnson absolutely blows by reserve LT Jordan Black, while Griffin is looking down field to his left, where he has two receiving targets and a running back coming out of the backfield. He seems to have just made the decision to check down to the RB, shifting his vision to the center of the field when he gets hit from behind by Johnson. This sack is on the protection breakdown, however, not Griffin’s “lack of vision,” beginning with RB Alfred Morris breaking a cardinal rule by leaking out of the backfield between LT Black and DE Johnson, preventing Black from even getting a hand on the defensive end. Griffin was VERY clearly doing what we keep seeing, focusing on one side of the field during his drop but not a particular receiver, bouncing and then scanning the rest of the field. Unfortunately he didn’t have the extra half second he needed to get the ball out.

    As for the running plays, you’re playing a bait and switch game here. The first two plays are straight up QB draws with the offensive line inviting an outside rush just as you said, leaving a huge lane for Griffin to run through. The third play (15.gif and 16.gif) was run with 12:59 to play in the game and was not in fact run from inside the 10 (though I’ll cut you some slack since it was run in the red zone). The play was designed to go left from the beginning with a completely different blocking scheme, including RG Chris Chester pulling left to lead block and completely missing Gerald McCoy scraping down the line. This was an example of the right defensive call in the right spot but not much of an adjustment. If the Redskins had run the same QB draw as on the other two plays, Chester would have been in position to block McCoy instead of losing track of him while pulling out to the left and Griffin may have converted a first down.

    I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you watched a lot of plays and maybe got a few mixed up. And clearly RG3 is not a finished product — and it’s a ridiculous straw-man argument to pretend that anyone thinks he should be in the Hall of Fame already. Clearly he needs to continue to work on his progressions and reading a defense. And I’m sure he’s going to face a defense he can’t figure out at some point. But I think you’re massively underestimating Griffin’s ability to adapt and learn based on sketchy (at best) evidence. This whole column reads like a poorly analysed example of click bait.

  4. Thanks for this! Notwithstanding Hobart’s comment (I could see where some of the pre-snap back and forth scanning prior to locking onto a receiver could be perceived as not “locking on”, but I do think several seconds of locking on is enough for defenses to wise up to in time) this is great analysis.

    Could you do Andrew Luck please?

  5. i disagree with your 2nd listed “unnecessary hit”. the redskins are down to their last drive and cundiff had already missed field goals of 31 yds, 41 yds, and 57 yds in that game. clearly, cundiff was unrealiable and no distance was safe for him. therefore, rg3 does his best to make the kick as easy as possible and gain a few more yards despite taking a tough hit. this was exactly what he should have done.

    i do agree that he sometimes takes unncessary hits, but when the game is on the line, you want your qb to leave it all on the field, big hit or not.

  6. You have tried, but I think you have not provided the full story.
    1. Griffin has demonstrated going through his progressions on multiple occassions.
    2. Your tell only makes sense if you show what he does when he doesn’t throw to the hot.
    3. Not getting flustered under pressure when a pocket is still in tact, is not a negative. Sorry. I am not sure what the basis of this theory was. Griffin has clearly demonstrated the poise to stand tall in the pocket, and scramble when necessary.

    Griffin has faults, but I think the ones you pointed out are not very legitimate.

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