Part I’s analysis of Robert Griffin focuses on the relationship between Robert Griffin’s injury and Washington’s offensive scheme. It also raises questions about building an offense around a young player’s legs and its consequences. Part II examines how the weaknesses of this offense creates a vicious cycle of degradation to Griffin’s game, but there are also several reasons for hope if Griffin can hang tough.
Last year, I posted an analysis from a writer who was critical of Robert Griffin’s game and the Washington offensive system. The overall reader feedback was negative and some of their points had merit. Yet, there was an overall emotional tenor from readers that was rooted in denial that Griffin could be statistically good and still a flawed young player. Last year Griffin was mostly a one-read quarterback in an offense that augmented his athleticism while diminishing any reliance on his weaknesses.
This year, the herd is far more open to criticizing Griffin. Many people will say the quarterback is the dysfunctional force on Washington’s football team. If you read Sally Jenkins’ Washington Post editorial, she believes Griffin is a manipulative locker room lawyer with a forked tongue. Jenkins might argue that her take based on conversations with whatever sources she has in Washington is more nuanced than what I described, but I’m just calling it like I read it.
I agree that Griffin is a dysfunctional force. He’s the quarterback and leader of a dysfunctional offense and the marketing face of this team. He has made statements to the press that has elicited criticism about his methods of communication, his willingness to learn new skills, and his overall leadership.
But the dysfunctional force in Washington is the leadership above Griffin. They are enabling the behavior of a young player who needs the organization to guide him. The coaches and front office need to provide guidance and enforce boundaries for Griffin’s conversations with the media.
For this team it’s easier said than done. The true head of this organization has been questioned about his leadership for years. I also think Daniel Snyder displaying a similar myopia about his team’s name that – regardless of how you feel about the issue – will ultimately place Washington’s owner on the wrong side of history if he continues to resist the growing public sentiment for change. Like water, leadership flows downhill. So do the pollutants.
From what I see on the field this year, Griffin still has all the building blocks to develop into a good leader. He’s comfortable with risk, he’s tough as nails, and there’s a resiliency to his game despite the punishment that he’s taking on and off the field. The concern is that prolonged punishment can wear down any player.
However, there is evidence that Washington’s coaching staff is transitioning Griffin to a more pocket-friendly game. The staff is taking a gradual process with the offense, which for the public is like watching grass grow. If you’re a Washington fan, there’s reason for hope. If you’re a fantasy football owner, stay patient. I still believe Griffin will have an excellent career as a starting quarterback.
Max Protection: Mixed Results Continued
As I illustrated last week, Washington’s max protection schemes are designed to provide Griffin time in the pocket and simple choices. However, Washington’s offensive line continues to struggle even when there’s additional help and this places more pressure on its quarterback to make excellent decisions and execute at a near-perfect level in situations where there’s a higher degree of difficulty and potential for even greater criticism. Nothing like having a lower pass percentage with fewer receivers to target per play than your peers and more pressure while delivering that target.
Here’s Washington’s first offensive play from yesterday’s game against the Chargers. It’s a two-route scheme with max protection at Washington’s own goal line.
San Diego rushes three defenders and drops eight. Washington should have no problem protecting three defensive linemen with seven players, right? In theory this is correct; in practice, the line’s struggles are disappointing.
Griffin executes a play fake as his receivers release from the line of scrimmage. Griffin does a good job turning his back and extending the ball to the runner’s belly to sell the play action. The right tackle will get beat by No.91 and because the fullback had to work towards the outside linebacker, who drops into coverage, he could not provide a double team.
The fullback tries a late attempt to help the right tackle as the outside linebacker he was assigned to block drops into coverage with the other three linebackers, but No.91 splits the fullback and tackle and is within a steps of Griffin. Just like last week’s Broncos game, the linebackers are dropping and spread in position to take away the underneath game and stop Griffin from running. Griffin knows where he’s throwing as soon as his back foot plants at the end of his drop. These are simple route concepts designed for him to get rid of the ball fast. However, this pressure will require an even faster release than designed.
Griffin is nearing the apex of his release point just as the Chargers defensive end hits the quarterback square. The wide receiver is open, but it would help if the quarterback isn’t covered by a 300-pound lineman.
Griffin manages to get the ball out despite getting hit, but the pass is understandably lacking velocity and accuracy and falls behind Pierre Garcon. This is a routine occurrence for Griffin this year and a big reason for a drop in yards per attempt and completion percentage. I don’t care who the quarterback is, if he can’t get a clean pocket to deliver the ball without getting hit before releasing the football he’s not going to have consistent, efficient production.
Here’s a max protection scheme that works and the difference between this play and the one above is that Griffin has a clean pocket to deliver the football.
Notice the wrinkle that Washington is using more often with its pistol zone read option scheme: the deep back swinging to the perimeter. Griffin will often keep the ball and then wait for the outside containment to commit to him and then pitch the ball to this deep back. Washington is also sending Santana Moss in motion behind Griffin just before the snap and running a variation of this play to the receiver. These plays were effective against the Chargers as change-ups to their bread-and-butter runs.
On this play, Griffin executes the read option exchange with the back to his left and then drops to deliver the ball down field to Garcon who is split left. San Diego sends five and drops six into coverage; three of those defenders in the deep range of the field but split wide enough for Washington to find an opening in its zone.
The Chargers’ safety at the left hash drops deep enough for Garcon to break under the defender and the linebackers are shallow enough that the quarterback’s throw is an easy one.
Griffin finishes the play fake and has a spotless pocket to deliver the ball in rhythm to Garcon. If the receiver didn’t come open, the outlet receiver on the left side also appears open for a check-down. It’s a well-designed play if the defense is concerned about playing the run. Alfred Morris is doing a fine job of generating that kind of attention.
Griffin’s pass is on-time and Garcon has the room to work across the field and up the sideline for a nice gain. Simplicity is genius and when it worked consistently last year, everyone proclaimed Griffin a quarterback genius. When it stopped working as well this year, they are critical of Griffin’s development. But I think Washington has always been aware that this offensive scheme is limited and it is just the first step in its plan to develop Griffin into a complete player.
They’re also aware that the transition will be gradual and the downside will be complaints from the public about Griffin and the simplicity of the scheme. However for the sake of maintaining a secure game plan, they aren’t going to be transparent with the public about what they’re doing. Their job is to do the exact opposite – keep it private and hopefully over time, the results will clam the public concern.
Single Reads – Tight Windows (No Pass Protection, No Patience w/first?)
Because Washington’s offense is having difficulty protecting Griffin with max protection schemes, an unintended consequence is its quarterback displaying a lack patience in the pocket. Ask David Carr, Blaine Gabbert, Trent Edwards, and a variety of early-round quarterback prospects who were pummeled early in their careers and lost their accuracy, their poise, and their aggressive mindset. Griffin isn’t at the stage where he has become shell shocked, but he is exhibiting some minor symptoms.
Here’s a play where Griffin targets his tight end Jordan Reed up the seam, but he forces the ball to get rid of it early rather than stay patient and read the field. The Chargers have eight defenders within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage with one safety deep. Right away, Griffin should be thinking about his wide receiver split to the left with a defender most likely playing off-man coverage.
At the snap, the safety drops to his right, which is among the first things Griffin should notice. This validates the idea that the Washington quarterback should target his wide receiver at the left sideline on some type of curl, hook, comeback. In this case, the receiver is running a comeback.
The Chargers blitz one defender, sending a four-man front towards the pocket as Griffin receives the snap from the gun.
Look at all the space up the sideline with just one defender in the area. This should be the primary option on this play, but Griffin has eyes for Reed up the seam. Griffin hopes the tight end inside Reed will occupy the linebacker just inside the right hash so Reed has room to separate against the outside linebacker. Even so, this is a tight window and a riskier play than waiting for the outside receiver to come open on a deep route – unless of course you’re the quarterback working with an offensive line that has difficulty protecting you from three defenders in a max protection scheme. While Griffin is making a conceptual mistake, I understand his logic.
Griffin sees that the inside linebacker has dropped deep enough to take away both tight end rounds. However, Reed doesn’t make the adjustment on his route that Griffin is anticipating. The Washington quarterback wants to throw the ball behind the linebacker at the left lash, which requires Reed to take a more vertical break rather than break inside as hard as he is.
As Griffin delivers the ball down field and behind the linebacker, the tight end is not in position to make the play because of his break. The result is an overthrown pass. Note that the receiver running the comeback is still working on his route and Griffin has a lot of space in the pocket to wait for it. The patience isn’t there because he’s been smacked around enough not to hang in the pocket.
As the ball reaches the turf, note the receiver on the left beginning his break. With more consistent protection, Griffin will have more opportunities to display patience. The concern is will Griffin be able to withstand the storm until then? I don’t have a definitive answer. His toughness thus far is reason for optimism, but it’s no guarantee.
Single Reads-Tight Windows
Griffin’s elite arm strength and potential to develop pinpoint accuracy gives him potential to develop into an elite pocket passer. This play on 3rd and 11 isn’t the type of target that has everyone gushing over Aaron Rodgers, but it’s within the same spectrum and a good completion that offers future development along those lines.
Griffin has four receivers in routes on this 3rd-and-11 pass versus one safety deep, but eight defenders dropping into coverage. Once again, Griffin targets Reed.
A quick drop and release as the two outside receivers run routes of similar depth to force the defenders to focus more on this two-route combination as Reed breaks just behind (and inside) of them.
Good throw, good catch, first down. This doesn’t seem like a tight window, but if the perspective of this photo was the coaches tape or a shot from the pocket, it would be apparent that this pass required a fair amount of precision. As this offense provides better protection for Griffin, we’ll see more routes with multiple receivers and fewer two and three-man routes with max protection.
Here’s a money throw that put Washington in position to win. It was a clutch throw and catch in overtime.
This is a max protection play with two receivers versus eight defenders dropping into coverage on 1st and 20. Washington gives its two receivers a chance to get behind the linebackers by slowing their drops with Griffin’s play fake. Even this late in the game, Griffin issues a play fake with his back to the defense, selling the action.
A quick drop, turn, and Griffin is beginning his release as Garcon plants his outside leg to begin his break inside. Based on the coverage, it’s apparent this is going to be a tight-window throw.
The success of the ground game has given Griffin a nice pocket to deliver the ball and he hits Garcon between the linebacker and the safety. What I like about this play is that Griffin displays pinpoint accuracy, but a better throw would have been to the receiver’s back shoulder so Garcon wasn’t lead into the teeth of the defense. This is a fine point that currently defines the difference between Griffin’s passing skills and that of more refined passers in the NFL.
Garcon makes the catch, and to his credit, he made at least three receptions in this game on errant targets in tight coverage that required difficult adjustments – two of them one-handed catches down field. These aren’t high percentage throws, but Griffin could do a more to increase the odds. While the placement was bad, the accuracy was good. Garcon makes the catch and then displays great effort to work past the safety for the first down in field goal range, settling up an eventual game-winning touchdown.
Here’s a difficult throw from the Denver game where the pocket wasn’t clean and the result is an accurate, but high placement that makes his receiver’s job a difficult one.
Denver will send five and drop six against four receivers. The target is the outside trips receiver on this play.
Griffin will have to throw this ball against two safeties deep and a corner taking away the outside. Look at the left guard in this photo and the next two after it and you’ll see why this throw will be a difficult one.
Griffin delivers the ball with a hand in his face and close to impeding the motion of the quarterback’s release. The result is a high placement. The window as the line of scrimmage is tight enough that I’m not convinced Griffin could have delivered this target lower than he did.
The receiver get his hands on the ball, but this extension with contact to his back is a difficult play. It’s expected he should make this catch, but the pressure from the pocket made the stakes high.
The hit knocks the ball loose and the safety almost earns an interception – see below.
Here are two more from last week where Griffin encounters pressure in his face that alters his release and the course of the play.
This time, note the left side of the line getting bull rushed into its own quarterback.
Griffin’s routes on this 3rd-and-7 are slow-developing and he’s trying to remain patient with them rather than opting for a check-down early.
Griffin times his release with a defender in his sight line with the receiver. The result is a high throw.
And an overthrow . . .
More pressure from Griffin’s blindside on this play and the result is similar to some of the plays over the middle that I’ve already shown.
Griffin provides a solid play fake but the pressure off left guard forces a throw on an intermediate cross that is behind the receiver.
Far from a clean pocket to deliver the ball with a defender’s helmet on Griffin’s outside shoulder.
This play is why it’s rarely simple to pinpoint the source of a problem on one player or unit – it’s all interrelated.
Multiple Reads: Signs of Progress
There are plays in both games where Griffin not only makes multiple reads, but he navigates the pocket under duress and finishes with an accurate throw. Here’s a short pass in the red zone from yesterday’s game. Griffin’s first two reads are the post an crossing route that accidentally meet at the same spot at the same time. The next two reads are a shallow cross by the tight end (blue line) and a drag route from the wing back.
As Griffin finish his drop, there’s a traffic jam with the potential for a pile up. I don’t know who erred on their route depth or choice, but there’s a good chance this play will be nicknamed “Congress” in the film room.
Griffin has good protection to deliver the ball, but there’s no shot for him to find an open man on this side of the field. Knowing his time is limited, he turns to the right where the shallow cross is breaking open.
Griffin delivers the ball where his receiver should make the catch for the touchdown. The tight end unfortunately leaves his feet and takes contact as he makes the catch, knocking the receiver away from the goal line.
Still, this is a good play from Griffin. Here’s a similar situation in the red zone against the Broncos last week where he faces pressure and still makes the play.
This time, three receivers are working in the right quadrant of the defense with the potential for a pick play between the tight end and receiver inside the five.
It appears the shallow cross under neath the two receivers at the goal line is the target Griffin considers, but pressure off right tackle forces the quarterback to abandon this read.
Griffin feels the pressure below and has to slide away from a potential sack, reset and deliver the ball elsewhere.
Good slide to keep his feet set and remain in a throwing position with his eyes down field. Although Griffin may sometimes lose patience due to the consistent pressure he’s seeing every week, he’s not perceiving pressure or losing focus. One thing Griffin can do as well as anyone I’ve watched is take punishment and come back for more. This was the case at Baylor and has remained as such in Washington. Hopefully the offensive line can eliminate the need for Griffin to be a heavy back for 300-pounders.
Griffin spots his man working inside and delivers a strike between defenders for the touchdown.
Another delivery in a tight pocket. It’s encouraging he’s comfortable doing it, but there’s no doubt Washington wants to reduce these tight-pocket deliveries with a big guy in Griffin’s face.
Progress One Week Later: Checking Down
Last week, Griffin ignored some check-downs on early down passes. This week, Griffin got the memo. Here’s another one of Washington’s max protect packages where the team gives the look of a potential option run, but Griffin drops to throw deep.
If the Chargers bite on the run fake, at least four of the seven Chargers defenders will be close enough to the line of scrimmage that Griffin will have an easy throw in the intermediate range of the field. This is what was so successful for Washington last year. Now, linebackers aren’t reacting with the same aggression to these run fakes as often and it’s tightening the passing lanes for Griffin.
As the Washington quarterback drops, there are seven Chargers in coverage and not a lot of room to operate. The photo below illustrates the Griffin was ready to deliver this ball in rhythm to the receiver on a vertical route: his feet are planted and his shoulders are angled for a deeper throw.
However, Griffin remembers that against the Broncos last week, he delivered multiple deep throws in double coverage without success. He turns to his right, spots Reed on the swing route and sets his feet to lead the tight end down field.
Good throw outside and down field, giving Reed a shot to beat the defender over top for a positive gain.
Four yards on 2nd and 7? Washington will take that every time.
The Fine Line Between Toughness and Recklessness
There is a hot debate among some long-time analysts about players with Griffin’s skills as a runner. Greg Cosell’s mantra is that a quarterback has to win from the pocket and that mobile quarterbacks increase their odds of injury. Others believe that mobile quarterbacks who run don’t get hurt as often when they leave the pocket as they do standing in the pocket taking hits. I agree with the second sentiment until I see valid data that illustrates otherwise. However, there are situations where I think mobile quarterbacks have to display more restraint.
This 3rd-and-9 scramble in a tie game in the third quarter is a good example of a play where Griffin does the spectacular, but generates a lot of ambivalence as someone who wants to see the Washington quarterback have a good career.
Griffin has four receivers working down field as he drops from the gun, but the coverage is good early.
After Griffin’s initial plant and survey, the best option might be the shallow cross, but in this down and distance situation, Griffin tries to remain patient for something to come open with the slower-developing routes. Unfortunately, Griffin has to slide to his right to find an open lane and this opens the edge for the pass rush.
Griffin now must turn to his left and climb the pocket.
Pressure up the middle forces Griffin to tuck and run. Now, running back Roy Helu must become a blocker. Griffin has over 20 yards to run for a shot at the first down and the angles the defense has on the quarterback are good enough to prevent the conversion.
If I had to guess, I’d say Griffin’s speed is probably about 80-85 percent back but the confidence and or stability in the knee to make quick-twitch cuts and moves is not there. Griffin opts to split the defenders with angles on him at the sideline by making like Superman.
Griffin picks up a block from Helu while airborne but his trajectory towards earth doesn’t make for a smooth landing.
There’s a name for this finishing move in wrestling, depending on the wrestler. Griffin earns the first down and pops up for another play. But what about three years from now? Five years? 10 years? I love Griffin’s toughness, but I think his risk-taking extends past the line of toughness, passes recklessness, and is approaching insanity.
This is why Washington is working plays into the offense that aren’t just read option looks. However, the team’s best chance to win now will be a healthy Griffin using his arms and legs. In three, five, and 10 years, it will be with a stronger offensive line and reliable receivers on pinpoint throws. It’s straddling both worlds of offensive systems required to win now and prepare Griffin for later that makes this a bumpy ride – especially with the injury.
If Griffin can remain patient and stay healthy, he has shown the toughness, arm strength, pocket presence, and flashes of pinpoint accuracy to continue along a path towards stardom. There are signs of progress, but as long as there’s pressure reaching the pocket – even against max protection – Griffin will take enough punishment that could alter any quarterback’s approach to the game for the worse. I think Washington is doing the best it can with the personnel it has to win games and continue its quarterback’s development.
Front office leadership’s leadership in the draft, free agency, and financial management will be critical factors that can tip the scales either way for Griffin’s development. The team needs an infusion of talent and cap friendly contracts so there’s both quantity and quality. Thus far, its track record hasn’t been good under Snyder’s tenure. Hopefully Bruce Allen’s work in the front office will turn the tide, but it requires off-field analysis I have no interest in other than its outcome for Griffin.
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