RGIII: Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick . . .

Even a great prospect like Robert Griffin III will experience growing pains in the NFL. Some of that might come from playing too fast. Photo by Mike Davis.

Explosive (– noun): a reactive substance that contains a great amount of potential energy that can produce an explosion if released suddenly, usually accompanied by the production of light, heat, sound, and pressure. Examples include TNT, C-4, and RGIII.

Not that I’m an expert at explosives, but it only takes a childhood of movies to know that the difference between them working for you or against you is timing. There’s a reason why quarterbacks are known as trigger men. They hold the detonator in the passing game. The quarterback’s internal clock is often the difference between an explosive offensive play and an explosive defensive play.

Another integral factor is how a quarterback cares for that explosive material. There’s a line as thin as a fuse when it comes to managing pressure in the pocket, but the differences are dramatic: Quick-thinking and harried. Aggressive and reckless. Tough and masochistic.

Robert Griffin III is fast in mind and body. His speed makes him capable of feats that put jaws on the floor – teammates, opponents, and fans alike. However to continue the jazz improvisation metaphor for quarterbacking I’ve used on Twitter, professional musicians of the highest level will tell you that in order to play something clean at top speed, one has to learn how to perform it at the slowest speed possible. Then building off that fundamentally sound technique becomes easy enough that new concepts closely related to that technique become easier to execute a break-neck speed.

One has to be fundamentally sound in action and thought to execute at a snail’s pace. This is why Steve Young was among the first former players-turned-analysts to use the phrase “the game has slowed down for him,” when describing a quarterback playing at an advanced level. Young is describing a player thinking, acting, and executing cleanly.

I believe Griffin has the highest ceiling of potential of the rookie quarterbacks in this league. I also think he has more bust potential than most care to discuss. Not enough to dissuade me from taking him as the second quarterback off the board in the 2012 NFL Draft. However, Griffin’s break-neck pacing in and outside the pocket needs to change and I’d want my eyes wide open about this tendency when my team invests a king’s ransom for his services.

Slow the Mind, the Arm and Legs Will Follow

There are a lot of plays where Griffin reacts too fast for his own good and the good of the team. However the most important situations are the ones where Griffin’s mind needs to slow down and process the puzzle before the snap. An incomplete pass on 3rd and 6 with 12:38 in the first quarter versus Oklahoma State is a good example. The play begins from a 10-personnel 3×1 shotgun set versus a 3-4.

Here’s what the coverage will be before the defense does more to tip it off before the snap.

Griffin is checking with his protection early in the pre snap evaluation process of the defense.

What Oklahoma State reveals thus far is two safeties high and linebackers book-ending the tackles with the threat of blitz. Based on this information alone, Griffin should be thinking his outside receivers are in single coverage, the middle receiver on the trips side will draw the safety and the slot receiver will draw the MLB. If he did see this defensive look for what it is, then the slot receiver has the best mismatch provided the linebacker showing blitz from that side is truly attacking the pocket.

Here’s what Griffin should see just before he raises his leg to have the center snap the ball:

The safety never lies. You just have to be patient enough and slow your process to let him tell his truth.

Griffin is (should be) observing two things:

  1. The linebacker is still showing blitz, but at a distance from the line of scrimmage that leaves one to wonder if he’ll really come or just drop into coverage.
  2. The safety on the trips side is walking up to the middle trips receiver.

It’s the safety that reveals the truth about the linebacker. The DB has single coverage on the middle trips receiver, which means this linebacker is going to blitz.

Here’s the snap:

The safety never lies and the coverage works as the safety told us just before the snap.

Griffin should be looking to his slot receiver mismatched with the linebacker. Look how the linebacker’s back is to the quarterback. He’s going to be late on any break the slot receiver makes.

The slot receiver begins his break and the linebacker is still heading down field. Griffin knows these routes, he should be thinking about moving the chains here and not the big play.

This hook by the slot is an anticipation throw, but what Griffin should have been thinking about before the snap isn’t what happens. Instead, Griffin is reacting at the moment more than he’s thinking of the coverage puzzle. Things will slow down for RGIII when he consistently learns how to think ahead than rely on reacting fast. When Griffin feels the slanting DE from getting pressure up the middle he breaks the pocket rather than delivering the ball to the slot receiver and taking the hit.

If he anticipated the route and read the LB's back to the receiver, Griffin would have been in the middle of his release by now. Instead, he's about to bail the pocket due to pressure.

When Griffin breaks the pocket three things become evident in the picture below. First, Griffin breaks down his own protection on the edge, painting himself into a corner. Second, his passing lane to the slot receiver is gone. And third, Griffin has to attempt a throw with a much higher degree of difficulty on what was a relatively easy 3rd and 6.

Griffin breaks the pocket and forces himself to make an off-balanced throw on the move to the sideline. This is the stuff that pick-sixes are made of.

Griffin’s off-balanced attempt to hit the sideline comeback his high and the CB coming over the top tips it.

If Griffin makes these kinds of decisions as a rookie, expect AFC North or NFC East defensive backs to wish they had pick-six incentives in their contracts.

If this pass were just a little lower, the Cowboys defensive back is trying to outrace RGIII to the end zone.

This play is symptomatic of a quarterback who thinks fast on his feet when the play begins, but needs to be thinking more methodically about what he sees before the snap. The promising thing about Griffin is that I have seen him flash good pocket management skills under pressure. He’s not consistent at it, but it’s far from being nonexistent to his game.

However, I have seen a lot of plays where Griffin attempts off-balanced throws breaking the pocket in the face of pressure. Impressive displays of physical skill, but plays with a far greater chance of failure, turnover, and injury. While there’s little doubt we’re going to see Griffin make some incredible throws or runs on 2nd and long and 3rd and long situations, its successful execution of 3rd and 6 scenarios that coaches will value most.

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