Robert Griffin III, Kyle Shanahan and Running the Ball in 2012

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Robert Griffin III, Kyle Shanahan and Running the Ball in 2012
Win McNamee/Getty Images

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there will be no repeat of the passing records that we saw last year. 

This is partly for my own interest—personally I think it gets a little dull to watch another cannon-armed quarterback constantly launching the ball towards giant receivers—but it's also because the decline of the running game removes a great weapon from the arsenal of the Washington Redskins.

Kyle Shanahan took a lot of punishment last year for abandoning the run, in some cases when it was working just fine.

Take the game against the Arizona Cardinals in September of last year. In the first half, Tim Hightower and Roy Helu combined for 20 carries and 113 yards, with the Redskins leading 10-7 by its end. It seemed that there was a plan, and it was being executed well.

In the second half, however, Shanahan seemed to decide that Rex Grossman was actually Tom Brady, and could carry the game from that point on. Outside of the possibility that he had been drinking heavily at half time, I can find no evidence to support this decision.

The Redskins got away with it that day, but weren't so fortunate in other weeks, exemplified during the shutout against the Bills. In that game, predictability became the Redskins' byword, and even the surfeit of injuries couldn't gloss over the fact that Shanahan Jr. looked unable to turn things around.

I'm of the opinion that Kyle Shanahan's disinterest in the run was down to inexperience, not incompetence. Since the moment he was promoted by the Texans, he just had to look around the league and the most dominant word would be "pass."

Everyone was—and still is—saying that the NFL is a pass-first league, and the increasing numbers posted by quarterbacks only seemed to confirm this.

In 2011, the Redskins ran the ball 40.4% of the time. By how much should they increase it in 2012?

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It worked for him in Houston, to the extent that they had the top-ranked passing offense of 2009. Because of this, it wasn't much of a concern that they ranked 30th in rushing.

However, when running a vertical, timing-based offense, it is essential that a team has both an accurate quarterback and receivers who can beat man coverage.

In 2011, the Redskins had neither of these things, resulting in many interceptions where linebackers beat the ball to the point of catch.

The same problems occurred on play-action passes—with no receivers on short routes, the linebackers weren't held at the line of scrimmage and were able to intercept a mistimed throw.

The deep ball wasn't really a threat, so there was no opportunity to stretch the field and get behind the safeties.

It's the sort of thing that is ground out in hours of practice—but if the defense already knows what is coming, the offense is always a step behind.

Coming back to the running game, it's easy to see that its impact upon the league wasn't diminished in 2011, just its use.

The Patriots abandoned the run against the Giants in the regular season and it cost them. I would actually go even further and say that it cost them the Super Bowl, as Tom Coughlin knew that if he could smother the Patriots' running game then they would panic and become over-reliant on the pass, leaving them vulnerable to pressure on Brady.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Evan Royster and Roy Helu (pictured here with Darrel Young) have the opportunity to build upon good performances last year.

The Eagles ran the ball with great success in the two games leading up to their November 7 matchup against the Bears, but then switched to a pass-heavy attack and lost by 14.

The Bears themselves learned this lesson a little earlier in the year, when they discarded the run almost entirely against the Saints, resulting in a 30-13 loss. Although Cutler didn't suffer quite as much as against the Giants in 2010, he was still left barely able to speak after being kicked in the throat.

The Redskins have a legitimate rushing threat, and Mike Shanahan is known for his system that favours running backs. This made the questions about the lack of a running game all the more excusable, and the fingers were pointed at Kyle.

The most frustrating thing about the younger Shanahan is that he can do everything that the fans expect from him.

This isn't the first time I've mentioned the second game against the Giants last year, but I'm coming back to it again because it's simply the best example of Kyle's all-round offensive capabilities.

He called a flea-flicker on the first possession... then a reverse... then an end-around. Rex Grossman supplied one of his trademark interceptions on the first play, but the rushing plays gained good yardage and led to a field goal and a touchdown, respectively.

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Robert Griffin III has natural ability outside the pocket, which expands the play-calling options for Kyle Shanahan.

It stopped the Giants' pass rush from dominating the game, and kept the defense honest with misdirection, leaving them wary of further trick plays and therefore open to exploitation through the air.

I believe that these sorts of attacks should become a feature in 2012, not a rarity. The fact that Robert Griffin III is now a Redskin means that the playbook just got a lot wider, and his accurate deep ball now gives the offense a chance to beat the safeties.

According to Joshua Morgan, Pierre Garçon will line up as the 'X' receiver this year, which gives him a big chance to fool the corner and become a deep threat on roll-outs and play-action bootlegs, precisely what was alluded to in the first week of OTAs.

With the new-found depth at wide receiver, it also gives Kyle the opportunity to switch his wide outs around and keep the defense guessing. Garçon mainly played the 'Z' last year, so it will likely be where the opposition expects him to start this year. He has good ability on the 'go' route, and Griffin's accuracy in the deep must have been a factor in bringing Garçon to DC.

Kyle Shanahan took a lot of punishment last year for abandoning the run, in some cases when it was working just fine.

This year it could be the very thing that earns him the plaudits.

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