Fans knew an awful lot about Robert Griffin III before he ever set foot on an NFL field, thanks to the work of draft experts like Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller. His speed, athleticism, arm strength and socks are well known, not to mention the obvious: his Heisman-level college production and leadership.
But now that he's got three NFL preseason games notched on his belt, we've seen how those tools express themselves in Mike and Kyle Shanahan's offense and how he fares against NFL defenses.
Statistically, Griffin went 20-of-31, a completion rate of 64.5 percent. He threw for 193 yards (6.23 per attempt), two touchdowns and no interceptions. That's outstanding, but he was sacked three times and fumbled twice, and the defense recovered both.
To compare: In Matthew Stafford's first preseason, he went 30-of-55 (54.5 percent) for 389 yards (7.1 per attempt), one touchdown, four picks, three sacks and two fumbles (one lost). Matt Ryan's numbers were similar; he completed 34 of his 59 passes (57.6 percent) for 294 yards (4.98 per attempt), two touchdowns, one pick, four sacks and two fumbles (none lost).
Griffin's completion percentage was notably better than either of those two quarterbacks, and unlike Ryan, he threw it downfield. All three struggled with sacks and turnovers, but Griffin did worse when you consider his fewer attempts.
But stats aren't the only—or even best—way to evaluate a player. Since Griffin has put his skills on tape, it only makes sense to watch it. What can we learn about Robert Griffin III from the preseason film?
Sees (and Uses) the Whole Field
One of the worst habits rookie quarterbacks have is the tendency to lock onto one option and force a throw that isn't there. Griffin does not have to waste time learning to break that habit; he sees the whole field.
In the opening game against the Buffalo Bills, Griffin showed the vision to step through his progressions and find the open man.
Better yet, he used his arm strength to put plenty of zip on passes to both sidelines and downfield. For an "athletic quarterback," Griffin already shows confidence and maturity as a pocket passer.
Great Play Fake
One of the best weapons a young quarterback can have is an effective play-action fake, and Griffin's got one. Not since perhaps Peyton Manning has a rookie signal-caller worked so hard to "sell" the play fake, and it clearly helps.
On the first play, the Redskins line up with one wideout, one slot receiver, one tailback and two tight ends. The play call is a zone stretch to the left, and Griffin executes the handoff emphatically before looping to the right, faking a bootleg.
Later in the drive, the Redskins line up in the same three-TE set, but reversed. The zone stretch goes to the right, and Griffin executes a play-action fake with the exact same exaggerated motion he used to hand the ball off.
The entire Bears defense bites on the fake, allowing slot receiver Niles Paul to sneak behind the line and release to the left. Griffin gets a wide-open option on 3rd-and-2. Unfortunately, he throws behind Paul, who can't adjust.
But the play design worked perfectly—and it worked because Griffin sold the fake.
Must Learn to Anticipate Pressure
Griffin is blessed with height, vision and tremendous speed and quickness. Better yet, he has a coaching staff who know how to maximize those gifts. But his speed can only help him elude the rush if he knows which way he needs to go.
Griffin did a good job of reacting to pressure when he was set up in the pocket. But on plays where he or the pocket moves, he has to know which direction he can safely break down and run in case of trouble.
Improve Shots Downfield
As B/R's Michael Schottey noted after the Redskins' game against the Colts, taking shots downfield is an important part of the Shanahan offense. Against the Colts, though, Griffin took them early and often, whiffing on three very deep, deep balls.
Opening the game with a shot downfield is a great way to keep a defense honest—especially when your receiver has a step on his defender. But uncorking three speculative long balls in the first half—to receivers progressively less open and with increasingly inaccurate throws—is just wasting precious downs.
Griffin doesn't have the kind of playmaking receiving targets—or the chemistry with them—to frequently lob balls downfield and hope they make a play. In fact, it's the tendency to do that that kept Griffin's backup, Rex Grossman, from succeeding as a starter in the NFL.
Overall, Robert Griffin III has shown off his tools impressively, and the Shanahans have done an excellent job of scheming a few basic plays that give him the best chance for effectiveness with the least amount of pressure on him.
As they open up more of the playbook, it will be interesting to see if Griffin continues to excel in the areas he has so far and if he can improve the areas of his game that need improving.
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