Redskins: How Robert Griffin III and the Shanahans Duped the Saints Defense

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Redskins: How Robert Griffin III and the Shanahans Duped the Saints Defense
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Robert Griffin III put on a show against the New Orleans Saints in his NFL debut, but Mike and Kyle Shanahan deserve a lot of credit, too. 

I'd imagine that father-son duo spent much of the offseason devising a gameplan for how to use Griffin early in his NFL career, and it looks like they nailed it. They didn't let Griffin take many shots down field in the preseason, which left the Saints wondering what to expect from a guy with a monster arm but a conservative coaching staff.

And early against the Saints, that approach worked with what I consider to be a variation of what the boxing world calls a rope-a-dope. Essentially, the offense came out in a very guarded posture, waiting for the right time to hit it deep. 

The first pass of RG3's career traveled more yards laterally than it did horizontally. Pierre Garcon was only able to get back to the line of scrimmage:

Following that, he ran on an option. Nothing keeps defenses off kilter like a designed quarterback run. And on the next play, he completed pass No. 2...again behind his own line of scrimmage.

That time, Garcon would pick up 14 yards after the catch. 

Very next play, same deal but to the opposite side of the field. Garcon again, and they end up with nine more yards.

Very next play, this time it's Aldrick Robinson three yards behind the line of scrimmage, but he picks up the first down after the catch. Four straight completions and three first downs on the drive, and yet they still haven't handed off or thrown the ball past the line of scrimmage.

After two Alfred Morris runs, Griffin throws the fifth pass of his career, and for the fifth straight time it doesn't even come close to reaching the line of scrimmage. Brandon Banks takes this for a first down, though, and you can imagine the variation was frustrating the New Orleans defense, which was still presumably in a script.

But the goal was to get them to start biting. I was surprised to find out, via Rich Campbell of the Washington Times, that Griffin was checking out of runs often during this stretch of similar plays. So the conservative approach was drawn up by the Shanahans, and RG3 was sticking to it while making a slight adjustment in order to exploit an exploitable defense. 

"If you find something that the defense is struggling to stop," said Daryl "Moose" Johnston on the Fox broadcast, "continue to run it until they make that adjustment."

Griffin would make a mistake on the next snap, recovering his own fumble, and Morris could only get a pair of the five yards lost back. That left a 3rd-and-13, where they went back to the underneath throw well, this time with a screen to Roy Helu.

That would lead to a field goal, and Griffin was 6-for-6 on six passes that all failed to make it back to the line of scrimmage. It appeared he'd take it all day, and thus, the rookie was winning the chess match with discipline.

When the offense got back out onto the field for the next series, Griffin finally felt he had an opportunity to take somewhat of a shot. 

Now before getting to the play of the day, I want to take you back to what Griffin was looking at on those first six snaps that led to dink-and-dunk completions.

Completion No. 1: Six men in the box for New Orleans. They're in nickel defense.

Completion No. 2: Seven men in the box for New Orleans. Back to base defense.

Completion No. 3: Eight men in the box (he saw the blitz and appeared to check out of the run, throwing his longest pass of the day, distance-wise). Base defense again.

Completion No. 4: Seven men in the box and base defense.

Completion No. 5: Six or seven men in the box, depending on what Patrick Robinson is doing. The cornerback isn't showing blitz, and it looks like the Saints are in zone coverage, so I'd consider that to be a six-man look. They're back to the nickel.

Completion No. 6: Again, it's six or seven, but Robinson didn't rush last time and it appears to be a nickel zone again. Same personnel as last time.

So back to the 88-yard touchdown pass to Garcon, which led off that following drive. 

"It worked the first couple plays," Griffin said of the rinky-dink start sucking the Saints in. "Then they started playing it, and it opened up a lot of our other stuff."

Tired of the underneath stuff, the Saints are showing their most aggressive defensive front of the day. It's base defense, so there's no extra help for the secondary, and they've taken a chance by moving free safety Malcolm Jenkins (circled) up the line of scrimmage. Jenkins is blitzing, and thus, for the first time all day, only one safety is over the top.

Griffin gets Jenkins to bite on a play-fake, and it's game over. He has time and has Garcon in single coverage.

Garcon gets space away from Corey White, and safety Roman Harper takes a bad angle before getting caught up in traffic with Josh Morgan carrying Patrick Robinson over the top. Touchdown.

So how do defenses adjust going forward? As long as RG3 gets decent pass protection and is willing to take what opponents give him (and when you're a multiple threat like that, something will always be given), it's going to be extremely difficult to slow him down.

There's no such thing as an unstoppable player, but Griffin's as close as they come. That also applies to Michael Vick, though, and look at the problems he's having right now. It requires a tremendous amount of focus to maximize a skill set like this, but it also requires some luck. Griffin took a few big hits Sunday, and his 219-pound frame can't afford to get smacked that often. 

Unfortunately, that goes with the territory. The best way to beat a guy like Griffin is to remove him from the game completely. 

In fact, if he continues to attack opponents like a seasoned veteran, it might be the only way.

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