Mike Shanahan Shows Flexibility and Creativity with RGIII Under Center

Aaron Nagler@Aaron_NaglerNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 11, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 09:   Robert Griffin III #10 of the Washington Redskins throws against the New Orleans Saints during the season opener at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 9, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Ever since it became apparent that the Washington Redskins would head into 2012 with Robert Griffin III as their starting quarterback, there has been much speculation about exactly how head coach Mike Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, would go about incorporating the Baylor product's talents into their particular style of offense. 

Probably the most talked about prediction came from one of Shanahan's former quarterbacks, Donovan McNabb, who predicted on ESPN's First Take that RGIII would simply not be a good fit (via Yahoo! Sports):

What type of offense do you run with him? Is it the spread offense that you try to continue to flourish that he's been successful in? Or are you going to have him in a foxhole with a makeshift offensive line and keep bringing in receivers, you have a solid tight end in Fred Davis that you need to feature, what are we going to see?

I don't think it's a great fit. If this doesn't work this year, we don't see a splash like a Cam Newton splash, this could be it.

To be fair to McNabb, the Shanahans have developed a bit of a reputation for being inflexible, though plenty of people felt the marriage between RGIII and Shanahan's offense would end up working, mostly because Griffin is too talented for it not to. 

As for myself, I expected Shanahan to use his boot-action game—which worked so well for Jay Cutler and Jake Plummer in Denver—to highlight RGIII's athletic ability. But I never, in a million years, expected to see what looked to be a major overhaul to not only the play-calling, but the designs and offensive concepts that the Redskins employed right out of the gate this past Sunday against the New Orleans Saints

Asked after the game if the quick passes to the wide receivers were by design to calm his quarterback's nerves, Shanahan confirmed (via Redskins.com) that not only were they not planned, they were a result of RGIII reading the defense and executing what Chris Brown of Grantland and Smart Football calls "packaged" plays

The opening drive may have ended in a field goal, but it set the stage for what RGIII and the offense wanted to do all afternoon. The two plays below happened back-to-back and are the plays that Shanahan is referencing in his presser. 


You can see exactly what Shanahan is talking about in regards to his quarterback hitting a bubble screen on a called running play in the second video. This is a major departure from what the Redskins had been doing previously under Shanahan and, indeed, from the kind of offense Shanahan has been running for most of his NFL career. 

As Chris Brown says:

...at least on some level, the idea of "packaging" multiple options for the quarterback based on the movements of defenders is not entirely new. But the trend of combining entirely different categories of plays — runs and passes, screens and passes, runs and screens — is new, and these ideas are at the forefront of thinking about football. The challenge is undoing what we think a football play is without entirely disregarding fundamental, classic football thinking.

"The basic premise is to make a key defender be in two places at the same time," Keith Grabowski, the cutting-edge offensive coordinator at Baldwin Wallace University, explained to me in a recent conversation. "This is an area of offense where we're only scratching the surface of what's possible."

The Redskins have taken a big leap forward with their thinking on offense here, not only in play design but in how they go about implementing those plays on game day. Watching the Redskins game again, it becomes very apparent how much tempo will play into their offensive execution.

Obviously, you can't run a "fast break" style for an entire football game, but RGIII and his offensive teammates were able to put the pedal to the metal and keep the Saints off balance almost at will on Sunday. 

How defensive coordinators try to adjust will be fun to watch. Right now, the advantage is clearly with the Redskins and their exciting young quarterback.