6 Ways Robert Griffin III Can Best Exploit the Cincinnati Bengals' Defense
I know we like to get carried away with what happened in the first two weeks of NFL action, but don't forget how quickly things can change. They've already allowed as many 400-yard games as they did the entire 2011 season.
The Bengals did lose Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker in the offseason. Then Thomas Howard tore his ACL in practice, crippling the front seven that caused so much disruption last season.
But they still have the same defensive coordinator in Mike Zimmer, and it's only a matter of time before the new parts sync up with the old. They may never be as good as the 2011 Cincinnati defense, but RG3 will have his work cut out for him.
On top of that, the Redskins are only ranked two spots better than Cincinnati, at 28th in total defense. They have given up 405 yards per game, along with an average of 31.5 points to their opponents.
Washington will have to continue to put up points, and Robert Griffin III will have to be a big part of that to put them over the top. There are a few things he can do to expose this Cincinnati defense, though.
The first thing RG3 needs to be concerned with is locating Fred Davis on the field. He has yet to really do that, as Davis only has four receptions for 52 yards on the season—26 yards of that came from one catch against the Saints in Week 1.
So far, the Bengals have given up 11 receptions to tight ends, for a total of 152 yards. And that was to Dennis Pitta and Alex Smith.
Fred Davis is a much better receiver, with the capability of tacking on a lot of yardage after the catch. Whether it's on screens, broken plays or leaking out down the seam, he will be open. Griffin just needs to find him and let Davis go to work.
Thomas Howard was the Bengals' best cover linebacker, and Rey Maualuga has been slow to react in pass coverage thus far. The result has been linebackers as indecisive as a squirrel in the middle of the road.
This has left gaping holes in the middle of the field for receivers to run to. Once the linebackers settle into their zone, RG3 simply needs to fire the ball under or over the wall of coverage. This is likely where Josh Morgan and Fred Davis will reap the most rewards.
However, Griffin also must be careful not to overthrow the ball. The Bengals have yet to pick off a pass, but don't forget safety Reggie Nelson had four interceptions last season. Griffin was lucky on a couple overthrows last week against the Rams, and he may not be so lucky with Nelson waiting on the next one.
Thread the Needle
Yes, it is true the Bengals' are also ranked 29th in pass defense, giving up 308.5 yards per game. But this is where stats can make one feel overly confident. A lot of that yardage has come from the open spaces in the middle that I just went over.
Beyond the linebackers, Cincinnati's secondary isn't giving up much space. Not enough credit has been given to Brandon Weeden and the Bengals' defensive backs for his threading the needle last week.
Weeden's 322 yards did not come with a lot of easy throws.
There will be very tight windows for Robert Griffin III to work the ball into. He must hit his receivers in stride and on the numbers to be successful, and avoid being the first quarterback to be picked by this defense.
Use the Outlet
When the windows are too tight and he can't find anyone down the middle, Griffin must get the ball to his outlet. Fred Davis could be a beneficiary here, too, but the running backs will likely reap the most rewards.
I know Roy Helu hasn't been much of a factor with Alfred Morris tearing up the turf, but nobody in the backfield trio is deadlier in open space than Helu.
The Bengals are pretty much begging Mike Shanahan to unleash Helu on their defense, as there seemed to be a consistent 10-yard cushion for running backs slipping out on the edge. On multiple occasions, Weeden chose to throw in extremely tight windows, rather than using his outlet.
If the holes are closing in coverage and the pass protection is collapsing, Griffin needs to immediately dump it off to his outlet. It seems to be open just about every time against this Bengals' defense.
With all the space the Bengals give up in the first 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, Griffin will have ample room to use his wheels. The real estate will be open to him, as it was last week when he rushed for 82 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.
The Bengals' linebackers follow the boot well, so it probably won't come on those plays. Most of his yardage will come from splitting the gap in the pass rush. He should also be cognizant of when Zimmer is bringing the outside blitz, as an open gap in the middle will leave him days of running room.
If Weeden was a runner, he would've had multiple opportunities for a big gain on a scramble. And though I hate to encourage RG3 to run—for fear of injury—if it's open, he needs to take advantage. That will only open up passes down the field later.
Tuck it and go, Robert.
It's been his best friend thus far, and there is no reason to change things up now. Robert Griffin III must take advantage of the play-action pass this weekend.
Last week, Griffin laid a beauty right into Leonard Hankerson's welcoming hands for a 68-yard score. His deep pass to Aldrick Robinson wasn't quite as nice, but it was one Robinson should have pulled in.
This is the beauty of having a solid run game, which is currently ranked fourth in the NFL, and a dual threat at quarterback. Conversely, the Bengals' defense is ranked 19th against the run, giving up 126 yards per game.
They will fear the run, and that will open up the deep ball.
This Bengals' defense will leave Robert Griffin III opportunity to shine, but the holes in this defense are very small. Griffin must continue to play smart to fully exploit what Cincinnati is giving him. Otherwise, they are good enough to make him pay for his mistakes.