Without Pierre Garcon all day and with Fred Davis out the majority of the afternoon, the Washington Redskins still managed to put up 480 yards and 7.0 yards per play Sunday against the New York Giants. Can you imagine what they might have done with Garcon and Davis, or without committing four turnovers in the second half alone?
Two rookies have come together to lead an offense that has become one of the most dangerous units in all of football, and while all they care about is the fact they lost to the Giants, it still should be noted that they torched New York's defense for much of the day.
To get a better understanding of how and why Robert Griffin III and Co. are killing it, let's break down three of their most effective zone-read plays against the Giants: One play-action pass, one handoff and one quarterback run.
Summing it up on his first pass of the game
I'm showing you this play simply because it came first and it also summarizes what exactly Griffin's being asked to do on packaged plays. As you can see, the Giants defense is biting, showing blitz. Griffin knows tight end Logan Paulsen is going to be running a route and that he's likely to get a clean release. He also knows that if he throws, it'll be hot, so a tight end makes sense for a quick, clean completion.
Griffin chooses not to hand it off to Alfred Morris with a blitzer filling the gap, but instead pulls it back and goes straight to Paulsen.
There isn't much the Giants' D can do because Griffin and Morris are such big threats. This obviously wouldn't come to fruition if Griffin wasn't such a threat with his legs and didn't have a great running back. But because of all those options, and because he's able to read and adjust on the fly, he's able to take advantage of that by finding the one sacrifice the Giants had to make and exploiting it for a 19-yard gain.
We've seen stuff like this all year, and it happened again on a touchdown to Josh Morgan later on that drive that was nullified by a penalty. It works so well because the Redskins are so disciplined when it comes to sticking to the run. Nine of the 15 plays they ran on that opening series were designed runs. And on the entire season, they have a pass-run ratio of 53-47, which is much more balanced than most NFL teams.
Keeping them constantly guessing
Here's one of those "standard" running plays from later in the drive, where RG3 presumably notices the linebackers are backing off. Fred Davis looks as though he'll be covered from the outset, and you know the Giants are preoccupied with a designed quarterback run.
This time, with no obvious read on a receiver and the defense potentially distracted and expecting another play-fake, Griffin handed it off. The red arrow is what the Giants feared, making things a lot easier on Morris and the offensive line.
As the ball was being handed off, Michael Boley (in red) had a chance to penetrate the exact hole Morris would end up using. His other option was to engage an offensive lineman in an attempt to ensure there would be containment around the edge.
He decided to temporarily go the second route...
The problem, of course, was that Griffin actually had handed it off and now Boley was out of position. He would get back to make the tackle, but not before Morris had picked up nine yards.
Pick your poison
Boley was so concerned about the edge because Griffin has been killing defenses on keepers all season long. Later, we got a nice example of that on another read-option play where Griffin decided to take it himself. In this case, Griffin figured Paulsen could take care of the cornerback in the right flat. If the linebackers moved in to fill running lanes, he'd have a very big opening outside of the right tackle, especially with tight end Niles Paul coming across the formation to block.
And there it is...
That would result in a 28-yard gain, setting the Redskins up for a field goal late in the half. And the key was again getting at least one linebacker to take the run route. This time, Keith Rivers wasn't fooled but was stymied by Paul coming across, and middle linebacker Chase Blackburn wasn't able to blow it up because he keyed on Morris. He should have gone left, not right or center.
Of course, there are times when the defense guesses right and the packaged situation results in a negative play, but the key is that the defense continues to guess. The Redskins are turning opposing defenses into soccer goalies on penalty kicks.
And yes, the 'Skins gave the ball away four times in this game, but I actually don't think you can necessarily blame any of the turnovers on the option-oriented approach. Griffin coughed it up on two fumbles and threw an interception as a result of miscommunication with Logan Paulsen. The final turnover was purely on Santana Moss after he had caught a pass, so the scheme wasn't a factor there, either.
These kinds of plays, only seven weeks into the Griffin/Morris era, have to scare the hell out of the Giants and everyone else in the division. Justin Tuck said after the game he's "pretty mad at the Football Gods for putting [Griffin] in the NFC East."
Losses suck, but the big picture looks very, very good in D.C.