When Robert Griffin III wasn't able to find much running room against the Pittsburgh Steelers, many chalked the dud performance up to the fact the Steelers are very smart and disciplined on defense. But Griffin again struggled to make plays with his arm and his legs Sunday against a Carolina Panthers' D that is considered average at best and has been hit hard by the injury bug.
The final numbers weren't terrible, with Griffin still managing to rush for 53 yards in the game. But he had 30 yards on his first five carries, and then the Panthers' defense tightened up and RG3 was only able to muster 23 yards on six attempts during the final 25 minutes.
Was He Fazed by the Panthers Pass Rush?
I'm not condoning personal fouls, but the roughing-the-passer penalty Greg Hardy took when he smashed Griffin above the neck in the end zone on Washington's first offensive possession might have caused Griffin to take extra precautions as the game wore on.
Like I said, that illegal hit drew a 15-yard penalty, but it might have worked to the Panthers' advantage over the long term. And since it happened so deep in Washington territory, it didn't hurt Carolina much in the short term, either.
On the following two plays, for example, Griffin appeared to shy away from using read-option plays, despite the fact there were opportunities for decent-sized gains.
Here's what he saw out at the 23-yard line...
Instead, he handed it off to Alfred Morris, who was only able to muster two yards into a crowd up the middle.
On the very next play, Griffin again appeared to have favorable blocking opportunities and room to take off if he chose to keep the ball. But again he gave it to Morris, who could again only gain two yards.
Griffin would complete a big third-down pass to keep the drive moving and made some nice calls on the read-option throughout the drive, but it eventually stalled. Who knows where the drive could have gone had he been less conservative on those two handoffs. And keep in mind that when I suggest he should have gone play action in those two instances, I'm not suggesting completely that he had to take off. The pass would have been an option in either scenario, too.
He did eventually run again, obviously, but his eight-yard gain on that very same series came on what appeared to be a broken play. A seven-yard run on the next series came on a scramble when nobody was open, and two of his three third-quarter runs were not by design, either. He rarely kept the ball to himself from the get-go in this game. The sacks and pressure that came from Carolina's defense likely played a role.
Griffin was sacked four times in total and hit plenty more. The offensive line has a long way to go, and Carolina's defensive front was able to do to Griffin what the Bengals and Steelers were also able to do earlier in the year. Often, the key to stopping a mobile quarterback with a skill set like this is to be rangy, especially in the linebacking corps. Against Griffin and these 'Skins, though, it seems as though being aggressive is the key.
Defenses Are Wising up
The Redskins actually got away from their standard option-oriented attack after the first quarter, which indicates Mike and Kyle Shanahan might not have been too pleased with what Griffin and the offense was doing on read plays.
The 'Skins ran eight plays inside the Carolina red zone midway through the second quarter, but what was shocking was that Griffin didn't run on the first seven. Usually, his legs are the offense's primary weapon near the opponent's end zone, but he didn't have a single designed run in this situation.
But the Panthers didn't lose their focus. And on 4th-and-goal they were completely ready for RG3 to attempt to get in with his legs. With no fake in sight, the entire D was moving in Griffin's direction right off the bat, and he was only able to get back to the line of scrimmage, turning the ball over on downs.
They'd get back into the red zone on the next series, and this is what Griffin had to work with on the only read-option play he decided to keep himself.
That's a defense that is prepared. They always had RG3 lined up in front of them, and that handcuffed this entire offense.
In desperation mode late, Griffin became a standard drop-back passer, throwing out of shotgun on nine out of 10 plays on Washington's only touchdown drive. Once the 'Skins essentially ditched the read-option approach and Griffin stopped trying to run by design, the Panthers were able to pin their ears back. They killed three consecutive fourth-quarter drives with big sacks, and that was the biggest difference in this game.
It's funny that I'm sort of criticizing RG3 for being conservative when you consider how much heat he took early this season for just the opposite. It's extremely difficult for quarterbacks like him to find the perfect balance.
Griffin did still make some phenomenal, gutty plays in pressure situations in the fourth quarter, so this isn't on him. I don't blame him for avoiding designed runs once he was dealing with so much pressure, and I don't blame Kyle Shanahan for getting away from the read-option in an attempt to keep RG3 as clean as possible.
The central problem is that Shanahan's and Griffin's hands are tied when it comes to making in-game adjustments right now. The offense isn't complex from a play-calling standpoint and isn't deep from a personnel standpoint, and thus there's only so much they can do when defenses have Plan A figured out.
Unfortunately, that's something that probably won't change until 2013, when Griffin's had another full offseason to develop and the offense has had a chance to regroup.
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