Breaking Down the Redskins' Use of the Zone Read-Option with Robert Griffin

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Breaking Down the Redskins' Use of the Zone Read-Option with Robert Griffin
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

En route to their 17-16 victory over the division rival New York Giants last Monday night, the Washington Redskins continued to find huge success on offense by way of the zone-read option.

Not that anyone needs to be reminded of the brilliance of one rookie quarterback in the nation's capital, but it's obvious that Robert Griffin III and his unique ability are exactly what's propelling the Redskins this season and now have them looking at a potential playoff berth.

In addition to Griffin, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan deserves a lot of credit for the Redskins win over the Giants—arguably in the biggest game of the past 10 years for the Washington football franchise.

Throughout the game, Shanahan kept the well-respected Giants defense off balance and took advantage of a team that didn't appear to come out with much discipline on the big stage. Even going against stout defensive linemen like Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Chris Canty, Shanahan wasn't intimidated and he remained aggressive.

With just over eight minutes to go in the third quarter and trailing by three, the Redskins offense faces a crucial 3rd-and-1 on its own 39-yard line.

As you can see, Robert Griffin III is lined up in the pistol, accompanied by running back Alfred Morris. He has three wide receivers, all in man coverage.

On a 3rd-and-short situation like this, the Giants think they have it all figured out. A safe and presumably easy convert for the Redskins would be to mash the ball with Morris for the necessary three feet. As a result, Giants safety Kenny Phillips creeps down into the box to join four down linemen and two linebackers, at this point all of which are prepared to stop the run.

Once the ball is snapped, you'll immediately notice Griffin's eyes and how he's reading the flow of the defensive line. As he holds the ball out in the middle of Morris' chest, Griffin can easily see a crashing Jason Pierre-Paul from the left end, signaling the quarterback that he'll have more than a wide enough lane to pick up the first down and then some on the left side.

Starting off with the perfect execution of the run-fake, Pierre-Paul is sold to the point of actually tackling a running back (Morris) without the ball. Meanwhile, due to the man coverage on the outside and the single high safety, the Grand Canyon that opens up for Griffin to run through is a rarity in the NFL.

As the mess forms amongst the offensive and defensive lines behind him, Griffin takes off down the field. Redskins receiver Leonard Hankerson does a great job of blocking Prince Amukamara on the outside, denying him the tackle.

In a nearly impossible one-on-one situation with RG3 in the open field, Giants safety Stevie Brown comes down and takes a weak angle. Griffin then capitalizes with a brilliant cut of his own upfield that takes advantage of the poor angle from the safety and the good blocking from his receiver on the outside, ultimately springing him for an extra 20 yards.

This play was successful for many reasons. But the two that I believe are most important are the Redskins' threat as a zone-read offense and the time at which Kyle Shanahan called this play.

Some will wrongfully accuse the Redskins of running a gimmick offense. To me, a gimmick offense is a one-season pony, if you will, that doesn't stand a chance once opposing defenses have enough film to learn it, chew it up and spit it out.

The Redskins aren't that.

With an implemented offense that works as an extension of Mike Shanahan's zone-blocking running scheme, the combination of a power runner like Alfred Morris (age 23), a dual-threat quarterback like Robert Griffin III (22), an explosive receiver like Pierre Garcon (26), and sizeable slot targets like Josh Morgan (27) and Leonard Hankerson (23), the Redskins offense is a well-oiled and progressive machine that will only get better.

Given the down, distance and time of this play, Kyle Shanahan deserves credit for outsmarting his counterpart. Sure, the Redskins offensive skill players executed well, but the snap reaction by the Giants defense proves that Shanahan had his opponent right where he wanted them.

Before this play, Griffin had just one carry for 12 yards and a fumble. Although that fumble was magically placed into the hands of a waiting Josh Morgan and ran in for six points, Kyle Shanahan hadn't called another running play for his quarterback since that 4:16 mark in the first quarter.

That's not to say that the Giants lost faith in RG3 or forgot that he could run. But perhaps the roughly two quarters of Griffin without legs was enough to convince the Giants that the Redskins weren't willing to risk another fumble when trailing by three late in the third.

Everything combined to make this a picture-perfect zone-read play for the Redskins. From Alfred Morris and his selling technique, to Leonard Hankerson and his downfield blocking, the execution was flawless and the timing was impeccable.

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