RG3 and Mike Shanahan: architecting the Redskins future
I'm a numbers guy and, although no metric can ever alone tell the full story of the success of an enterprise, they are certainly more rigorous and easier to defend than subjective analysis and abstract punditry. So let’s look at some statistics.
The 2011 Washington Redskins, quarterbacked alternately by John Beck and Rex Grossman, finished their campaign ranked 19th in offensive efficiency (as measured by Football Outsiders) and 16th in total offense (measured in total yards gained).
The 2012 Washington Redskins, on the other hand, featured a potent offense led by the transcendent rookie Robert Griffin III and suddenly invaluable Kirk Cousins. They ranked sixth in offensive efficiency and fifth in total offense. While the additions of RG3, Alfred Morris and Pierre Garcon were absolutely essential, sheer talent alone does not an offense make.
For those who are fans of perennial offensive powerhouses such as the Patriots and the Saints, imagine having no confidence that your team can move the ball even 30 yards for a touchdown—such is the misery of the Redskins fan of years past.
But all that changed with RG3 and his dynamism. But it would be a crime not to mention his supporting cast: the stalwart offensive line led by the emergence of Trent “Silverback” Williams; the suddenly potent receiving corps led by the veteran Santana Moss and complemented by the ultra-talented Garcon and team leader in receptions, Josh Morgan; and Morris whose numbers: a franchise-record 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns in his first year out of Florida Atlantic University, require no additional embellishment.
Should RG3 slide on runs or take the hit to fight for extra yards?
But professional football teams are successful almost exclusively due to the presence of a franchise quarterback and, for the first time in two decades, the Redskins look like they have a pretty good one in Robert Griffin III. Not only should he win Rookie of the Year, but it shouldn’t even be close.
With all due respect to Russell Wilson and his accomplishments, the Seahawks had a phenomenal defense and gave up a full touchdown less over the season than the Redskins defense (SEA: 17.1 PPG vs. WAS: 24.3 PPG). As for Andrew Luck, he had an exceptional season without the benefit of a good defense but turned the ball over 27 times (18 interceptions, nine fumbles). He gets a lot of credit for all the comeback wins but one could argue that they played from behind so much because of his mistakes.
So we’ve established that the Redskins had a fair bit of talent on offense but translating that talent into success on the field takes great coaching. To that end, you have to take your hat off to Mike and Kyle Shanahan. A lot has been made of their adapting the Redskins offense into something intimately familiar to RG3 from his days at Baylor, leveraging the strengths of Morris and integrating some of college football’s offensive innovation into their offense (pistol formation, zone-read etc.). Cousins’ performance against a pretty good Browns defense is testament to the offense’s adaptability.
But they have to build off the short-term success going forward. The key unknown is Griffin’s right knee which will be undergoing it’s third ACL surgery. Recent miraculous recoveries like Adrian Peterson have forever changed the perception of an ACL tear but it is important to remember that AD’s return is exceptional not normal. RG3 is an electrifying player and his threat as a runner paralyzed opposing defenses while opening up opportunities for Morris and the Redskins receivers.
The Redskins have to protect RG3 at all costs and get through to him that no yard will ever be worth his health. They have to impress on him that if he wants to make it to the status of an NFL veteran, he has to recognize that opposing defenses want to hurt him and he doesn't have the build of an Luck or Tim Tebow to shrug off larger players.
I am unequivocally a fan of RG3. It is my hope that I won't have to worry who the starting quarterback of my favorite team is for the next 10 to 12 years.
For that to happen, RG3 has to stay healthy and maintain his level of play but possibly change his style of play—it must be incredibly difficult for him to see just a yard of turf between himself and a first down. Hopefully he realizes that the yard of turf is guarded by a 270-pound defensive end who could possibly end his career with an ill-placed hit.
Slide, RG3, and live to fight another down.