On any given Sunday in the NFL, when television announcers lay out their "Keys to the Game," one of the most common keys cited is to protect the quarterback. In the case of the Washington Redskins and the upcoming season, that key holds an entirely different meaning with their quarterback Robert Griffin III.
During his rookie season, RG3 dazzled and delighted Redskins fans with his multi-dimensional execution of a pistol formation style offense. This was an offense unlike years past for the team. The excitement he generated amongst fans was something missing in our nation's capital for a very long time.
This Heisman Trophy-winning, Superman sock-wearing, media savvy uber-athlete had everything a town with multiple professional sports teams needed.
The optimism abounded. A phoenix had risen from the ashes.
The reality of RG3's humanity occurred in Week 5 against the Atlanta Falcons after he had to leave the game following a helmet-crunching hit along the sidelines. You could hear a pin drop in DC. The entire town held their breath, waiting for their prize-winning boxer to reach his feet for a standing eight count.
He would not return to that game, suffering from what was termed a "mild concussion."
Fast forward to Week 14 and a tight game against Beltway rivals—the Baltimore Ravens. RG3 sustained a widely publicized hit to his right knee, causing him to leave the game and miss the following week of NFL action.
Questions resurfaced regarding his brazen and bold approach to not only scrambling, but avoiding unnecessary hits, not running out of bounds and not sliding to avoid contact.
Then in what some would say was bound to happen, RG3 and his damaged knee—one that needed surgical repair while at Baylor just year's earlier—crumpled to the ground and could not return in the NFC Wild Card Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Offseason surgery ensued and the questions surrounding his rehabilitation and safe return for his sophomore season have followed him every step along the way.
With the uncertainty surrounding the role RG3 will play on offense in 2013, the Washington Redskins need to make four key changes on offense to ensure his longevity in the league and the team's future success in year's to come.
1. RG3 needs to protect himself
Throughout 2012, RG3 would push the envelope and try to get an extra yard instead of sliding or running out of bounds. This needs to change. It is of the utmost importance for him to protect his career.
It's hard to tell a young, competitive NFL quarterback to duck out of bounds instead of going the extra step or two to get a first down. In statistics provided by ESPN.com, RG3's running game accounted for 40 of the Redskins 341 first downs—nearly 12 percent.
Last year he ran the ball 120 times for 815 yards—averaging 6.8 yards per attempt. That average was highest in the NFL among quarterbacks and running backs.
The Redskins will have difficulty this season trying to convince RG3 that his long-term health is more important than gaining a few extra yards.
This, perhaps, will be the most difficult challenge and change the team—strike that—RG3 will be forced to make. It is close to impossible to try and restrain or re-train an NFL player's competitive instinct. It is that drive within them to do whatever it takes to help the team—which in turn allowed the player the successes and opportunities to play in the NFL.
However, the future of the franchise lies in the hands of RG3. While backup QB Kirk Cousins certainly stepped in when called upon, Cousins does not have the agility, speed and playmaking abilities of RG3.
He needs to protect himself.
Is he damaged goods? That's highly unlikely, but we won't know how last season's injury will carryover into this season. In all likelihood, a quarterback with the skill set, talent, drive, determination and natural ability seen in RG3 will rebound—however cautiously.
2. Protecting the quarterback
Following the Week 3 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, RG3 addressed media questions regarding the high number of hits, sacks and knocks to the ground he had sustained so early in the season.
According to a Washington Times article written September 23, Griffin went to the ground 28 times in the 38-31 loss to the Bengals.
The quarterback seemed unfazed and resilient following the game.
“It doesn’t matter how many times they hit me, I’m going to continue to get back up. Even if they have to cart me off the field, I’m going to get off that cart and walk away.”
Can you say foreshadowing?
Redskins guard Kory Lichtensteiger told The Times, “A couple of those times he’s laying as crooked as a question mark on the ground, and you’re like, 'He’s not moving.' You’re wondering what’s going on, and then he slowly peels himself back up.”
Keep in mind, in the team's first loss of the year one week earlier, the Redskins QB challenged the league's defenses to, "Bring it on."
When RG3 is in the pocket, he needs more protection. That may be easier said then done because, after all, the offensive line gave up a respectable 30 sacks with RG3 as quarterback and 33 overall.
Allowing 33 sacks placed the team in the middle of the NFL statistically—20 fewer sacks allowed than the NFL-leading Arizona Cardinals, who gave up 58. Not to mention, the team did get penalized 15 times for offensive holding last season.
The bigger area of concern lies with RG3 and putting himself in vulnerable situations while standing in the pocket—including holding onto the ball too long while waiting for a play to develop. His linemen can only hold off the defenders so long before "holding" turns into a penalty.
It all begins with the offensive line controlling the line of scrimmage.
3. Implement more passing
Granted, the Redskins top receiver Pierre Garcon missed six games in 2012 due to injury, but he still led the team with 633 receiving yards. To their credit, the Redskins were the only NFL team to have four wide receivers with 500-plus receiving yards. So what do they need to change?
With a running game that finished atop the NFL in total rushing yards—taking into account 815 of those yards were from their quarterback—the team's ground game is secure, but the receivers need to elevate their game and contribute more on offense.
The last thing the Redskins want is to become predictable. After all, RG3 has shown he is an effective passer—completing 65 percent of his passes last season.
What the team needs is an improved role and better output from the wide receivers. That, in turn, will depend upon improved route-running, a decreased number of dropped balls and an increase in yards after the catch.
The top-four receivers accumulated 2,259 yards with 963 yards after the catch. The same group of receivers accounted for 15 of the 24 passing touchdowns.
To put those numbers into perspective—Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson led the league with 1,964 yards and Green Bay Packers WR James Jones led in receiving touchdowns with 14 in 2012. Those individual performances last season nearly eclipsed the top-four Redskins wide receiver's combined totals.
To further grasp the importance of an improved pass attack—in comparing the teams within their division—the Redskins passing yards accounted for a lowly 55 percent of the team's total yards.
4. Better blocking
It all starts at the line of scrimmage. The linemen, tight ends and even the wide receivers need to change the manner in which blocking is carried out while avoiding penalties that negate the play.
We have seen the explosiveness in the running game throughout last season with the efforts of Alfred Morris and RG3 on designed ground plays. What needs to change is player on-field awareness when a designated play turns into a scramble by RG3.
In-game scenarios that call for improvisation by RG3 are unplanned and require immediate decisions and actions. Better blocking by the tight ends and wide receivers at or beyond the line of scrimmage will open up lanes and space downfield for whoever is carrying the ball.
If we see RG3 has recovered 100 percent, as deemed necessary by coach Mike Shanahan, will we see a significant reduction in his scrambling and offensive production on the ground in 2013?
We could, but I think it is a highly unlikely scenario. There are a lot of unknowns prior to the season opener on Monday Night Football against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept 9th. This much we do know.
Changes need to be made on offense to protect RG3.
There is no "I" in team and one player alone does not make a team. However, there is a valuable and dependable quarterback that has the talent to lead the team for year's to come as long as he stays fit and healthy.
Change isn't painful—it's resistance to change that is painful. Hopefully, with the talented coaching staff assembled under head coach Shanahan, these changes and others will bring about positive results in 2013.
All statistical information provided by ESPN.com.