Robert Griffin III should target three main areas for improvement ahead of the 2013 NFL season. He must get better at progressing through his reads, improve his ball placement and be more accurate on third downs.
Third-Down Performance Is Griffin's Most Obvious Issue
The Redskins were one of the worst third-down offenses in football in 2012. The problems usually began with Griffin's performance.
Mike Jones of The Washington Post broke down Griffin's main issues on football's "money" down:
Of all the downs, Griffin was least effective on third downs. He completed 69.7 percent of his second-down passes (85 for 122) and 66.5 percent of first down throws (105 for 158). However, his completion percentage dropped to 59 percent on third downs (62 for 105). Additionally, after averaging 9.79 yards per first-down completion, and 8.14 yards per second-down completion, Griffin averaged just 5.84 yards per pass on third downs. Compare Griffin’s third-down completion percentage to those of Aaron Rodgers (63.9), Peyton Manning (62.9) and Tom Brady (61.3), and you’ll see room for growth.
One of the reasons for Griffin's struggles on third downs came from the kind of plays the Redskins ran on the previous downs. Head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan carefully packaged plays to help Griffin succeed.
They crafted high-percentage bubble screens and can't-miss play-action routes. Those passing plays, coupled with the success of a prolific ground game, meant Griffin rarely faced unmanageable down-and-distance situations.
The way the Redskins used the zone-read offense meant that when they faced third down, it was often under five yards. That kept defenses trying to guess run or pass and gave Griffin an advantage, as Rich Campbell of The Washington Times notes:
Shanahan couldn't hide his excitement nine months after his eureka moment. The threat Robert Griffin III posed as a runner last year slowed opponents' pass rush, froze linebackers and simplified coverages. That threat, he discovered, produces a cornucopia of yardage and points and victories.
Defenses usually like to get exotic on third downs with multiple pressure looks and disguised coverages. Griffin rarely faced those looks but had two main problems when he did.
Staring Down First Read
Staring down his primary receiver, or first read, is a habit Griffin has to shed before the start of the new season. It was particularly evident on third downs.
The first example comes from Week 8 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Redskins are facing a 3rd-and-9 at their own 32-yard line.
Griffin has three wide receivers and tight end Logan Paulsen is loitering in the slot. He will be the primary target on a swing route toward the flat.
The Redskins will also run a crossing pattern with two of their three wide receivers. The best route on this play will be the one marked by the red arrow. That is where Griffin should be looking.
Once the ball is snapped, Josh Morgan becomes wide open behind a trademark zone blitz run by the Steelers. However, Griffin fails to spot the crossing pattern breaking open.
The reason he fails to see that route is because he locks on Paulsen's route as soon as the ball is snapped.
Griffin stays zeroed in on Paulsen, which draws coverage to the flat. Griffin's pass is then too high for Paulsen to catch.
Had he scanned the field, Griffin might have been able to look off the coverage on Paulsen and protect the original play design. He might also have seen the crossing pattern open up and then used his athleticism to gain enough time to hit Morgan.
The next week against the Carolina Panthers, Griffin made the same mistake, and this time it cost the Redskins points. Facing 2nd-and-6 at the Carolina 11-yard line, Griffin has a slant pass to wideout Josh Morgan set up.
Because the Redskins have three potential receivers stacked on the other side, the Panthers have moved a safety over. Not only that, but the deep safety is also focusing on that side of the field. That leaves Morgan facing single coverage.
This is where Griffin makes a fatal mistake. Again, as soon as the ball is snapped, he zeroes in on his primary read.
By making it so obvious, Griffin draws the attention of the deep safety, who shifts across to cover the top of Morgan's route.
Now Griffin has a very small window to aim for. Also, with the luxury of a safety over the top, Panthers cornerback Josh Norman could risk playing aggressively and pressing Morgan's route.
He was able to swat away this pass. It did not help that Griffin's throw was also a little behind Morgan. Maybe if he had given himself more room, Griffin would have been more accurate.
The Redskins missed out on a touchdown and eventually had to settle for three points.
Griffin should have been more subtle and manipulated the coverage. Had he eyed the three-receiver side of the field first, Griffin could have looked off the deep safety. That would have preserved the one-on-one matchup for Morgan.
Both of these throws also helped to highlight Griffin's poor ball placement. The pass to Paulsen was too high, and the quick strike to Morgan was behind him.
Ball placement was something Griffin struggled with all year, as this play from Week 17 against the Dallas Cowboys helps illustrate.
The Redskins are attempting to convert a 3rd-and-6 at the Dallas 44-yard line. They have set up two inside routes to allow slot receiver Santana Moss to get free in the flat.
The play design succeeds, and Moss soon breaks open near the sideline. However, Griffin's pass is just too low for him. What should have been a simple conversion resulted in an incompletion.
Just like against the Steelers and the Panthers, Griffin also indulged his other bad habits on this botched third down.
He again stared down his primary receiver as soon as the ball was snapped.
Griffin also did not hesitate to throw to the side of the field where the Cowboys had rotated their safeties.
Had he taken more time to read the defense, Griffin might have anticipated this rotation. After all, the Redskins had three receivers on that side, naturally forcing the Cowboys to shift the strength of their coverage that way.
Had he anticipated and then read that development, Griffin might have exploited the single coverage on the other side. There, his receiver is winning on a vertical route, shown in the red circle.
These are things Griffin must improve if he is going to be even better in his second year.
Many want to see him run less and avoid the hits and injuries he endured as a rookie. But that can only happen if he becomes more competent in the pocket, as Rich Tandler points out in his blog, RealRedskins.com:
It should be noted that Bob Griffin did not play all that well while he was confined to the pocket. Before his injured knee gave way in the fourth quarter of the Seattle game, he completed 35 of 61 passes (57.3%) for 382 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. That’s a passer rating of 84.1, which would have placed him in the middle of the pack among NFL quarterbacks but far below the NFL rookie record 102.4 rating he posted during the regular season.
Refining his technique and instincts as a passer will solve Griffin's issues on third down and give him greater confidence to trust his arm in the pocket.
All screen shots courtesy of Fox Sports, NBC Sports and NFL.com Gamepass