How the Washington Redskins Can Ensure Explosive Start to RG3's 2013 Season
First, they must find their second-year quarterback a prolific pass-catching running back. Secondly, head coach Mike Shanahan should also take advantage of a loaded position group and feature more two-tight end sets. And finally, some simple tweaks to an already potent play-action passing scheme can help Griffin create even more big plays.
A Trusted Receiver out of the Backfield Will make the Game Easier
Remember how much the Redskins relied upon screen passes during Griffin's first few starts of 2012? It was a smart ploy that made the game easier for a quarterback that was still refining his craft as a passer.
Unfortunately, the plan was soon scuppered thanks to the season-ending injury suffered by Roy Helu, Jr. He appeared in only three games last season before being consigned to the treatment table with an Achilles injury.
As the best pass-catching back on the team, the Redskins need Helu healthy in 2013, and Shanahan is well aware of Helu's potential for big plays once he gets the ball in space, according to John Keim of The Washington Post.
With Alfred Morris established as the workhorse on the ground, Helu's flair as a receiver provides him with the best chance of getting on the field. According to Rich Campbell of The Washington Times, he is aiming to become a key part of the third-down offense as a result.
Helu has already proved his worth as a receiver out of the backfield, too, as he caught an impressive 49 passes as a rookie in 2011. That haul included a 14-catch, 105-yard effort against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 9 of that season.
Griffin needs that kind of dependable, check-down outlet this season. Defenses will naturally be eager to attack the dual-threat quarterback, so the screen game should be a key part of the offense.
The good news is that Helu looked sharp during the team's preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans. While he did not showcase his talent as a receiver, Helu did rush for 62 yards on 14 carries.
His 4.4 yards per carry average was impressive, as was his acceleration and cutting ability. Neither Morris or backup Evan Royster are true pass-catchers who can stretch the field like Helu can.
Working the former Nebraska ace more into the passing game will benefit Griffin immensely in Year 2.
Use the Two-Tight End Set More Often
The Redskins are stacked at the tight end position, and they can take advantage of that by incorporating more multiple-tight end looks into their offense.
This is not a call for a return to the days of the Joe Gibbs-style offense, but it would help Griffin if Shanahan used two-tight end sets to challenge coverage schemes more often.
The return of Fred Davis is a major boost. It gives Griffin an explosive move tight end who can be aligned anywhere across the formation.
Thanks to his powerful frame and wide receiver-like speed, Davis is a matchup nightmare for underneath coverage. He can be particularly dangerous when split out wide or attacking from the slot.
The Redskins also have two Davis clones in the rotation.
Niles Paul is a converted wide receiver who still shows promise as a roving tight end, but it is 2013 third-round pick Jordan Reed who is the most intriguing member of this group. Like Davis, he has the athletic range of a true move tight end.
However, Reed may be even more versatile and could increase the flexibility of Shanahan's schemes. As noted in Reed's draft profile on NFL.com, the former Florida star can also align as an H-Back, or even as a classic running back.
Shanahan should design a package to include Reed as a pass-catching running back in the flats, or as a moving H-Back releasing on middle screens.
That would give Griffin another underneath target as defenses attempt to take away the deep ball and rushing lanes.
Reed has dealt with an ongoing leg injury this offseason. However, according to John Keim of The Washington Post, he recently returned to the practice field and Shanahan appears confident about his fitness
Finally, even with a trio of such versatile athletes at the position, the Redskins can't forget about Logan Paulsen. He is the only natural in-line tight end on the roster.
A big-bodied bruiser in the running game, Paulsen has managed to steadily develop a niche as a dependable receiver. Classic in-liners like Paulsen can be a quarterback's best friend, serving as reliable safety valves over the middle.
Shanahan should use the two-tight end set to attack underneath coverage more often in 2013. The deep ball was the staple of the passing game last season, but Griffin will become a better quarterback if his range becomes more varied and his short-game matures.
The Redskins will battle the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1, and a multiple-tight end offense could prove very effective. The Eagles will field thumpers Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans as inside linebackers.
Shanahan should use Davis, Paul, Reed and Paulsen to exploit the pair in coverage. Philly could also be fielding a new-look safety partnership involving veterans Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips.
There is no better way to pressure safeties than using athletic tight ends to create favorable matchups. If Griffin is ready for Week 1, he should utilize his quartet of tight ends early and often.
Expand the Play-Action Concepts
The Redskins enjoyed great success with the play-action pass in 2012. They consistently manufactured huge gains through the air, thanks to the simplicity of their schemes.
Often times Griffin used the play action to target only one-receiver patterns. With the majority of a defense usually keying in on Morris and Griffin's own threat to run, the lone receiver was frequently left wide open.
However, defensive coordinators will be wise to this ploy in 2013. Still, that does not mean the Redskins can dump the play action. Their ground game is too much of a threat, and Griffin's faking skills are too good to let that happen.
What Shanahan should do is expand the route concepts the Redskins run off play action. Given his extensive background in the West Coast offense, Shanahan has always been well-versed in the principles of the play-action pass.
One of its key concepts is something the Redskins should use more often, the hi-lo concept.
Simply put, it requires one receiver to threaten underneath coverage on a crossing pattern, hopefully attracting the attention of a safety. Meanwhile, the other receiver attacks deep and tries to get behind the coverage. When executed well, the hi-lo presents defenses with a terrible dilemma.
If the coverage scheme is drawn towards the underneath receiver, the defense is exposed deep. However, if both safeties cover the vertical route, then the lo-receiver has a mismatch against linebackers.
When the play action is executed successfully, more than one linebacker is usually drawn towards it. That can leave a tight end or wide receiver free to torment an overmatched linebacker or safety.
For a quarterback, the hi-lo is a safe, efficient way to create a big play. However, smart offensive minds like Shanahan often add a backfield target as well in order to give their quarterback another option.
The video below, from last season's Week 2 clash with the St. Louis Rams, is an excellent example of the Redskins putting a three-receiver hi-lo together:
They put wideout Josh Morgan in motion to fake a reverse and then released him to the flats on a screen pattern. Tight end Davis ran the crossing route underneath, while flanker Leonard Hankerson went vertical.
The result was an easy 68-yard scoring completion to a wide open Hankerson. The Redskins have the weapons to repeat this play in a variety of ways in 2013.
They could still use Davis, Paulsen, or even Helu, over the middle, while a burner like Aldrick Robinson goes deep. Shanahan could even flip the script and have Davis or Paul run the vertical route, while savvy veteran Santana Moss works across the middle.
Helu or Reed could complete the design by flaring out for a potential screen pass. With defenses frozen by the fear of the run, Griffin would be able to choose his big play from three options.
Shanahan's zone-running game is now firmly established in Washington. Opponents know that no matter who lines up in the backfield, the Redskins will boast a fearsome rushing attack.
That means the play-action game will once again be the biggest part of the passing offense. Expanding the number of routes run of off it and mixing up the receiver combinations will help Griffin be even more dangerous off of the play action this season.
Shanahan and the Redskins have rightly taken a cautious approach with Griffin as he returns from last season's serious knee injury and subsequent surgery, but his second year cannot only be about easing him back in following rehabilitation. It has to also be about refining Griffin's overall game as a passer.
The three suggestions made here are simple ways to achieve that.
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