Robert Griffin III's Durability Will Define Redskins' Season

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Robert Griffin III's Durability Will Define Redskins' Season
USA TODAY Sports

Robert Griffin III’s durability will, in one way or another, define the Washington Redskins in 2013.

Last year, the rookie helped further the NFL’s evolution toward mobile quarterbacks. While championing the read-option play in 2012, RGIII compiled 815 yards rushing and scored seven times.

He also looked incredible throwing the football, too. With a 65.6 percent completion rate, Griffin passed for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns.

But how much of that was a direct result of his threat to run the ball? And how will the Redskins respond offensively after their star quarterback’s knee was destroyed by the Seattle Seahawks in last year’s playoffs?

Griffin recently got the stamp of approval from Dr. James Andrews and will start in Week 1, per Mike Jones of The Washington Post, after having reconstructive surgery and rehabbing over the past eight months. He missed the entire preseason, but appears to be ready to take the field. His knee, they say, is fine.

There’s still that ringing in the back of our ears that begs for caution from Mike Shanahan’s staff. Will they tone down plays that expose their quarterback to injury?

Every team in the NFL has had a full offseason to prepare for the zone-read. Like with the Wildcat formation that emerged years ago, the zone-read could be a short-lived phenomenon in the league.

Whether it’s due to injuries like RGIII’s or purely based on adaption by the rest of the league, the Redskins are going to have to innovate to not only keep their quarterback safe, but to also remain effective offensively.

And if they do presumably make changes, there are plenty of questions about how the Skins will look on the field in 2013.

We don’t know how RGIII would respond to playing a more traditional role behind center. His quick decisions off of zone-read plays definitely afforded him an advantage in the short passing game. Freezing defenders with play-action fakes and his threat to run, Griffin found open receivers quickly following the snap.

It’s hard to imagine him being as efficient again as a purely dropback quarterback. Luckily, the Redskins wouldn’t be helpless offensively if he does decline as a passer in 2013. Their running game, even when not operating off of the zone-read, was highly effective.

Alfred Morris rushed well enough on non-zone-read runs a season ago to help alleviate concerns. The rookie back managed 4.6 yards per carry on “regular” rushing plays compared to 4.8 YPC off of the read-option.

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That success was vital for RGIII, no matter how they generated the yards. Forty-two percent of Washington’s pass plays came off of play-action in 2012, the highest in the league by far, according to FootballOutsiders.com.

The Shanahans have options, though. Finding other ways to utilize Griffin’s athleticism—like bootlegs—could help mitigate some of the potential damage.

But in the end, the Redskins’ offense is far less dynamic than when it has a fully healthy RGIII on the field doing what he does best. Sure, they could get by with a watered down Griffin or Kirk Cousins leading their offense—probably even win a good amount of games too.

But we’re talking about contending here. If the Skins don’t make necessary adjustments and they lose their best player at any significant moment, this season will end much like it did last season against Seattle in the playoffs: in bitter disappointment.

And that’s exactly how it will play out. While Shanahan keeps Griffin scaled back and protected, the rest of their offense will take a step back in unison with their captain signal-caller.

There are just too many unknowns offensively without RGIII opening things up with his legs to believe the Redskins can contend with the top teams in the NFL. That advantage made them contenders, and without it, they look like an 8-8 team, at best.

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