Coming off LCL and ACL surgery rehab, Robert Griffin III struggled early in his return to the field on Monday night. Looking back at the game, his technique was poor and his production suffered until Washington made some adjustments in the second half.
Today, let’s break down Griffin’s performance from the Redskins' loss to the Eagles and discuss why the quarterback will progress this season after playing in Week 1.
The lack of preseason reps
I agreed with Mike Shanahan’s decision to shut down Griffin throughout the exhibition schedule. However, the lack of game reps showed up on Monday night.
Yes, there are exceptions, but the majority of pros—regardless of position—need work in the preseason. And I’m not talking about playbook install.
Instead, the focus here is on basic fundamentals and conditioning your legs for game speed. That’s something you can’t replicate on the practice field.
Throwing passes during 7-on-7 drills in training camp is nothing compared to the speed (and defensive pressure) quarterbacks see every snap when the games count.
Early on Monday night, Griffin played like a quarterback that sat throughout the month of August. He looked tentative, his overall technique was poor, and I felt he was late to pick up defensive pressure in his post-snap reads.
But Griffin played much more confident football as the game progressed. He settled down, adjusted to the speed and was quicker with his eyes/reads in the second half.
That’s a positive for Griffin and this team. He needed to play. And he needed to get hit (hard) to get his “game legs” back.
Forget talent here—because it always goes back to your footwork and overall technique as a pro ball player.
Griffin failed to set his feet routinely in the first half versus the Eagles, and the results were out there for everyone to see. He sailed throws on outside breaking cuts, displayed accuracy (plus timing) issues in the middle of the field and missed on multiple opportunities to pick up explosive gains off play action.
The interception on the deep out/comeback?
That’s a great play by Eagles cornerback Cary Williams to undercut the route, but the ball placement was the real story. You can’t leave that throw short in the NFL—or it’s going the other way. And, again, that was a case of poor footwork at the quarterback position.
How did the Redskins and Griffin correct this?
Washington started to make formation and personnel adjustments to give Griffin quick reads. Think three-to-five step combination routes out of bunch and stack looks with Griffin in the shotgun.
Pick up the primary read, get the ball out and start rolling down the field.
Here’s an example on Griffin’s touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson out of bunch alignment (slot open formation) versus the Eagles “box” technique (four-on-three):
This is essentially a smash-7 (corner) concept with Hankerson running the “whip” route underneath (burst to the flat, plant, break back inside of the numbers), a 7 cut to the corner and Santana Moss extending the middle of the field on the seam route.
With the Eagles playing a “box” technique and matching routes (first out, first in, second out, second in), Hankerson can force the defensive back to widen on his initial stem to the flat. That creates space and gives Griffin an easy, low-risk read underneath.
Griffin steps into this throw and delivers the ball on time. And sometimes, that’s all it takes. Get the ball out and let the receivers do some work for the quarterback.
Eagles' defensive pressure
I loved the Eagles' game plan on the defensive side of the ball. With a focus on inside pressure, Philadelphia attacked the A and B gaps while also sending blitz schemes from the secondary. That created issues in the protection count for the Redskins and forced Griffin to throw with pressure in his face.
Let’s take a look at Cary Williams’ sack coming off a "corner cat" (cornerback blitz) from the open (weak) side of the formation versus the Redskins' “Regular” personnel (two wide receivers, one tight end, one running back):
Because of the “nasty” split to the open side (wide receiver aligned tight to the core of the formation), Williams has a short run to get home. The Redskins use play action and send the fullback to the open side flat (plays out like a “swap boot”), but the offensive line slides their protection away from the pressure. That’s trouble versus the corner cat from this alignment.
Williams has a free run at the quarterback and gets home easily to make the play. That’s on Griffin and the entire offense for not identifying the pressure or checking to a quick hot read (open side hitch or smoke route).
But Griffin needed to see this—and it can be corrected.
That’s important with the Redskins traveling to Green Bay this Sunday to play the Packers. Dom Caper’s defense will dial up pressure after seeing this film from Monday night. Griffin will have to throw versus the blitz, extend the pocket and slide to avoid pressure this week.
And he got a taste of that on Monday night.
What’s next for RGIII and the Redskins?
This Redskins offense in 2012 was unique because of Griffin’s skill set and the creative play-calling of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
That can’t change.
Washington makes its money on the offensive side of the ball with movement passes and misdirection. That means the boot game, sprint and dash. Get Griffin outside of the pocket and let his talent take over. This creates throwing lanes and multiple targets for the quarterback.
I can understand if the Redskins want to limit the amount of runs for Griffin in the read-option scheme—because you need him for 16 weeks.
However, as I wrote previously at Bleacher Report, this is where Griffin produced multiple explosive gains last season off play-action pass. Show the read-option backfield action, force the second-level defenders to the line of scrimmage and target the middle of the field.
I would keep it in the playbook and use it for specific game situations to highlight Griffin’s ability and his straight-line speed on the edge. That also forces defenses to play with discipline and spend practice time working against the scheme.
Remember, the ability to recover from a major knee injury isn’t an easy process when you are asked to play (and produce) versus NFL speed. Hundreds of players have been there. I’ve been there. And Griffin is going through that process right now on the field.
But the more Griffin plays, the more he will adjust. And that leads to big production when you add his natural ability to Shanahan’s game plan in Washington.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.