Why the Green Bay Packers Must Blitz Redskins QB Robert Griffin III
In his first game back from reconstructive knee surgery, Griffin III proved vulnerable in his mechanics against a crowded pocket. It was also clear that he doesn't yet have full confidence in his surgically-reconstructed knee to escape containment to the outside.
The Packers should now follow the script laid out by the Philadelphia Eagles and come after Griffin III Sunday, even if the stats from last season would deem such a strategy borderline insane.
In 2012, Griffin III was arguably the top quarterback in the game when defenses brought more than four rushers.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, his 96.8 QBR against the blitz led all NFL quarterbacks. Griffin III's final numbers in those situations were staggering, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required): 64 of 97 (66.0 percent) passing for 1,043 yards (10.4/attempt), 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions. His passer rating against the blitz was 134.1, the best in the NFL.
However, through one game in 2013, it appears that sending extra pressure after a still rusty and recovering Griffin III is the best way to combat the second-year quarterback.
The Eagles blazed the path in Week 1 for how to attack Griffin III with the blitz.
According to PFF (subscription required), Griffin dropped back to pass 56 times against Philadelphia. The Eagles responded with an extra blitzer on 24 of those snaps, or roughly 43 percent. Last season, Griffin III was blitzed on only 23.8 percent of his dropbacks, likely because he proved to be so effective against the pressure.
He certainly wasn't Monday night.
Source: Pro Football Focus
On his 24 blitzed snaps, Griffin III completed just 8 of 22 passes (36.4) for 68 yards (3.4), one interception and two sacks. His passer rating finished at 26.3 in those situations, which represented a new career low against the blitz.
Early on, Griffin III looked like a quarterback who hadn't faced any live game settings in nearly nine months. When faced with pressure, especially from the inside, Griffin III's throwing mechanics mostly eluded him. The result was missed opportunities for Washington and turnovers for Philadelphia.
Below is a screenshot of how he finished one delivery against a first-half pressure:
Griffin III is falling away from the throw, with most of his weight still on the plant leg when the football is finally let go. There's no weight transfer to the front foot, and as expected, the pass is woefully inaccurate. The throw lands harmlessly to the ground despite Fred Davis flashing open on a deep corner route against man-to-man coverage.
Our next screenshot is a similar example of Griffin III failing to follow through against an inside blitz:
He appears tentative to step into the throw with rushers in his face. Instead, Griffin III shortens his delivery and attempts to sling an outside breaking route with mostly arm strength.
Again, the result is very predictable. The throw doesn't have enough on it, and is too far inside. Eagles cornerback Cary Williams breaks on the pass and makes the interception in front of the receiver. Had Griffin III confidently stepped into the throw, improved accuracy would have followed and his receiver might have had a chance at making a catch along the sidelines.
Overall, the pressure might have made its biggest impact on Griffin III's ability to throw down the field. Per Michael Phillips of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Griffin III started the game 0-for-9 with an interception on passes traveling over 10 yards versus a blitz. He finished the game 3-for-13 on such attempts, and his first completion didn't come until the Eagles were playing prevent defense to close out the game.
Creative blitzes such as the one diagramed below helped keep Griffin III off balance in the pocket.
As we see in the first screen shot, the Eagles appear to be bringing edge pressure out of a three-man front. However, middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans (circled) will eventually be unaccounted for on a delayed blitz to the inside.
As the play unfolds, the Redskins block down the line of scrimmage to the right. Griffin III's protection call was likely to account for the four primary rushers while leaving the blitz pickup of the cornerback to Alfred Morris.
Ryans, the forgotten man, waits patiently and then bursts through a wide open lane to get to Griffin III. The result is an easy sack.
On Sunday, the Packers will likely want to make Griffin III prove he can still beat a blitz, especially early on. His hesitancy to run against pressure in Week 1 should give defensive coordinator Dom Capers a green light in that regard.
A season ago, teams avoided the blitz in part because crowding the pocket with extra rushers meant more lanes for Griffin III to break contain and scramble. He'll likely be weary of attempting that too often in the early weeks as the leg regains strength and his explosion returns.
Will the Packers keep Robert Griffin III and the Redskins offense under 28 points in Week 2?
The Packers can then shift their focus somewhat in terms of dealing with the mobile, read-option quarterback.
In Week 1, Green Bay played San Francisco to stop both the option run and any scrambles from Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers responded by carving up the Packers secondary via the right arm of Kaepernick.
Green Bay will still want to focus attention on stopping the Pistol run looks that the Redskins love to run with Morris, but a still-recovering Griffin III doesn't pose nearly the same threat as the keeper in the read-option or as a scrambler against contain.
Instead of playing mostly pocket containment and limiting the pass rush, the Packers can unleash the likes of Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and the interior of the defensive line, while also sending the A-gap fire blitzes to the inside that Capers loves.
The Redskins will almost certainly change up on offense in response to how Griffin III responded physically in Week 1. More short passes to combat the blitz are likely in order in Week 2.
Still, the Packers have no reason to sit back on their heels and give Griffin III time to get comfortable. He's still shaking off the rust, and his surgically repaired knee doesn't look close to 100 percent.
The Packers have the horses up front to cause the same kind of pressure Philadelphia created in Week 1. Until Griffin III proves he can beat it in 2013, the blitz looks like the key for Capers and the Packers defense Sunday.
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