Robert Griffin III's Running Ability Will Determine Fate of Washington's Season

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIISeptember 30, 2013

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 29:  Robert Griffin III #10 of the Washington Redskins celebrates after the Redskins scored a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders at Coliseum on September 29, 2013 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has stuck to being a pocket passer and occasional runner through four games in the 2013 NFL campaign, but for his team to have a true chance at the playoffs, he must take off more and improvise.

Griffin has carried the ball just 18 times for 72 yards to date, with very few of those plays being designed runs.

That may not necessarily be a bad thing in light of how many more yards Griffin accumulated on scrambles last season, per ESPN Denver insider Cecil Lammey:

It would be one thing if Griffin were ripping off chunks of yardage when plays broke down. Instead, the precocious signal-caller is going through more reads and electing to hang in the pocket, leaving himself susceptible to hits that he can't as easily see coming.

The strides Griffin has made in the pocket seem evident. Even without exercising his unique athleticism on a more regular basis, he's still putting up solid numbers through the air.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, his 300-plus yards per game and 85.5 passer rating are misleading:

Part of the QBR statistic encompasses situational football. Griffin and the offense have often started slowly, and he's accumulated many of his yards in so-called garbage time.

The difference between Griffin now—a solid but not spectacular pocket passer—and the electric RGIII that burst onto the scene as a rookie is his willingness to tuck the ball and run.

A season ago, Washington had the No. 1 rushing attack in the league and was able to protect a defense that was thin on talent. The symbiotic relationship between the two main phases of the game sparked the team on a seven-game winning streak and led to an NFC East division title.

This season, Griffin isn't establishing himself as a threat on the read-option, almost always handing the ball to Alfred Morris at the mesh point.

LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 09:  Quarterback Robert Griffin III #10 of the Washington Redskins hands the ball off to running back Alfred Morris #46 against the Philadelphia Eagles at FedExField on September 9, 2013 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Patrick S
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Morris is still running well at 5.3 yards per carry, but what made Washington so dangerous off of play action and allowed its rushing attack to thrive was Griffin as a legitimate dual threat.

Washington is 17th in yards per game on the ground, and the passing average is inflated by lax coverage defenses late in the season's first three losses.

Whether it's a precautionary provision to protect him in the game plan or Griffin's own uncertainty coming off his major knee injury, he does not look anywhere near the playmaker in the open field he did in 2012.

Playing the Oakland Raiders in Week 4, who were without their starting quarterback, helped give Washington its first win, 24-14.

The spark came defensively, though, as David Amerson nabbed a pick-six off of Raiders QB Matt Flynn. Last year's spark was Griffin and his ability to stretch the field, set up by the 815 rushing yards and seven TDs he accumulated.

But hey, a win's a win in the NFL. Griffin and Co. will take it.

To win on a more regular basis, though, Griffin will have to run on a more regular basis. After carrying it 120 times last season, he is on pace for 72 carries over the course of 16 games.

The Dallas Cowboys are next up after the Week 5 bye, and they will likely be coming off a loss to the prolific Denver Broncos.

It is on the road, but Griffin has time to rest up, and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has the opportunity to surprise the Cowboys by calling more plays to capitalize on Griffin's mobility.

If the running game can't be more Griffin-driven, Washington will miss out on a golden opportunity to defend its NFC East title in what looks like a weak season for all four teams.