Washington's Offensive Woes Go Deeper Than Robert Griffin III

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistNovember 26, 2013

Nov 25, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith (99) sacks Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) during the second half at FedEx Field. The 49ers won 27-6. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Griffin III's struggles are the most glaring concern for the Washington Redskins offense, but not the only one.

The unit's issues go deeper and include a dreadful offensive line and suspect play-calling.

Both of these woes were on display in the team's 27-6 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night. As has usually been the case this season, the root of the problems was up front.

The Washington offensive line was thoroughly dominated by the 49ers' physically imposing front seven. Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey and pass-rushers Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith overpowered Redskins blockers all game.

The result was an uncharacteristically stagnant rushing attack and another heavy beating for Griffin. That has been the dynamic for the offense too often this season thanks to its weak line.

It is a line head coach Mike Shanahan has been patiently building since he arrived in Washington with little success.

He used his first draft pick in charge of the team, the fourth overall in 2010, on left tackle Trent Williams. Free-agency dollars were spent on guards Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester.

The problem for Shanahan has been that none of these players have consistently delivered.

Trent Williams has not lived up to his status as 2010's fourth overall pick.
Trent Williams has not lived up to his status as 2010's fourth overall pick.Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Williams is supposed to be a star in the making, but he has not refined his technique as a pass-rusher. Seeing him toyed with so easily by Smith proved Williams is far from the dominant bookend tackle he is supposed to be.

It also hasn't helped that Shanahan has never solved problems on the other side. Veteran retreads like Tyler Polumbus have manned the right tackle spot but soon become liabilities.

Lichtensteiger and Chester are part of an interior trio that has been getting destroyed all season long. The whole line continues to consistently undermine the offense.

The group was made to look good in 2012, thanks to the misdirection of the read-option and the hesitation that created in defenses.

But without that trickery to lean on, the lack of elite talent and physical dominance up front has been brought to light. Those weaknesses have been compounded by Griffin's habit of holding onto the ball once his first read is covered. 

But no quarterback could be expected to adequately progress behind such consistently feeble protection.

It is also difficult for Griffin to refine the mechanics of his game when he is regularly operating with what can only be described as a restrained game plan.

Shanahan is too often content to let Griffin execute plays that expect little of him as a credible pro passer. For instance, it was almost embarrassing to see the number of bubble screens the offense ran against the 49ers, especially since so few actually worked.

Robert Griffin III is not being trusted to make plays.
Robert Griffin III is not being trusted to make plays.Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Such a heavy reliance on plays so obviously tailored to minimize mistakes from Griffin has held the offense back. Meticulously crafted play designs that emphasized what Griffin does best and hid his weaknesses were valuable in helping him adjust quickly to life in the pros.

But in year two, the coaches should be asking more of the player they gave up consecutive first-round picks to draft second overall in 2012.

Yet Shanahan seemed happy to still trust a game plan that made the offense look timid against the 49ers, something The Washington Post's Mike Jones noted:

But the Redskins couldn’t summon the gumption needed on offense to overcome a defense that ranks among the stingiest in the NFL.

“We just didn’t show up,” running back Alfred Morris said.

It marked the first time all season Washington hadn’t scored a touchdown and the first time in Griffin’s career, in college or the pros, his team hadn’t reached the end zone.

The fact that Shanahan and his staff still aren't prepared to take off the training wheels has made the passing game one-dimensional.

Mike Shanahan has to find out if Griffin can do more.
Mike Shanahan has to find out if Griffin can do more.Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Defenses now know which routes to expect and where to set their coverage, something Griffin hinted at after last week's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The intriguing aspect of the play-calling debate that has raged on all season is why Griffin is still being handled with kid gloves. Certainly, by this stage it has gone beyond adapting to the effects of him missing an entire offseason thanks to major knee surgery.

The question now becomes is Griffin good enough to direct a pro offense that isn't built around read-option principles?

That can't be known for sure at this stage. But it is something Shanahan should use the rest of this season to find out.

That means expanding the playbook and really finding out what his franchise quarterback can and can't do.

Otherwise, the Redskins offense will remain a concern beyond this nightmare season.


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