The Washington Redskins have taken another stab at being a successful modern NFL franchise under the guidance of owner Dan Snyder with the hire of former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
No, Snyder did not mistake Jay for his older brother Jon Gruden in signing him to a five-year deal. Jay is the right man to clean up the mess in Washington. Unlike past hires in the nation's capital, little brother is a prominent coach widely considered on the rise in NFL circles.
All jokes about the last name aside, Gruden has spent a total of 17 years in three pro leagues and will now look to avoid being the eighth straight coach to not finish his contract in the Snyder era.
It's a tall task, but Gruden's offensive resume speaks for itself, and one executive from another NFL team says Gruden's time in Cincinnati shows he is the right fit for the Redskins, per Mark Maske of the Washington Post:
I think it was a good hire. He’s well regarded. Other teams wanted him. He’ll do a good job with the quarterback. He got the most out of [quarterback Andy] Dalton in Cincinnati. There were some limitations there. Now he has a quarterback with a higher ceiling if he gets the most out of him.
The NFL world is well versed in Dalton limitation's after his implosion in the Wild Card Round against the San Diego Chargers (one touchdown to three turnovers), which makes it even more impressive that Gruden squeezed 11,360 yards and 80 touchdowns out of the TCU product. Only Dan Marino and Peyton Manning also hit the 80-touchdown mark through their first three seasons.
Keep in mind, that's with Gruden hand-picking Dalton, according to Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer, and finding immediate success after a lockout-shortened offseason.
Gruden excels with quarterbacks thanks to his prolific collegiate career as a signal-caller at Louisville and his legendary ArenaBowl run that saw him win four titles as a QB and two more as head coach of the Orlando Predators. He sees through his quarterbacks, which is something he must now do with Robert Griffin III.
We'll see whether Gruden can rehab RGIII after a sophomore slump, but we can briefly analyze what he brings to the table immediately.
Mike Shanahan ran a version of the West Coast offense that utilized a zone-blocking scheme. The approach relied on agile linemen. Gruden runs similar things out of a zone look, but he also incorporates a heavy dose of power-based plays given the proper situation.
While Redskins fans are surely familiar with Shanahan's stretch play, Gruden did little of that during his time with the Bengals.
Instead, Gruden opts to get his athletic big men in space and bulldoze a path for his backs.
Below is one such example. Running back Giovani Bernard (yellow) lines up alone in the backfield as tight end Tyler Eifert comes across the formation. Here, left tackle Anthony Collins and left guard Andrew Whitworth immediately kick outside to lead the way while tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Eifert engage blockers. On the backside of the play, right guard Mike Pollak scrapes off his man and quickly gets across the field to eliminate a linebacker:
Bernard takes the toss and has all would-be tacklers accounted for and a simplistic hole to accelerate through:
Unfortunately, the linebacker does an outstanding job of shedding Eifert into Whitworth and trips up Bernard by his shoelaces:
Now, mix in these sorts of outside runs with power schemes, and one can see the basic scheme that Alfred Morris, Roy Helu Jr. and the rest of the backs in Washington will execute next season.
Gruden's offense through the air takes a quick-hitting approach, which limits quarterback hits and mostly keeps defenses on its heels.
Perhaps the best aspect of the approach is that Gruden does a fine job of involving all his weapons from different spots. Star receiver A.J. Green would routinely line up all over the field to create mismatches, as would Gresham and Eifert.
One example of Gruden's quick pace that leaves the defense little time to react is his involvement of his backs in the passing game. Here, Bernard (yellow) lines up outside, while center Kyle Cook and Whitworth immediately swing outside to act as downfield blockers:
Bernard must make one man miss with both linemen and the outside receiver engaged:
While far from a resounding success, this play easily goes for a much bigger gain if Bernard can get free of the unblocked defender.
This sort of attack keeps the defense off balance, can limit substitutions and even act as the run game if that area is struggling.
Most importantly, this approach in Washington will keep RGIII healthy and in a rhythm and keep a talented backfield involved. Perhaps best of all, it is but one look out of Gruden's extensive bag of tricks.
Much has been written (and will continue to be) about how Gruden abandons the run. That simply is not the case, as the numbers illustrate from the 2013-14 season:
|AFC Top Rush Attempts 2013|
|Team||Runs||Run play % (NFL rank)|
|1. Buffalo Bills||546||48.9 (3rd)|
|2. New York Jets||493||48.3 (5th)|
|3. San Diego Chargers||486||47.1 (6th)|
|4. Cincinnati Bengals||481||43.0 (12th)|
|5. New England Patriots||470||40.9 (17th)|
|Pro Football Reference|
While the numbers are certainly not the only thing that comes into play, Gruden was not far behind the conference's top numbers, and the healthy ratio of runs to passes last season (Dalton attempted 586) made for a quality attack.
Perhaps most concerning in regards to Gruden's approach is his tendency to outthink himself. He admitted as much in an interview on ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati, per ESPN.com's Coley Harvey:
Sometimes maybe I give [defensive] coordinators too much credit like, "OK, this play worked a couple times, no way it's going to work again." You outthink yourself, and that's the whole thing you go through as a coordinator is how to attack.
Gruden has already stated he will call the plays in Washington. He strikes a decent offensive balance if the situation allows, but more often than not, he attempts to get cute when a traditional approach would work (such as running a toss to the plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis).
What to Expect
It is impossible to tell if Gruden will ultimately be a success or failure as the captain of the ship in Washington, although it helps that he won two AFL championships as a head coach.
As long as Gruden has an adequate defensive coordinator to lead the charge in rebuilding one of the NFL's worst defenses in 2013, he will be able to squeeze the most out of his talent on the offensive side of things.
Morris leads the way for a stable of talented backs. Tight end Jordan Reed is just as good of a pass-catcher as both Gresham and Eifert, if not better. Receiver Pierre Garcon is a legit No. 1 who can line up in multiple spots on the field and is flanked by quality options such as Josh Morgan and Aldrick Robinson.
As Gruden elaborates, via Maske once more, he plans on getting all of the talent involved:
I think we have to adhere to what we have offensively talent-wise. We can do the read-option. We can do naked bootlegs. We can run outside zone. We can run bubble screens. We can run deep [passes]. We can do play-action. ... I think the whole idea to be a successful offense is to be diverse and be good at a lot of different things and not just one.
Finally, there is RGIII. Griffin's current playing style is not sustainable in the long term, so expect Gruden to mold him into a quick-hitting pocket passer. Gruden used Dalton in a running capacity briefly through the read option, which will come in handy, but expect Griffin to mostly remain a threat from the comfort of the pocket, where the decisions will be dictated by a quick read and the production will come from skill players after the catch.
Gruden is set to begin a new era for Washington with his quick-hitting attack reliant on weapons. Expect plenty of mistakes when Gruden gets too complicated, but the Redskins will score plenty to win games next season.
Most importantly, the arrival of Gruden comes at the perfect time in RGIII's career.