If Robert Griffin III returns to being RG3, new offensive coordinator Sean McVay will have a lot to be happy about. That's the theory, anyway. The reality is a little different.
So much depends on Griffin in 2014 that the rest of the offense sometimes gets removed from the discussion. There is a lot of talent on that side of the ball, and how McVay and head coach Jay Gruden use them will obviously differ from the scheme of former head coach and offensive coordinator Mike and Kyle Shanahan.
Gruden has previously run a West Coast scheme that is more traditional than the one Shanahan implemented the last two years. He will be reliant on quick passes, pinpoint route running and good hands. This explains the selection of wide receiver Ryan Grant in the fifth round of May's NFL draft.
Although it seemed like a strange choice after the offseason Washington had, Grant's strengths lie in just the areas Gruden preaches. The new head coach's assertion—via John Keim at ESPN—that "he plays like a 10-year veteran already" will ensure that he sees the field. He's not going to unseat any of the top three guys, but don't be surprised if Santana Moss finds himself looking for work.
McVay is a first-time OC, but his development under Shanahan will ensure that the fundamentals of the WCO remain in place. As reported by Mike Jones at The Washington Post in March, Gruden has already confirmed as much:
We have a base philosophy on offense: Trying to get everybody involved, short passing game, receivers doing a lot of the work after the catch, the good hard, play-action, taking some shots down the field, being very diverse in what we do.
According to SportingCharts.com, Pierre Garcon was tied for second in the NFL in yards after the catch last year. This is inevitably skewed due to the sheer number of receptions he had (113), but his average YAC per reception was still ahead of Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant and—crucially—A.J. Green.
Since his arrival in Washington, Garcon has always been the most committed of all receivers on the team. Whether it's run blocking, being physical at the line of scrimmage or putting his body on the line to make the catch, Garcon will commit.
It is he who will lead the wideouts, regardless of the arrival of DeSean Jackson. Jackson isn't going to take the hits that Garcon does, but they'll balance each other out and bring unpredictability to the offense. That's the key for 2014.
McVay might be the OC, but the way the offense is unfolding makes it as much Gruden's as anyone else's. Looking at Gruden's offensive history, the promotion of McVay makes a lot of sense.
At Cincinnati, Gruden would consistently look to get his tight ends open over the middle. Tyler Eifert had 39 receptions for 445 yards and two touchdowns last year while Jermaine Gresham had 46 receptions, 458 yards and four TDs. This could have been more if Andy Dalton had been more consistent with his progressions. This is where Griffin must improve—locking onto his primary target will hurt this new-look offense.
As the former tight ends coach, McVay will certainly seek to get Jordan Reed the ball even with the stacked crop of receivers Washington has. With Garcon and Jackson on the field, someone is going to draw double coverage. Add in Grant, Andre Roberts and whichever Shanahan guys make the team, and it's clear Reed is essential this year.
Gruden moved Eifert and Gresham around a lot last year, keeping things fresh and increasing their chances of getting open. While Washington doesn't have two TEs of that caliber—thanks, Fred Davis—Reed should be switched around to create mismatches on his own.
His health remains a concern despite his assertion to Mark Maske at The Washington Post that last year's struggles were no longer bothering him. His blocking could also use work, but there was noticeable improvement and commitment in that area last year, so there's reason to expect even more from Reed this time around.
Another offensive coach who survived the Shana-cull is Chris Foerster, who is responsible for the offensive line. The unit's poor performance last year has resulted in changes, most notably a switch to bigger bodies in the trenches.
While Gruden is likely to retain elements of the zone-blocking scheme Washington fans are now used to—so the linemen still need quickness and agility—the increase in size means that there will be more power-running concepts and less reliance on Griffin's legs.
The fear upon Gruden's arrival was that Alfred Morris would suffer. The Shanahans' complete abandonment of the run game for parts of last year didn't phase him, nor did the removal of Griffin as a threat. In reality, it's actually more likely that Morris will be better suited to his new coach's system.
Within the power scheme, the line will shift across, and one of the interior guys will act as the lead blocker for the back. Morris' strength and vision will serve him well here, and we can expect to see him find holes and grind out yards in a familiar manner.
The rest of the running game is a little blurry. Roy Helu Jr. should remain untroubled by the arrival of rookie Lache Seastrunk, but Evan Royster and Chris Thompson suddenly have a lot to prove. Gruden likes to check down to his backs and let them find daylight with pace, so Royster would seem to be the odd one out here. However, Thompson has major question marks surrounding his ability to stay healthy, so he needs a special preseason to make his case for inclusion.
The faster backs should thrive in other areas, too. The power scheme that Gruden operates sometimes requires multiple blockers to jump across and create space for the running back. It's feasible that Reed and whoever the starting center and right tackle are will be asked to drive into the backfield, often with the tight end on the edge and the tackle as the lead blocker in the hole.
These mismatches are prime examples of how to beat a team with pace. If Seastrunk can demonstrate solid hands, he'll find ways to make defenders miss and take it to the house. Thompson will then find it hard to stay on the roster. Both guys have pace, but if all is equal on the field, the healthier player will win every time.
So what of Griffin, you ask?
There's no way that we'll see him break off yardage on the ground like he did during his rookie season. His rushing numbers will drop, both due to Gruden's love of the pass and for Griffin's safety. Teams caught up to the read-option pretty quickly last season, so there should also be less of that.
The stage is set for Griffin to develop his skills in the pocket. He has the weapons, he has the offseason, and he has a coach who is also a quarterback. Through the air is where his numbers will go up due to quick passes, mismatches and receivers gaining big yards after the catch, along with shots downfield to Jackson.
That Eagles game is starting to look a lot more promising than last year. That's for sure.
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