After watching film of the Washington Redskins loss to the Carolina Panthers, it has become clear that Robert Griffin III is simply not as sharp as he was in the first few games of the season. Everyone has seen the offense struggle the last two weeks, and there is this pervading theory that defenses have “figured out” Kyle Shanahan’s option offense; that this “gimmicky” scheme was only bound to last so long; that there is a blueprint available to shut down what seemed so unique and unstoppable early in the season.
Well from what I have seen, none of that is true. The struggles here appear easy to explain; the Redskins simply are not executing well enough. Against Pittsburgh, there were 10 drops by Redskins receivers. That is unacceptable. Against Carolina, there were a few more. Again, that is unacceptable. As we have all seen, the Redskins are the most penalized team in football. Utterly unacceptable. All it takes is a mistake from one guy to throw off a play. And when you only have two drives in a single half of play (which happened in the 1st half against Carolina), all it takes is one play to significantly affect your ability to maximize points.
Here’s the thing; very rarely will you see a play run in this offense where nobody is open. This scheme is, quite honestly, brilliant at taking advantage of the defense’s weaknesses. On film, that was still apparent against Carolina. The Redskins simply could not capitalize. And part of that had to do with Robert Griffin III missing plays that he was seemingly perfect on early in the year.
Miss # 1 – Playaction Bootleg Intermediate Cross to Logan Paulsen
3rd Quarter – 13:37 Left – Carolina 14 – 3 Redskins – 2nd & 10 – Redskins 41-Yard Line
This is the Redskins 1st drive of the 3rd quarter, trailing by 11 points. Alfred Morris had just run twice in a row for 18-yards and 0-yards. Kyle Shanahan calls a playaction bootleg out to Griffin’s left.
Here we can see the fake run off right tackle with Griffin rolling out to his left. Logan Paulsen is going to fake a block on the right hand side, and then run a crossing route at a depth of about 12-yards. Josh Morgan (at the bottom of the screen) is going to keep the deep safety honest with his post, while Leonard Hankerson (top of the screen) is going to clear the space with a deep out for Paulsen to come open underneath.
At this point, Griffin has just carried out the fake, which was effective in causing the defense to bite. Paulsen is already behind MLB Luke Kuelchy and ready to come open over the middle.
Right here, Griffin has cocked his arm back for the release. Circled above is Paulsen. He has nearly a full 20-yard cushion around him (10 yards of green both ahead of him and behind him). Nobody is remotely close to him, and Griffin has a clean throwing lane without any immediate pressure.
Here is the endzone look of the same snapshot. Again, wide open. This should have been an easy 1st down for Paulsen, plus extra. With the space Paulsen has to work with along with a potential blocker (Hankerson) out in front, this had big-play potential all over it. Unfortunately, Griffin simply missed the pass. He threw too low for Paulsen, who did everything in his power to make the reception, but was ultimately overturned for an incomplete pass. Coupled with the subsequent play, this incompletion resulted in a punt when it should have put the Redskins in Carolina’s territory.
Miss # 2 – Empty Backfield Shotgun Cross to Josh Morgan
3rd Quarter – 12:47 Left – Carolina 14 – 3 Redskins – 3rd & 10 – Redskins 41-Yard Line
Immediately following the incompletion to Logan Paulsen came a 3rd & long for Robert Griffin III. Kyle Shanahan calls an empty backfield 4WR-1TE formation against Carolina’s nickel package.
The Redskins are going to run four vertical routes, putting pressure on Carolina’s cloud-cover-2 down the field. Josh Morgan is the sole receiver running an underneath route, crossing at about a depth of 7-yards. Carolina will rush 4 against a standard 5-man protection.
As the play develops, the protection from Griffin’s blindside is excellent. Trent Williams has his pass-rusher stonewalled, and Will Montgomery has helped Kory Lichtensteiger keep a clean pocket to Griffin’s left side of the interior line. Chris Chester is getting pushed back directly in front of Griffin, affecting the QB’s throwing lane to Josh Morgan, who is coming open above. Tyler Polumbus is in the midst of cleanly getting beat by DE Charles Johnson.
At this point, Griffin should know that he’s going to have Morgan underneath. He should also feel the pressure (which he did) and realize that he isn’t going to have time to take a shot downfield with the vertical routes. As Griffin develops over time, what I would like to see from him is the awareness to slide just a little to his left in the pocket (indicated by the blue line above). Yes, the space is tight in there and collapsing quickly, but all he needs is a split second to make space for his release to hit Morgan coming across the formation. This is the type of play perfected by Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, and Drew Brees. Nobody is better at sliding in a collapsing pocket while keeping both eyes downfield than those three QBs.
Instead, Griffin tries to escape the pressure out to his right, but gets caught by Charles Johnson in his attempt to break the pocket. While Morgan comes completely open over the middle with an easy 1st-down conversion ahead of him, Griffin was sacked for a 7-yard loss. This particular play is not an egregious mistake (if it’s a mistake at all), but it is the type of play that the savviest of veterans make in tough situations. Over time, I hope he develops this type of pocket awareness. A 3rd-down sack could have been converted into a 1st down for the Redskins. Instead, the series resulted in a punt.
Miss # 3 – Playaction Bootleg Deep Post to Aldrick Robinson
3rd Quarter – 9:49 Left – Carolina 14 – 3 Redskins – 1st & 10 – Carolina 34-Yard Line
This is the Redskins 2nd drive of the 3rd quarter, trailing by 11 points. The Redskins had just run the ball (successfully) three consecutive times on this drive and were set up 14-yards outside of the red zone. Kyle Shanahan decided to take a shot on 1st down. Below is the play design of the call.
The Redskins are running a playaction bootleg off of left tackle here with a deep post to Aldrick Robinson, lined up to the bottom of the screen. Griffin is in the pistol formation with Chris Cooley lined up as an H-back off the hip of Logan Paulsen. The play calls for a fake run to the left, followed by Griffin bootlegging out right, with little wrinkle of having Chris Cooley run across the formation and set up as a blocker on the weakside to protect Griffin after the fake.
As the fake is carried out, Carolina bites on the run as expected. Griffin is in the middle of his boot to the right when we see Aldrick Robinson nearing his break to the post. Because of Griffin’s speed on the edge, Carolina safety Haruki Nakamura is in the midst of bailing on his deep middle responsibility, anticipating a Griffin keeper. The Carolina cornerback is shading Robinson to the outside, which is going to leave room for Robinson to make his cut inside.
By the time Griffin completes the boot, Nakamura has completely vacated the deep middle of the field. The cornerback who shaded Aldrick has maintained his zone to the outside, and Robinson is absolutely wide open streaking downfield. This should be a gimme touchdown. Griffin also has two personal protectors in Chris Cooley and Josh Morgan setting up in front of him, which should be able to provide him ample time to set his feet and throw. Below is an endzone look at the same play.
Here is Robinson making his break.
And here is Robinson’s separation downfield. Griffin sees him. He starts to set his feet. And then, for some reason, Griffin decides not to pull the trigger. He hesitates for just a moment, DE Charles Johnson pushes through Chris Cooley, and Griffin bails by taking off around the end for a 6-yard scramble. On the broadcast feed, it appeared to be a solid play; after all, it was a 6-yard run on 1st down. However, when you see how the play developed outside of the normal camera angles, this was the perfect call for a 34-yard touchdown pass that developed flawlessly. Griffin simply didn’t pull the trigger. This drive ended in a Kyle Forbath field goal instead of the 7-points that the Redskins should have taken.
Miss # 4 – Quick Slant to Josh Morgan
3rd Quarter – 7:18 Left – Carolina 14 – 3 Redskins – 2nd & 6 – Carolina 11-Yard Line
This is also the Redskins 2nd drive of the 3rd quarter, trailing by 11 points. Robert Griffin III had just scrambled for four yards on 1st down in the red zone, setting up this play.
This play actually displays a great development in the midst of an error. Without having the benefit of a playbook, this appears to be a designed run for Alfred Morris off left tackle, but Griffin recognizes eight men in the box waiting to pounce on the run. Instead of running the play as called, Griffin opts to run a quick slant for Josh Morgan. As the play develops, Griffin’s recognition and play adjustment works – it’s his execution that lacks.
The Redskins offensive line and Alfred Morris begin the play as if it’s a run, which causes the defense to react that way as well. Griffin doesn’t run a playaction; instead, he takes a one-step drop and fires the ball to Morgan. From the picture above, when Griffin releases the ball, Morgan has made his break, has beaten his CB, and has inside position for what should be an easy 1st down. In fact, with the poor angle that S Haruki Nakamura takes on the pass, Morgan has a good chance at turning this slant into a touchdown.
Unfortunately, Griffin throws the ball behind Morgan, which allows the CB to make a desperation play on the ball and force the incompletion. From the endzone view, Morgan has excellent position for the reception; the ball is simply off-target. Four points are taken off the board on this drive, as the Redskins settle for a Forbath field goal.
With the incredible ball-control that the Redskins offense obtains (they held the ball for nearly 35 minutes against Carolina), it makes every possession that much more critical because the opportunities for drives become limited. When this offense has an opportunity to score, they must take advantage of it. In the last two weeks, the Redskins have not been able to do that. Whether it’s a missed block by the offensive line, a dropped pass by the wide receivers, or an off-target throw by RGIII, this team has simply been out of sync recently.
However, I wouldn’t necessarily say that Griffin has regressed since the beginning of the season; rather, I would simply say that he had an off game (which everyone does at times). In fact, there were clear signs of development for Griffin, even within his weakest performance of the season.
Successful Development – Skinny Post to Niles Paul
3rd Quarter – 8:27 Left – Carolina 14 – 3 Redskins – 2nd & 13 – Carolina 37-Yard Line
Following a frustrating penalty on the previous play, the Redskins faced a 2nd down and 13 on the Carolina’s 37-yard line. In danger of stalling yet again in their opponent’s territory, the Redskins needed a play to be made on this second down. Kyle Shanahan called a run/pass option for Griffin and Alfred Morris.
Without having the benefit of a playbook, my best guess is that this is a run/pass option based off a pre-snap look. If Carolina played with a traditional 7-man box, Griffin likely would have handed the ball off to Morris. If Carolina dropped an eighth man in the box, Griffin would have passed. As seen here, Carolina essentially had a 9-man box. Griffin read this as pass.
The play design kept 8-men in protection for Griffin, while Leonard Hankerson ran a simple fly to keep the deep safety honest. Niles Paul runs a skinny post.
As the fake is played out, Carolina does not really bite on the run. Instead, the five second-level defenders in the box maintained discipline throughout the fake, and then get decent depth in zone coverage as Paul and Hankerson go out on their routes.
In the picture above, Hankerson is being double-covered over the top, while Niles Paul is surrounded by three Carolina defenders. In that snapshot, Griffin has just started to cock his arm back to throw to Paul, who, at that moment, was nowhere close to being open. In the top left part of the picture (next to Hankerson) is a yellow triangle. This is where Griffin is targeting his pass. This is a pure anticipation throw from Griffin.
Even when the ball is in the air (circled in red), Niles Paul still appears to be covered underneath by MLB Luke Kuelchy.
But as the ball arrives, Paul has separated from his coverage, gets open 22-yards downfield, and makes a great diving reception for Griffin. This is the type of play that we had not seen much of Griffin before this. In fact, much of Griffin’s college tenure was devoid of anticipation throws like this, which was one of the biggest question marks surrounding him as a passer prior to the draft. When Griffin decides to throw this ball, Paul was surrounded by three Carolina Panthers and had zero separation. When it arrived, Paul was wide open 20+ yards down the field. These are the types of plays that Griffin will need to make more of, and his wide receivers will need to assist him with too. A 2-man route-combination beat 7 defenders in coverage for a 22-yard gain. Just an impressive overall play.
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