When the Washington Redskins took the field against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 of the 2012 season, they sent shock waves through the NFL with their "never-before-seen offense at the NFL level" run by their prized No. 2 overall pick, Robert Griffin III.
Those were the days.
Since then, rather grim at the QB position, though Griffin defenders have a hard time letting go. However, here's something often overlooked about that 2012 campaign: What happened before it started. The reason this offense took the NFL by storm was because the Redskins did not showcase it during preseason games. Which begs the question, what did they run?
With the Shanahan offense, you're always going to get a heavy dressing of the outside zone/bootleg series but under it all, it's still just a West Coast Offense. If you're not familiar, an oversimplified way to describe a West Coast Offense is using the short passing game as an extension of the run game. I looked back at Robert Griffin's film and barely believed my eyes. I removed all the zone/bootleg stuff and concentrated on WCO/timing plays. This is what I saw...Here is Gun Trips Left. The Hook/Post concept in the middle of the field is designed to attack zone while the Corner route is designed to attack man. At the top of his drop, Griffin has already identified the coverage and ball is coming out. Garcon doesn't get his foot down in bounds so this goes down as incomplete but this is an accurate ball and on time. Robert Griffin has a 5-yard out by Leonard Hankerson. The cornerback is playing far off so Griffin's key becomes the inside defender. If that defender slides to flat, he has to go elsewhere with the ball. The inside defender engages with the tight end (The TE's route is designed to distract the defender from flat responsibility if that's his assignment), Griffin sees it. As soon as he hits the top of his drop, the ball is coming out. The ball is out so quick, Hankerson has room to catch and run. RG3 hit this to Ryan Grant earlier this year. Remember that Hook/Post concept I mentioned earlier? Here they have it again to the left, but Griffin is going to look to his right first. The first glance is to the double corner route side, but he sees the defender cut underneath the shallow corner. Without panic, Griffin passes on the corner routes and moves to his next read; the middle of the field. The Hook/Post concept is a high-low read. The Hook route is designed to attack defender in the middle of the field and force him to make a decision. This defender closes on Niles Paul on the hook route, which opens the deeper middle of the field. Without hesitation, Griffin hits Garcon on the post route who has room for YAC (Yards after catch) now. Here the Redskins are going Gun Trips Right. The Bunch Trips formation is designed to cause confusion and beat man coverage. With 10 defenders up tight and only one safety out of the screen, man coverage is highly likely here. Griffin hits the top of his drop and identifies his best match-up (Santana Moss on the Post route). Even with a free defender coming, the ball is coming out on time and in rhythm. RG3 hits Moss in stride and on time. First down, Washington Redskins. Without All-22 film and replays, it's hard to determine what these receivers did down the field. However, considering 3rd and 18, it's highly likely this is that drag screen where one guy runs a drag and the other receivers run like they are on fly routes then block 20 yards down field. Griffin eyes down the middle of the field to sell the play. Usins his peripheral vision to see when Garcon crosses the middle of the field, Griffin's eyes shift and he gets rid of the ball. Garcon gets the ball in his hand with room to make a move. Whether it was indeed a screen or just a dump off, the important part is the ball is out of Griffin's hand in a timely manner. Griffin has Garcon on a fly route on the outside. As the Bears' safeties shift from a Cover 2 look to a Cover 1 look, Griffin knows he'll have a one-on-one on the outside. The quarterback keeps eyes down the middle of the field and pump fakes to hold the single-high safety there. On the offensive line, a defender gave Trent Williams an outside jab step and hard move inside. He is on a fast track to Griffin. Griffin calmly slides over two steps and lets Williams ride the defender far past him as he launches the ball to his original read. No panic here. The ball lands out of bounds but Garcon draws a penalty flag. I don't care that the pass ended up being inaccurate, I care that Griffin knew where to go with the ball, slid in the pocket away from pressure and delivered a throw. On the right, Griffin has a shallow Dagger concept attacking the inside defender. If the inside defender releases the seam route too early, then that opens up seam route. If the inside defender rides the seam route deep, it opens up the underneath area where the In-route is going to go. The inside defender carries the seam deep enough to make Griffin comfortable going with the In-route. Again, Griffin hits the top of his drop and the ball is coming out. While there isn't a terrible amount of room for YAC, it's still a good gain on a 2nd down, making 3rd down manageable. Here is a pop slant pass by Griffin to Garcon. The defender is playing far enough off that Griffin knows he has it. He gets back and fires the ball knowing he only has a small window. Ball should have been placed better but Garcon could have caught this. Again, my concern isn't his accuracy right now, it's knowing where to go with the ball and control of offense. Here is another high-low read. The drag route is designed to pull middle defenders forward while Santana Moss runs a post in behind them. Griffin is a tad late on throwing the ball into this window. Because of this, his eyes give away the post route. A defender slides underneath the post route as Griffin is about to throw. Because it's Santana Moss, there's no real high point where Griffin can throw it to give him a chance. Griffin overthrows it away from everyone which is the smart play. Griffin doesn't try and pull the ball down and do too much with it resulting in an unnecessary hit. He gets rid of the ball and lives to play another down. Griffin has a hitch route on the outside with a defender playing off. As long as Griffin trusts that Garcon is going to run a sharp route and the CB doesn't crash because of a disguised coverage, then he should know where he is going with the ball. Griffin makes his three-step drop and as soon as his back foot hits the ball is coming out. The ball comes out with so much authority. The ball is on Garcon so fast he makes the catch and has room to shake the defender and pick up YAC; the goal of a West Coast Offense. Here is a seven-step drop. Colts are in a Cover 1 Man. While dropping back, Griffin looks left to move the single high safety away from the double fly routes on the backside. When Griffin hits the top of his drop, he looks back right and fires the ball immediately knowing because he moved the safety he has a one-on-one to the far right. While the ball to Garcon is overthrown and there was good coverage, I want to emphasis Griffin knew where his match-up was and where to go with the ball. Imagine if this was DeSean Jackson.... If you follow my work, you'll know I broke down Griffin missing the read on this play Week 1 of pre-season this year. This is a simple Spot/Out concept. It looks like the Colts are in a Quarters or Cover 4. The spot route by Fred Davis holds any defender from going out into the flat The CB is playing so far off, Griffin already knows where he is going with the ball. His back foot hits and here comes the ball. Chris Cooley makes the catch and falls forward close to the first down. That is how it's drawn up. Here we have a Hitch and Wheel route to break zone coverage. The idea: Create a high-low read towards the most outside defender with a Drag route in case it's man coverage or simply as a dump off option. Immediate pressure in Griffin's face takes his eyes off the read. Again, no panic here (Yes, I've now said this a lot, but based on the RG3 we see in 2015, it bares repeating). Griffin uses his legs to take a few steps outside and re-scan the field. He spots his dump off option and throws the ball. Griffin throws the ball where only his receiver can get it. He doesn't shy away because there is a defender there. He trusts his arm. We've seen this before. Another 5-yard out with off-coverage. As long as inside defender doesn't buzz to flat, Griffin knows where is going with the ball. The inside defender stays in to bump Cooley off his route. Griffin has his throw. The ball comes out as soon as his back foot hits. Garcon has enough room to catch the pass, make a move that shakes the defender, and pick up some YAC. I know this looks like simple stuff but Griffin is currently struggling with the simple stuff. The only route that is important on this play is the drag. Weird transaction here with the snap. Griffin doesn't even panic or try and do too much on the play. Simply stands there and dumps it off quickly to Davis who crosses his face and is running away from coverage. Is this a spectacular play? No, but Griffin avoids what could have been a disaster by just getting the ball out of his hands to the safety valve. The Redskins have a Tight Doubles Stack with WR and TE to the right. This helps mess with man-to-man coverage. Obvious pick and cross scenarios out of it. They run a simply fly and out route. Timing is good again on this play. Griffin has the ball coming out as soon as his back foot hits. Davis makes the catch with room to turn up-field and down the sidelines. This play will look familiar if you are into Redskins highlights. Griffin on the Sprint Out Right. Moss from the slot on an out-route is the target if it's man coverage. Different formation, but same concept as the play before with an added sprint out. The Fly route i designed to clear the sideline for the out route. It only takes a few steps right before Griffin sees it's man coverage. The ball is already coming out. An accurate pass gives Griffin and Moss an easy touchdown. This won't get old because it is simple, it gains yards, and the read/play is executed properly. Short Out route with off coverage. The inside defender stays with the TE (which has been happening), Griffin's back foot hits and the ball is coming out. Leonard Hankerson ends up dropping this pass but if he caught it, he'd have room to make the defender miss. Imagine how effective this can be with some of Redskins shifty WRs like Jackson, Crowder, Roberts, Garcon, and Grant. On this play, the inside hitch is designed to beat zone coverage assuming the flat defender sees the RB heading to the flat and tries to beat him there while the outside comeback is designed to beat man coverage or running off the deep coverage in a Cover 3. With the outside receiver looking covered and a defender coming right at him, Griffin is able to dump the ball off to the RB in the flat. There was barely any time to react so him getting the ball out to the RB shows an understanding of the offense.
Was this just pre-season? Yes. Did he see some vanilla coverages? Probably, but I watched Griffin's entire 2012 pre-season and don't need more than one hand to count how many times he looked fooled or had to leave the pocket because the ball wasn't out on time. Without All-22 film, I can't tell if he left the pocket on these plays because he was fooled or because it was good coverage. Regardless, this Robert Griffin III looks light years ahead of the Bizarro-Griffin the Redskins have had (at least) the last two years. Add in the fact I didn't even post the drop-back play-action game I broke down (I will if there's enough interest in it) and his potential in the passing game looks great.
I will never be confused with an RG3 apologist. Everyone knows I've been as critical with him as anyone. In this case, I'm not saying he was perfect, but here he certainly looks like someone who could eventually learn the West Coast Offense. In all these games, the ball was going where it was suppose to. Yes, the ball came out on time. He panicked just a little. He used his legs to create extra time to throw by keeping his eyes downfield. So why does every Robert Griffin III drop back now looks like a Zach Galifianakis numbers meme meets Russell Crowe from A Beautiful Mind.
I just finished reading "The Art of Smart Football" by Chris B. Brown. One quote from book about quarterbacks really stood out to me while watching the Redskins starter:
"Often, we associate being great with being spectacular, but that's the secret about playing quarterback: great quarterbacks seek the banality of perfection. It's about avoiding the bad play, hitting the right receiver, making the right read, and throwing an accurate pass."
Translation: Not every play has to be a touchdown or a highlight. Doing the little things correctly opens up the opportunity for doing great things....or as Robert Griffin III would call it; playing "ordinary."