Cooley: Redskins should ditch read-option

December 4, 2013

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Chris Cooley has started doing Redskins film breakdowns every Tuesday on his ESPN 980 afternoon show with Steve Czaban and Al Galdi, and they’re great. This Tuesday’s segment began with an extended look at Robert Griffin III, and Cooley graded the quarterback highly, saying he played one of his better games of the season against the Giants.

Cooley said Griffin sat in the pocket better than he had in the past. He said he went from his first read to his second read to his checkdown, whereas in the past he sometimes didn’t advance beyond his first read. He said Griffin “doesn’t necessarily have the pocket presence of a great quarterback at this point, but he can’t develop that until he forces himself to sit in the pocket, [and] he did that much, much better this week.” Overall, Cooley guessed Griffin would be scored at around 80 or 85 percent by coaches, good for an above-average B. (Above 90 percent would be Pro Bowl caliber, according to Cooley.)

But the most interesting part of Cooley’s breakdown came when he discussed Griffin’s performance as a ball carrier. This is long, but interesting. And the overall conclusion: Until Griffin is willing to play the read-option the way he did last year, coaches should put it on the shelf.

“When you do look at him as a runner, he is not an impactful runner in any way shape or form,” Cooley said. “He was last season. They’re running read option, but he will not stick his foot in the ground, plant, make a cut, and try to make anybody miss. Maybe on a 3rd-and-1 at an impactful point in the game. But it was very clear to me that Robert made the decision that he is not going to get hurt for the rest of this season. So when he gets on the edge, there were a couple plays that could have been had where Robert would have ran for 20-, 30-plus yards last year. He will run for two [this year], and he will run out of bounds.

“I think he has the capability for running for 20 or 30,” Cooley continued. “I don’t hate his decision making….I’m not judging him, and I’m not downgrading him in any way shape or form for what he’s doing, but I’m saying he’s not impactful as a runner for this team. There was an interception by Meriweather where we had the ball [inside] the 20-yard line. We ran triple option. Robert rolled left on the option. Last year, it’s  a touchdown. He had to make the safety miss. He would have made one cut and it would have been a touchdown. He looked at it and he said, um, no, I’m gonna run a little further left….Robert could have easily cut it up inside and he would have been one-on-one with Rolle. And he didn’t.

“I don’t hate that he didn’t,” Cooley said. “I don’t hate the choices that he’s making. But I can tell you that it’s not changing the way defenses are playing. Last year, defenses were completely changed. Right now they’re saying ’till you do it, we’re not going to change our coverages. He’s still getting them plus [yardage] on those plays, but he’s not making impact plays, and he was a lot of times last year.

“We said earlier in the season that if Robert could just get to the edge and get out of bounds for six-yard carries, it would make a difference,” Cooley said. “We would be able to run the ball better inside, we would have play-action [open]. Not the case. It is not changing defenses at all. For him to run for four or five yards and get out of bounds is not impacting us in any way shape or form. That’s why I’m an advocate right now of completely ruling out read-option….

“[Coaches] believe right now, as we believed early in the season, that if Robert ran for seven yards and got out of bounds, or if you had a five-yard carry to Alf up the middle, that then they can in turn go to play action the very next play,” Cooley explained later. “Last year they were getting the coverages that they demanded when they went to play-action. This year, they’re not. When you’re running a two-man route against a cover-4 — every DB covering a quarter of the field — and they know you’re trying to go deep, you’re not getting the looks that you want to get. Robert was so good last year, I don’t even believe he had to look at coverage. The coverage said everyone’s going to be open here if you throw the ball.

Cooley said that while Griffin’s rushing stats appeared good on paper — 12 carries for 88 yards — they didn’t come on the sort of plays that could fundamentally change a game or a defense. And he specified that he still likes the read-option, and would gladly call it if he had a quarterback willing to cut upfield. But he doesn’t see that in Washington.

“You have to have a guy that has that willingness to do that,” Cooley said. “[Griffin] doesn’t now. And I don’t hate it. I also believe he’s faster as soon as he takes that knee brace off. I’m watching him run, and he’s not very good side to side and laterally. He’s outstanding if he’s just running vertical. I think he’s going to keep it on for the rest of the season, but you’re going to see every bit of the athleticism in Robert Griffin next year. You’re going to see everything you saw in the first year….But he wasn’t impactful in the run game [on Sunday night]. If he’s not going to be impactful, I wouldn’t call the plays.”

As mentioned earlier, Cooley praised Griffin’s performance in the pocket. He was less positive about Griffin’s passing performance when he left the pocket.

“In terms of throwing the ball, he was better,” Cooley said. “He really does have pretty poor technique in the pocket throwing the ball. He’s jumping every time he’s throwing, he’s not setting, but he’s always done that. So if he can be good doing that, then fine, it is what it is. Lastly with Robert throwing the ball, he is not good, at all, when he’s on the move. And it’s not because he’s looking to run, but when he’s on the move he loses track of coverage, and he has no idea where he wants to go with the ball. He’s also highly inaccurate right now when he’s on the move. I saw him at Baylor being exceptionally accurate on the move, and in year one [with the Redskins] being very accurate. He is inaccurate at all times when he’s moving. Even on bootlegs, he’s not seeing his open receivers on bootlegs, on scrambles. He’s not finding the guy that he needs to get the ball to. I don’t know if it’s because he’s dropping his eyes, but a lot of those are minuses….

“He was much better throwing on the run last year,” Cooley said. “He’s just not back to throwing on the run. I think that could be fixed easily in an offseason. It was obviously one thing that was not practiced this offseason: throwing on the run. Now, he could have sat and thrown in the pocket, but you didn’t want him running this offseason with that knee the way it was, so that was something that he clearly didn’t work on.”

Again, Cooley’s overall message was that Griffin played good enough for the Redskins to win, and that he was held back by other factors, including several drops. But still, there’s a lot to chew on there.

Dan Steinberg writes about all things DC sports at the DC Sports Bog.
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