Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, have been widely praised this season for their handling of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
The Shanahans crafted an offensive system for Griffin that is a blend of elements more commonly seen in the college game — such as the spread offense, the pistol formation and the triple option — along with more conventional NFL components, like the West Coast passing game and the zone-blocking scheme for the running game utilized for years by teams coached by Mike Shanahan.
Former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck said Friday that what the Redskins are doing with Griffin generally has worked. But Hasselbeck, now an NFL analyst for ESPN, also said he has begun to wonder if the Redskins are overemphasizing the college-style elements of their offense and thus failing to take full advantage of Griffin’s accuracy as a passer.
“We’ve gotten to the point where you have to wonder about the direction of the offense,” Hasselbeck said in a telephone interview. “They have all these atypical NFL concepts. They like to repeat concepts. But when you do that, you’re not stretching the field. You’re not making the defense defend the entire field. One of the reasons it works in college is because the first guy gets open. But when the first guy is not open in the NFL, you have to be able to get to the next guy.”
Hasselbeck said he wonders if the college-style elements to the offense are limiting Griffin’s passing by not giving him enough receiving options on many plays and not forcing opposing defenses to defend the entire field.
After studying the Redskins’ offense, Hasselbeck said, “I came away thinking it’s good to have some of this stuff because sometimes people can’t defend it. But you look around the league, you see [Miami rookie quarterback Ryan] Tannehill thriving in a conventional offense. You see [Indianapolis rookie quarterback Andrew] Luck thriving in a conventional offense. And he [Griffin] certainly has conventional-offense skills. I wonder if maybe they’re taking too many steps down the path of something where I’m not sure if it works. I think you have to be careful when you adopt something and make it the main course of what you’re doing.”
The Redskins have stressed throughout the season that the college-like components to their offense are only a part of the overall offensive system and they don’t want to see Griffin running with the ball more often than needed.
Griffin and the Redskins have been highly productive on offense for most of the season. The Redskins are ranked second in the NFL in rushing offense and seventh in the league in total offense, based on yards gained. They’re 10th in the league in scoring offense. Griffin has had a mostly seamless transition to the NFL. He has become one of the sport’s most popular players and is the league’s 10th-rated passer.
But the offense has had a tougher time lately. The Redskins have totaled only 25 points in their last two games, losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers. They’re on a three-game losing streak and are 3-6 at their bye week, in last place in the NFC East.
The Colts, meanwhile, are 6-3 with Luck at quarterback. Hasselbeck pointed out that when the Colts drafted Luck first overall in April and the Redskins took Griffin second, the consensus viewpoint then was that Griffin would have a more talented team around him as a rookie than Luck would.
“I think you can still say that,” Hasselbeck said. “I don’t know. One of the big things is do guys execute the plan? Do they play together? And do coaches do things to play to guys’ strengths?”
Luck leads the league in passing yards but is only 25th in passer rating. Tannehill is the league’s 26th-rated passer. The Dolphins have a record of 4-4.