Redskins coaches seeing growth, maturation in Robert Griffin III’s game


Robert Griffin III passed on the chance to pick up a modest gain with his legs and instead completed a pass to Niles Paul for a 16-yard play. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Robert Griffin III’s re-acclimation process remains in ongoing, but the second-year quarterback showed more signs of progress on Sunday, according to his coaches.

As they went back over the film from Washington’s 24-14 comeback victory over the Oakland Raiders, Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur observed that Griffin displayed greater confidence in his legs than he had in previous weeks, and better patience as a passer than he did last season.

Griffin only ran the ball three times Sunday, gaining 10 yards. He attempted a season-low 31 passes, completing 18 for 227 yards and a touchdown and no interceptions (his first no-pick day of the season).

When people hear “confidence in his legs,” they automatically think zone-read runs and highlight-reel scrambles. But there’s much more to it than that, NFL talent evaluators will tell you.

The examples from Sunday centered on how Griffin did a much better job of extending plays with his legs. He moved around in the pocket while looking downfield for receivers. He scrambled to elude defenders and buy his pass-catchers time to get open. On some situations, Griffin broke the pocket and found himself in situations where he probably would’ve just taken off running. But instead, he hit the brakes and found a target.

Griffin started doing some of this in the Detroit game, but he continued to do so – and more effectively – against Oakland.

“I think he’s done a better job these last few games of extending some plays,” Kyle Shanahan said. “He’s keeping his eyes downfield and making plays with his arm after he’s gotten out of that pocket.”

Asked what areas of growth stood out the most to him, LaFleur said: “Off-schedule on third-down situations. There was another play where Griffin had [Roy] Helu on a reverse route, and it was third and 10 they were in two-man [coverage] and Helu kind of got lost, and [Griffin] came off [his first choice] and it was a 15-yard gain.”

LaFleur referred to a third-and-10 play in the second quarter, when Helu came through the line on a delay, and linebackers Kevin Burnett and Nick Roach converged on him. Griffin actually had his arm cocked back and was looking to throw to Logan Paulsen along the right sideline for what would’ve been a short game. Seeing the pressure coming toward him off the right edge as Tyler Polumbus was getting pushed back toward him, Griffin pulled the ball down, scrambled further into the pocket, did a little jump and flipped the ball to Helu, who had gotten free because Burnett saw Griffin scramble and stepped toward the line, and Roach hadn’t recovered in time to catch up to Helu. The running back caught the pass and picked up 15 yards.

“That’s showing his maturation as a quarterback and being able to manipulate the pocket a little bit and make some key plays on third downs,” LaFleur said.

Another example came on first and 10 from the Oakland 22 in the first quarter. Griffin rolled out and could’ve ran the ball, but he stopped and instead passed to Niles Paul, who picked up 16 yards, moving the ball to the 6.

The most impressive play came on the fourth-quarter scoring drive when Griffin stepped up to avoid a blitzing Mike Jenkins, spun around and scrambled to his right and then found Helu for a 28-yard gain. On that play, Helu was actually fourth on Griffin’s progression list.

Griffin also hung tough in the pocket and ignored the rush several times, including the touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon and the 33-yard pass down the center of the field to Logan Paulsen.

Griffin’s main mental error came when, after his team had reached the Oakland 4, he cost them a down and 14 yards with an intentional-grounding call. Griffin couldn’t get out of the pocket and did do the right thing by throwing the ball away. But he should’ve made sure he threw it in the direction of a receiver to avoid the penalty.

“That was a bad job by me of explaining in those situations, you’re on the 4-yard line. You can’t lose yards in those situations – just like you never take a sack in those situations,” LaFleur said. “If you don’t like what you see, burn the ball, but you’ve got to do it to where your receivers are. The coverage played out a little bit different than we anticipated. He thought he was going to make a play. He went to the left and we were a little loose up front, and he couldn’t get out of the pocket.”

The quarterback is well on his way back to regaining last year’s form – and possibly exceeding it in terms of the mental aspect of the game, his coaches say.

“I thought that was extremely encouraging, so hopefully we can continue doing that,” LaFleur said of Griffin’s day. “I think the more he gets confidence – comfortable and confident in his ability – it’ll continue to come.”

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.

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Greg Schimmel · October 3, 2013