Redskins mailbag: RGIII’s mechanics, play-calling and defensive needs

November 19, 2013

Fans are asking about Robert Griffin III’s mechanics, but this pass was the 62-yard touchdown throw to Darrel Young. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
(Bloomberg)
(Bloomberg)

Another week, another disappointing loss for the Washington Redskins, and understandably, more questions about this team’s struggles, deficiencies and future.

Thanks again for taking part in this week’s mailbag, and fire away your questions for next Tuesday’s edition to me at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag Question.”

Let’s get after it …

Why has Robert Griffin III’s development been so slow? I understand that he didn’t have much of a developmental offseason or preseason due to the knee recovery. But that was acceptable reasoning until after the bye week and even less so now that we are beyond the midway point of the season. It’s particularly frustrating when I see guys like Nick Foles doing pump fakes and looking off defenders despite being a second-year quarterback coming in behind Michael Vick, but not seeing these same simple techniques from RGIII. After 11 weeks of practicing as the first string quarterback, shouldn’t his defense reading, throwing mechanics and accuracy be better? Who is his quarterbacks coach?

 Joseph Howell Jr.

The lack of offseason work is the reason that Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan have pointed to for some of Griffin’s lack of development. But it’s hard to say if that really is ultimately to blame. Both Shanahans, quarterbacks coach Matt Lafleur and Griffin himself all said during the offseason that the physical limitations were giving the young quarterback an opportunity to really focus on improving his mental tools (breaking down video of defenses and coverages). But struggles remain. Perhaps, not being able to actually break down that video and then go outside and work on some of those aspects did have a stunting impact on Griffin. But are a lack of OTAs totally to blame? As frustrating as it may be to watch a second-year guy like Foles go out there and do well, I don’t know if it’s a fair comparison because he’s playing behind a better line, and he also played in a different system than Griffin did in college. But, if you look at Colin Kaepernick, I think that’s more accurate, and at least might make you feel a little less jealous. He played in a similar system in college, and he too has seemed to come back down to earth after an electrifying first season as a starter. Defenses seem to have figured him out, and he too is struggling with decision-making. A year after completing 62.4 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and three interceptions in 13 games (seven starts), his completion percentage has dropped to 56.2,and he has thrown seven interceptions to 11 touchdowns. If it’s any consolation, Kaepernick isn’t coming off of injury, he had a full offseason program and this is his third NFL season. So, what’s the real cause for the struggles? Is it just a sophomore slump and continued growing pains for two mobile quarterbacks who are trying to mature into pocket passers? We did see another read-option quarterback in Cam Newton have an impressive rookie season, struggle in his second year, and now, he is completing a career-best 63.2 percent of his passes and on pace to throw for a career-high 25 touchdown passes, and he and his team are on a six-game win streak.

How has Robert Griffin’s development as a passer been impacted by the offensive line play?  According to nfl.com, the Redskins are ranked ninth in QB hits, and anecdotally, it seems like Griffin is always getting up off the ground after a pass play.  Could a large portion of the passing-game woes be attributed to this?  It seems like the Redskins are in danger of turning Griffin into another Patrick Ramsey or Jason Campbell (QBs who had some talent but got killed all the time). 

 Will Clark

I think it’s fair to say that the offensive line’s inability to protect Griffin in drop-back passing situations has had something to do with the quarterback’s struggles. But some of that isn’t entirely the fault of the linemen, who haven’t always been put in ideal situations this year. Washington has shifted into a bit of a pass-first mode, and so until recently, with fewer running plays, the Redskins couldn’t set up the play-action passing attack. That puts more pressure on the linemen, particularly guards Kory Lichtesnsteiger and Chris Chester and center Will Montgomery, who readily admit that they are best suited for run blocking in the zone-blocking scheme and for bootlegs and play-action pass plays. If Washington’s decision-makers want to go more in the pass-heavy direction next season, they need to make upgrades to the line during the offseason, and also look at add more explosive pass-catchers to go with Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed so Griffin has more weapons capable of getting separation and creating openings for him to throw to.

Why stay with the running game beyond reason, as was done on Sunday? The play calling became so repetitive.

 Bruno Heidik

Mike Shanahan explained that they were just taking what the defense gave to them. The Eagles dropped more players back into coverage rather than stack the box. That created opportunities for Alfred Morris to have a big day. The Eagles didn’t bite on the play-action fakes, and so for much of the game, Washington didn’t have much success with the pass. Then, in the fourth quarter, Philly started playing the run, and the Redskins began to get things going in the passing game, Shanahan explained. Now, does that mean that I would’ve dialed up 28 runs and only seven pass plays in the first half? No. I’m obviously not a coach, so what do I know? But in my imagination, I would’ve gone with more short passes, quick-hitters to start bringing those linebackers up some, and then possibly create some openings at least in the intermediate passing game if not deep.

Clearly Nick Williams is not a trustworthy choice for kick returns, so why hasn’t Santana Moss’s name been brought up?  He has previously showed great skill in returning punts and, now that he’s no longer the primary receiver, the issue of injury risk is not as relevant (although even teams like the Eagles have no problem putting their primary receiver back to return punts)?

 Tom Marsh

I didn’t expect Nick Williams to have a big game on Sunday. He fielded only one punt in a preseason game, and hadn’t had a lot of practice in that capacity until this past week. Now, he did excel in that area in college, but the speed of the NFL game is significantly different. There had to have been some jitters as well. I’m not saying Williams will wind up being great, but I think it’ll take more than one game to get an idea of what kind of return man the Redskins have in him. Moss did field punts during pregame warmups Sunday, so I think in the event that Williams struggles even more significantly than he did the other day, Moss would probably take his place.

Someone needs to ask Matt LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan what they have done to Griffin’s mechanics? I know he didn’t have great mechanics last year, but what he did was effective. I mean he had the second-best completion percentage in the NFL. Did they plan on changing his mechanics going into this season, and what was that plan? How did they adjust any plans for his injury? How do they think his injury has affected his mechanics? The obvious thing I see him doing now is that he is throwing while jumping in the air. It’s a terrible type of play and what killed the career of a guy likeTavaris Jackson in Minnesota.

 Alex Zeese

The coaches didn’t set out to change Griffin’s mechanics, so to speak. They worked to help him regain the mechanics he had prior to the injury, and also find areas to improve them. But during the early stretch of the season, it appeared that he still was getting used to planting and driving off of that surgically repaired right knee. I think some of the non-conventional deliveries you see have to do with Griffin coming under pressure and trying to get the ball off in any way possible. The result isn’t always pretty. It’ll be interesting to see what improvements he makes over the offseason.

When is the coach going to stop his personal punishment on Fred Davis? We are now 3-7! Davis and Reed would have been a great two-tight end combo! It’s overdue for Fred to be active for a game and make him part of the game plan! We know now he wouldn’t want to stay here next year! So if we can at least get a few more wins before this season is over? 

 Darrell Gross

Depending on how Jordan Reed recovers from the concussion that knocked him out of the game against the Eagles, we could see a return of Fred Davis. The Redskins will need a versatile pass-catching tight end like Davis if Reed can’t play. That’s part of the reason why Washington didn’t cut Davis after failing to receive trade interest: because of fear of injury to other players at that position. The Redskins didn’t opt to use Davis and Reed together much because of the need in many two-tight end sets to have a strong blocking end, and Logan Paulsen fits that bill better than do Davis and Reed.

Orakpo and Kerrigan appear to be among the top 10 best pass rushing duos in the NFL, but they haven’t been getting much pressure on quarterbacks this season. (It seems like RG3 is almost always under more pressure than opposing QB’s). I’ve also noticed they usually just bull-rush to get to the quarterback, instead of switching it up and using some different moves to throw people off.  For example, DeMarcus Ware used a spin move to get around Trent Williams last season.  I’m sure it doesn’t help that Barry Cofield is usually the only one helping them, but are the coaches aware of this or trying to fix it?

 Dylan Widger, Columbia, Md.

Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan seemed have the potential to be a very disruptive pass-rushing tandem, but thus far, we have yet to see that on a consistent basis. Kerrigan got off to a strong start, but hasn’t had a sack in three games. Orakpo has had 2.5 sacks in the past two games combined, but prior to that, he had a three-game drought of his own. Far too often, the Redskins’ pass rush seems to disappear. Both players have said that during the offseason they work to develop counter moves. But, it appears that they haven’t gotten to the point where they are comfortable going to them. There are also situations where they can’t dip to the inside because they are instructed not to give up outside containment. But overall, both players need to do a better job of winning their matchups and making an impact.

What do you think will happen with the inside linebacker position next year? Also, I understand we have had issues with the salary cap, but with regard to the defense, can defensive coordinator Haslett deflect any responsibility away from his results?  How many NFL defenses would allow a 38-year-old to play the amount of minutes we do?

– Greg Williams

It’ll definitely be interesting to see what happens at inside linebacker. London Fletcher, Perry Riley and Nick Barnett are all free agents this offseason. Fletcher hasn’t announced whether he will retire or not, but it’s hard to envision the Redskins starting him at inside linebacker next season. The team, in my opinion, should re-sign Riley. It’d be nice to see some more of Barnett so the team can get an idea of whether or not he could be re-signed as a replacement for Fletcher. Barnett briefly relieved Fletcher on Sunday and recorded a tackle for a loss. But the snapshots of his capabilities have been limited. Another possibility, 2012 third-round pick Keenan Robinson will be coming off of injury, but the Redskins haven’t really gotten to see enough of him to know yet if he’s a potential starter.

Haslett definitely has an argument when it comes to the salary cap limitations and the talent he is working with. Outside of Barry Cofield and DeAngelo Hall, would you say any defensive players are playing at an all-pro level?  Riley is having a strong year, and Josh Wilson hasn’t done a bad job. David Amerson has had flashes, as has Brandon Meriweather. But, there are a lot of deficiencies on this unit. The Redskins over the past two offseasons unsuccessfully pursued Cortland Finnegan, Aqib Talib and Antoine Winfield to help their secondary, but they didn’t have the money to meet their asking prices. Those are three players that could’ve helped. There likely were other players on Haslett’s wish-list as well. Meriweather and Tanard Jackson weren’t the first choices at safety two years ago. Reed Doughty is best suited as a special teams leader and reliable backup on defense rather than the starter that Haslett has been forced to use him as. We’ll see how the money is divided up amongst the needs this offseason. If this coaching staff returns, will Haslett get to rebuild his defense, or will a lot of the money go to Kyle Shanahan’s offense?

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesdays.

What’s ahead:

● Mark Bullock examines Griffin’s mechanics.

More on the Redskins:

D.C. Sports Bog: Shanahan reacting to tough questions, in photos More

Shanahan defends his coaching tenure | Back to Morgan with Hankerson out?

Shanahan never considered benching RGIIIPlayers vow to remain united

Morgan’s comments, deactivation unrelated | Hankerson could be out for the season 

Hamilton: A disaster movie on a loop | Wise: Which was the abberation?

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @Insider | Insider on Facebook

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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Mike Jones · November 19, 2013

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