Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III raised some eyebrows when, following Sunday’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, he said that he and the offense struggled in the passing game because their opponents “kind of knew what was coming before it was coming.”
Griffin later expounded: “Obviously, we ran the ball well, but in the passing game a lot of times, they were tit for tat. They were there, where they needed to be and a lot of times they were taking the routes that needed to be run, and that’s disheartening, but we have to come up with something for that.”
Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said Monday that he didn’t take the comments as a sign of waning trust in the coaching staff on Griffin’s part. Shanahan also dismissed the notion that the Eagles knew what plays were coming. He said they instead opted for a strategy that would challenge Griffin’s pass-coverage-reading skills and take away deep threats.
The Eagles did this by dropping their linebackers into coverage to crowd the secondary and deny Griffin the chance to go with his first reads on many pass plays.
“What happens, teams are going to play different defenses. If a team has been very good against the run and very poor against the pass, you play a soft coverage,” Shanahan said. “We kind of anticipated [the Eagles’ strategy] during the game, so that’s why our running game was so effective in the first half against a defense that has normally shut down the running game. They were going to take the passing game away and [that was] one of the reasons we had the success we had early running the football.”
The first half ended with Griffin having attempted just seven passes (completing four of them for 26 yards), and Washington running the ball 28 times for 160 yards.
Shanahan further explained: “They really don’t know if a play is coming or not. What they do is they’re going to play aggressive — take away the run or take away the pass. Some people will mix it up and really try to keep you off-balance. So you never know what’s going to happen coming into a game and you’ve got to be able to adjust. More in the fourth quarter they were trying to take away the run.”
The Eagles’ strategy served as another reminder that opponents this season have played Griffin and Washington’s offense differently than they did last year.
“Robert is so used to having teams play us in an eight-man front where they’ve got to stop our run, and [last year, we] had wide receivers wide open,” Shanahan said. “Our first year, everybody played us in an eight-man front, sometimes almost in a nine-man front with their free safety, and when you do that you’re going to have guys wide open like we did last year — one of the reasons why the play-action game was so good and one of the reasons why we were ranked where we were throwing the football with yards per play. This year they’re saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to play a little more passive. You’re going to have to earn your right in that running game, which we’ve been able to do, and you’re not going to always get that deep ball so you’ve got to dump it off and be patient.’ That’s part of the NFL. No matter what quarterback you’re going against. No matter what system you’re going against. You’ve got to be able to relate or adjust your game plan accordingly. That’s one of the reasons why we ran the football so much against a team that was very good stopping the run.”
The strategy used by the Eagles, and other teams this year, has helped defenses take away one-on-one match-ups for Washington’s receivers, and that has made it more challenging for Griffin to strike on as many big plays as he did last year. That’s part of the reason why Griffin’s completion percentage has dropped from 65.6 in 2012 to 59.7 this season. Additionally, Griffin has thrown 10 interceptions through 10 games this season after throwing only five all of last year.
But Shanahan believes that Griffin will make improvements in these areas. He believes that growth will come in Year 3 following a full offseason to sharpen his skills and make up for this past year’s lost offseason work.
“You need repetition. One of the things we talked about in the offseason, I think the biggest growth from the first year to the second year is those 10 weeks of just going back and doing things that you haven’t done before. That’s what you miss besides training camp,” Shanahan said. “So when you take the first nine, 10 weeks of the season and you take maybe the first three weeks before we start our first game, he’s getting all those reps right now. The more reps he gets, the more comfortable he’s going to be, especially in game-type situations. I think he feels very natural with the zone read and some of the play-actions off of it. Some of the drop-back passing attack will take a little time. But he’s so sharp at picking things up. He can make any throw. Not many people have that ability to do that. The great part about it is the sky’s the limit for him in the future. There is going to be some growing pains. It’s not going to be automatic. We didn’t expect it to be automatic. But there will be growth in what we do with him as time goes on, and I think he’ll keep on getting better and better.”
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