Mark Bullock is The Insider’s Outsider, taking a look at Redskins issues without the benefit of access to the team:
Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has had plenty of criticism thrown his way through the first four games of the 2013 season. He looked rusty and inconsistent because he lacked practice reps in the offseason while rehabilitating from his knee surgery back in January. He’s appeared reluctant to scramble and leave the pocket unless he has to, which has led to people questioning his health. But in reality, Griffin is developing himself as a pocket passer.
During his rookie campaign, Griffin made some excellent plays while breaking the pocket and scrambling, but he often could have climbed the ladder up into the pocket and bought himself more time to progress through his reads. Here’s an example from Week 12 against the Cowboys last season:
Dallas has two aggressive edge rushers in DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer that get upfield quickly. The great quarterbacks in the league; Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees would have stepped up into the pocket and give their offensive tackles a chance to run the edge rushers past them. But here, Griffin opts to step backwards away from the pocket and scramble to his left.
That decision puts extra pressure on Griffin. He now has to be able to outrun the defenders in pursuit, because he took his offensive linemen out of the equation. In the end, Griffin couldn’t reach the edge and had to flick the ball out of bounds to avoid losing yards on the play.
But against the Oakland Raiders this past Sunday, we saw a much more pocket-aware Griffin, which has come as the result of a decision to keep him in the pocket more. In the third quarter, Griffin stepped up in the pocket to his left to avoid pressure before throwing a strike downfield to tight end Logan Paulsen. Paulsen went on to fumble the ball, but the play is a great example of Griffin’s progress.
Oakland used defensive back Usama Young on a disguised blitz. Right guard Chris Chester is occupied early by another blitzer and isn’t able to get over to pick up the blitz. Last year, Griffin would have taken off running and might not have even seen the blitz. But Griffin does a great job stepping up and sliding to his left to buy himself time.
Avoiding pressure with subtle movements in the pocket allow quarterbacks to keep their eyes downfield on their target. That’s precisely what Griffin did on this play. He bought himself time to wait for Paulsen to get open and then pulled the trigger with an excellent throw.
But this wasn’t the only example of pocket awareness from Griffin. On what might be one of, if not his best, throw of the season to date, Griffin stepped up and threw a ball to Pierre Garcon just before he got hit.
Both guards, Chester and Kory Lichtensteiger, are struggling to maintain their blocks. But Griffin helps out his linemen by “climbing the ladder” and giving them a chance to run the defenders past him.
Chester and Lichtensteiger take the opportunity to run the defenders past Griffin as he steps up. But then Roy Helu Jr. lost control of his block. With pressure right in his face, Griffin steps into his throw and trusts his favorite target to go grab the ball. Griffin takes a hit from the defender, but Garcon is able to catch a high throw for a big gain. The awareness to step up in the pocket to avoid the initial pressure combined with the willingness to take a hit as he throws makes this a great play from Griffin; one he might not have made in his rookie year.
But just because he’s learning to step up in the pocket doesn’t mean we won’t see the fantastic scrambles that Griffin was known for. Quite often, stepping up in the pocket will open up a running lane for the quarterback. This was the case on his pass to Helu Jr. in the fourth quarter.
Cornerback Mike Jenkins comes on a delayed blitz here. Griffin reaches the top of his drop and takes a hitch step as he progresses through his first couple of reads.
As Griffin comes back across the field with his reads, Jenkins looks set to sack him.
But Griffin takes another step forward and dodges Jenkins. That provides a big lane for Griffin to escape the pocket.
Helu Jr. does a good job mirroring the run of Griffin to give him a target. Griffin throws a nice pass on the run and Helu Jr. takes it 28 yards and into the red zone.
These are all plays that show a great improvement from Griffin in an area of weakness for him last season. The offensive line struggled to pick up blocks in the opening couple of games without the threat of play-action or Griffin running. But if Griffin can continue climbing the ladder in the pocket, as we saw against the Raiders, he can help out his linemen and make their blocks slightly easier going forward.
Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at email@example.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesday.
● The Redskins are off until Monday. The next game is 8:30 p.m. Sun. Oct. 13 at Dallas.
More on the Redskins and NFL:
Opening Kick: Great matchups around NFL during Redskins’ bye