As much as any factor, the rest of the Redskins’ season will be defined, starting Sunday against feeble Oakland, by their ability to keep the weak defense off the field as much as possible with a reasonably balanced offense that includes a strong running game that maximizes time of possession. That will require a change in their current play-calling. Perhaps the Redskins know this already, but they have certainly denied it in public.
For three weeks, Washington coaches have maintained they have not changed their offense significantly, nor put Griffin at risk unnecessarily even though they have passed more than any NFL team except Cleveland. In contrast, last season Washington led the NFL in rushing and had more runs (519) than passes (442), and just two teams passed less often.
The radical reversal in run-pass ratio this season, Coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan say, is an aberration caused by the lopsided scores in the team’s three losses. We have no choice but to throw to catch up, they say.
This would be reassuring if it were true. But it isn’t.
Even if you focus on those portions of the losses to the Eagles, Packers and, especially, the Lions last week, when score and game-situation allowed Washington coaches to pick any play-calling pattern they chose, they called plays for Griffin to pass or run more than twice as often as for the durable Morris. That ratio is 58-to-26 for the season and 41-to-15 last week at a point in the fourth quarter when the Lions led by just three.
Last week on his TV show, Shanahan said that against the Eagles and Packers, the Redskins turned away from the run, including the read option, only when behind by “three touchdowns or sometimes four.” If you use that method (and expand the sample to include times when the Redskins trailed by less than three touchdown before the fourth quarter even began), then the ratio of Griffin passes-sacks-scrambles-and-runs to running plays for all the Redskins running backs combined would be, 67-27.
Shanny probably knows that. There’s no law that Coach Candor is a good idea early in troubling seasons. But he should be concerned about that crazy 41-15 ratio of Griffin-to-Morris against the Lions. Morris averaged 4.9 yards per carry and broke a 30-yard touchdown run. Yet, at home against a team that was 4-12 last year, the Redskins acted like RGIII had to save them.
The Redskins are trying to cope with two difficult offensive problems at the same time. First, Griffin isn’t as fast as he was last year. You can see it. And NFL experts comment on it. Partly it’s the knee brace. Maybe he’ll get a step back in a month or a year. Or maybe he’ll never be quite the same blur. Second, RGIII on the read option just isn’t the same threat.