Griffin knew that Shanahan and his son, Kyle, the Redskins’ offensive coordinator, had installed special running plays for him during closed practices throughout the preseason and in last week’s game preparations. But would the elder Shanahan trust Griffin enough, in his regular season debut, to open up the playbook?
The answer came quickly and emphatically in the best first-half performance by a rookie quarterback in NFL history based on passer rating, and continued until the Redskins completed a stunning 40-32 victory here.
The Shanahans’ creativity and Griffin’s efficiency and big-play production were a perfect combination as the Redskins scored the most points in a game since Mike Shanahan took control of the football operation in 2010. Option plays, the quarterback keeper, deep routes, using the whole field, putting playmakers in favorable positions — the Shanahans did it all.
What occurred defensively was equally encouraging for the Redskins.
The final score was misleading. For most of the game, the Saints struggled to establish a rhythm in their passing game. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett succeeded in mixing coverages and calling a variety of blitzes at the right time.
It all resulted in a disappointing opener for the Saints and their fans, who likely expected a much different outcome against a team that went 11-21 the past two seasons. Shanahan and Haslett, however, had sound plans. Let’s examine them closely.
Letting Griffin be Griffin
Though they worked on the option in practice, the Redskins did not use those plays in preseason games. Misdirection plays from the shotgun formation? It was all kept under wraps to conceal, as long as possible, how good Griffin could be from the start. Now there’s no more hiding it.
The Shanahans intended to put it all on Griffin and they did. If he struggled, they could have adjusted, but that didn’t happen. Griffin became the first rookie quarterback in league history with a perfect 158.3 passer rating in a first half (minimum 10 attempts), according to the Redskins. He finished with a 139.9 rating, completing 73 percent of his passes.
The Redskins’ strategy called for using the read option, keeper plays, naked bootlegs (running toward either side of the line without lead blockers) and the threat of Griffin running to confuse the defense and create openings in the secondary, which, the Redskins hoped, receivers would exploit. They did. Often.
On the read option, Griffin has the choice of running, handing off or throwing depending on how defensive ends and outside linebackers react. The Saints’ defensive ends repeatedly failed to keep Griffin from getting outside, meaning they were unable to stop him from getting into the open on designed runs.
The Saints thought the Redskins would use Griffin’s ability to run as the centerpiece of the Shanahans’ plan. They just didn’t do a good job against Griffin.