When Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III tucks the football and commits to running with it, anything can happen, almost all of the possibilities breathtaking for teammates, fans, and opponents. Griffin’s runs last season resulted in game-breaking touchdowns, key first downs — and injuries.
As Griffin and the Redskins enter his second NFL training camp, this one following surgery to repair ligaments in his right knee, key questions involve how best to maximize Griffin’s unique skill set and also keep him healthy. Griffin and his coaches agree the responsibility is shared, lying in which plays are called and in the decisions he makes after the snap.
The Post Sports Live crew debates whether there is a chance that quarterback Robert Griffin III will not return in the Redskins’ Week 1 game against the Eagles.
To understand how Griffin and the Redskins can help reduce the hits, it’s best to remember how 2012 unfolded. Griffin was hit 49 times out of 70 plays designed to use his ability to run — either zone-read options or quarterback keepers. Compare that to 18 hits on 50 scrambles beyond the line of scrimmage on passing plays and 85 hits on 423 plays when in the pocket or behind the line of scrimmage.
“I think you can win outside the pocket. You’ve just got to be smart about it,” Griffin said on Wednesday. “And that’s what I’ve learned over the past six months about myself and what we need to do to win. Maybe that’s keeping me in the pocket a little bit more. Maybe that’s throwing the ball away a little bit more.”
Veteran quarterback Rex Grossman summed it up succinctly.
“The goal [for Griffin] is to be an effective runner, like Aaron Rodgers is an effective runner,” Grossman said, “with some designed runs on top of that.”
The zone-read option — a play from which Griffin can hand off, keep the ball or pass, based on how the defense reacts — has been a specific subject of conversation. Last season, Griffin used the play particularly effectively, averaging 16.4 yards per completion after faking a handoff and 8.2 yards per carry when he ran. But is it worth the risk to Griffin’s health?
Redskins coaches say they will not abandon the play, maintaining it will remain effective even if Griffin elects to run himself less often. Griffin kept the ball on zone-read plays 43 times and was hit on 26 of those. But coaches further believe the fakes involved in those plays prevent defenders from teeing up a target, because they must be wary of the ball going elsewhere.
“The zone-read probably gave Robert more time in the pocket than anything else you can do,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. “Where Robert did get hurt was dropping back and doing a couple of scrambles. That’s probably one of the toughest situations for a quarterback is to drop back, look downfield, know when to scramble, know when to slide. It’s just tough. I think every year you get better and better. But we’re going to try to protect Robert as much as we can. We’re going to let him do the things that we think he does the best and hopefully it will be as productive.”
When blocked correctly, the zone-read option should allow Griffin to escape big hits by sliding safely or by running out of bounds.