St. Louis Rams’ plan to stop Robert Griffin III: Hit him

September 16, 2012

Because they live on planet Earth, the St. Louis Rams were inundated all week with reports, opinions and chatter about Robert Griffin III — how uniquely brilliant he is, how historic his NFL debut against New Orleans had been the week before, how difficult he would be to contain.

The Rams’ game plan on Sunday against Griffin, the Washington Redskins’ rookie quarterback, was neither revolutionary nor complex: Try to keep him in the pocket — and when he gets outside, make him pay.

“If he’s going to tuck it and run it, and certainly Bob Griffin can do that . . . you want to make it a cumulative toll,” Rams defensive end Chris Long said. “If he’s going to tuck it and run it, we’re going to hit him.”

And hit Griffin they did. While the 22-year-old rookie made his share of big plays in the Redskins’ 31-28 loss in St. Louis — throwing a 68-yard touchdown pass and running 11 times for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns — the Rams laid a handful of brutal hits on him, including one by defensive tackle Kendall Langford deep in the fourth quarter, forcing a critical incompletion.

“Any time he tried to run the ball, he’s not a quarterback anymore — he’s a running back,” Langford said. “So we wanted to hit him when we can, to make him think about not running the ball.”

Having seen what Griffin did to the Saints in Week 1 — when he passed for 320 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 42 more yards, earning NFL offensive player of the week honors — the Rams had a benefit the Saints did not: an opportunity to study regular season game film of Griffin.

The Redskins “kind of tailored their offense to what he did in college, and they burned up New Orleans with that,” said linebacker Rocky McIntosh, a former Redskins player. “But after a while the whole league catches on. . . . We made him do what most NFL quarterbacks do in this league — drop back and pass, do some of the things he doesn’t normally do.”

Griffin had success Sunday with a series of designed quarterback draws, including a seven-yard sprint for his second touchdown, midway through the third quarter. However, it was one of those draws, on the Redskins’ final drive of the first half, when Griffin absorbed his biggest hit of the game, delivered by Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

Griffin appeared to be shaken up slightly on the play. Though he remained in the game, his next play produced the first interception he has thrown as a pro.

“He was able to have one or two big plays, but we were physical — we made some tackles,” Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. “If he’s going to run, you want to lay hacks on him. That’s what you have to do with a guy like that.”

Said Long: “At the end of the day, he’s going be a great player in this league. But he made some mistakes that we forced him into.”

Dave Sheinin has been covering baseball and writing features and enterprise stories for The Washington Post since 1999.
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