Shanahan’s offense relies on a group of players flawlessly executing a combination of roles, but its heartbeat is misdirection and deception — eyes here and the action over there — in football’s version of three-card monte. It is an offense that has captured the NFL’s attention.
“Any time you have set rules in place for a certain concept,” Shanahan said, “whether it’s a run play or a pass play, once your players get that concept down and the number counts and where you’re going and how to target people, then the motions and all the other stuff really just make it an illusion.”
Redskins wide receiver Josh Morgan said that each play can be run “30, 40, maybe 50 different ways,” depending on the formation, pre-snap motion and whether there will be a play fake — one of Shanahan’s favorite tools and one of Griffin’s most underrated skills.
Indeed, no NFL quarterback uses play-action — football speak for pretending to hand the ball off to a running back or receiver — more often than Griffin, who, according to statistics provided by Pro Football Focus, has preceded 39.6 percent of his pass plays with a fake. The Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson , another rookie quarterback who’ll lead his team in Sunday’s first-round playoff game at FedEx Field, is second at 36.2 percent.
“That’s our goal, to confuse them,” said Redskins fullback Darrel Young. “You see [opposing defenders] cursing each other out on the field.”
Against the Giants, the Redskins pulled out all the tricks. The winner, as it turned out, would take the NFC East title; the loser would miss the playoffs.
On second and two, Griffin lined up in the pistol formation and sent Morgan in motion from the slot to the backfield.
The early days
During offseason practices, confusion was king. Kyle Shanahan was installing a new offense, and regardless of how familiar he told them it would someday be, players felt trapped in a mental net.
Shanahan had studied zone-read offenses run by other NFL teams. He had added to the zone offense he’d learned from his father, Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan, and honed as a young coordinator with the Houston Texans. Kyle Shanahan spent long nights at the team facility, watching film and jotting notes — not about what the offenses were running, but how defenses were trying to stop it.
“What is the defense doing? What are they adjusting? What are they doing on film that the opposing team does the next week? And can this last?” Shanahan said earlier this season. “A lot of stuff you see, it won’t last. You’ve got to eventually put wrinkles off of it.”