Jason Reid
Jason Reid
Columnist

Robert Griffin III learns to play it safe, which is dangerous for future opponents

Video: The Washington Post’s Mike Jones tells you what worked for the Redskins in their win over the Minnesota Vikings then talks about what needs to be improved before the team takes on the New York Giants next week.

It’s actually possible to be a big-play quarterback while also protecting yourself. And now that Robert Griffin III is committed to doing both, he could become an even bigger problem for NFL defenses. A week after suffering a concussion, Griffin was spectacular in leading the Washington Redskins to a 38-26 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

With the Vikings rallying late in the fourth quarter, Griffin’s crowd-thrilling, 76-yard touchdown run all but ended the game. For the most part, Griffin’s passing and running enabled Washington to control the pace of the game, which was among the keys to ending the team’s FedEx Field losing streak at eight games.

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The rookie quarterback was sharp, completing 77 percent of his passes. In rushing for a game-high 138 yards and two touchdowns, he also showed no reluctance running the ball after the concussion he suffered in last week’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Griffin promised his family, teammates and coaches he would no longer take unnecessary chances. True to his word, Griffin ran out of bounds Sunday, instead of trying to gain a few extra yards, whenever the defense closed in on him.

Griffin was at his most effective when the Redskins lined up as if they were going to run a quarterback option; the Vikings’ defense often seemed confused about whether to attack Griffin or running back Alfred Morris.

Again without injured wide receiver Pierre Garcon, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan effectively relied on tight end Fred Davis and veteran wide receiver Santana Moss to create matchup problems for the Vikings’ secondary.

The offensive game plan and play-calling were a plus for the Redskins.

On defense, the Redskins had more good moments than bad despite giving up 421 yards.

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder passed for 352 yards but the Redskins also picked off two of his throws. Safety Madieu Williams’s 24-yard interception return was the Redskins’ fourth defensive touchdown this season. The Redskins have 14 takeaways in the first six weeks. Last season, they had 21.

In another encouraging early development, the defense held the Vikings to three short field goals on their first three drives. The offense wasn’t doing much early and the defense kept Washington in the game. The defense did, however, experience another late-game letdown.

Griffin’s big comeback was the Redskins’ best news. Let’s examine how the Redskins helped him make it happen.

In a groove on offense

After watching Griffin get banged around like a piñata, Coach Mike Shanahan and his son Kyle scaled back on designed runs in the previous two games. But the offense is at its best when Griffin runs, or hands off to Morris, out of option formations.

In relying heavily on option plays again Sunday, the Shanahans trusted Griffin not only to make the right decisions with the football, but also with his body. Essentially, the three had this understanding: If presented with a choice between gaining an extra yard and getting crushed or going down, Griffin would hit the ground every time.

The Redskins’ misdirection plays from the option also worked well. Kyle Shanahan’s package of plays for speedy wideout-returner Brandon Banks didn’t do much for Banks (he finished with negative yardage rushing), but Banks was a great decoy on some of Griffin’s runs.

Garcon, who was signed in the offseason to stretch defenses, has been a nonfactor for most of the year. At times, Kyle Shanahan basically used Davis as a wideout. Davis has the size and speed to win individual battles against smaller cornerbacks.

In the first quarter, Griffin and Davis combined on two short slants that resulted in first downs. The calls on safe passes helped Griffin gain confidence passing early in the game.

Mike Shanahan has instructed his son to use Moss selectively in an effort to help the 12-year veteran remain in good form for the entire season. In the second quarter, Moss ran a sharp, mid-range route and Griffin found him for a 30-yard gain.

Targeted four times in the game, Moss had four receptions. He’s becoming a security blanket for Griffin but is not being overused. That’s exactly what Mike Shanahan wanted.

Applying some pressure

Give defensive coordinator Jim Haslett credit for making an adjustment that enabled the Redskins to harass a quarterback.

Haslett has tried many things to improve the team’s ineffective pass rush, and he turned to Lorenzo Alexander against the Vikings. The special-teams standout has played all over the offense and defense, and he’s now a backup inside linebacker. Haslett hoped Alexander could provide a spark off the bench if he had a bigger role on defense, and he responded with 11 / 2 of Washington’s four sacks.

Only coaches and players were aware of the change in the game plan. After Alexander’s big game, everyone knew how the move turned out.

The takeaway

The Redskins improved to 3-3 because Griffin returned to the lineup even better than he was before. Griffin is smarter now, which makes him more dangerous. As if the NFL didn’t already have enough problems trying to stop him.

For columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

 
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