Protection should be the key word in the Washington Redskins‘ offensive meetings this offseason. The Redskins have brought in DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts to pair up with wide receiver Pierre Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed, giving young quarterback Robert Griffin III plenty of weapons at his disposal. But the weapons won’t matter if the offensive line can’t keep Griffin upright.

Under the Shanahan regime, the Redskins allowed 76 sacks since drafting Griffin in 2012, 43 of which came last season. I recently watched back every sack and assigned blame for each one. One of the biggest contributors to the total was breakdowns in protection, accounting for eight of the 43 sacks, more than any individual offensive lineman. These were plays where the protection scheme wasn’t able to correctly pick up a blitz despite having enough blockers. Here’s an example:

On this play, Griffin calls wide receiver Santana Moss to motion tighter to the offensive line.

As Moss motions in, safety Charles Woodson begins moving towards the line of scrimmage.

As Moss sets himself in position, Griffin motions to right guard Chris Chester that he’s ready to snap the ball. But Woodson is still making his way towards the line of scrimmage.

Chester taps center Will Montgomery to let him know Griffin is ready for the snap. But at no point does anybody pick up on Woodson approaching the line of scrimmage.

After the ball is snapped, Woodson comes flying off the edge, completely unblocked while the Redskins have both Montgomery and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger standing waiting for someone to block. Woodson ends up getting the sack and ends the drive.

Washington had more than enough blockers to pick up the safety blitz. They had their running back stay in to protect, giving them six blockers against five defenders. But failure to identify the blitz left them with the wrong protection scheme.

This is something Jay Gruden must address. The Shanahan regime left most of the protection setting to the center, not allowing Griffin much flexibility to change things at the line of scrimmage. While Gruden had his center heavily involved in Cincinnati, he also gave quarterback Andy Dalton the freedom to change the protection, and even the play, at the line of scrimmage if he saw fit.

Here, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton looks set to call for the snap, but realizes that the Bills are walking defenders up to the line of scrimmage. He recognizes the Bills have man coverage on the outside with a single deep safety, leaving six defenders free to blitz.

To counter this, Dalton walks up to his offensive line and resets his protection.

He also signals a different route combination for his receivers.

Dalton confirms his protection with his offensive line.

Then he makes sure his running back knows to stay in and block.

Dalton changed the receivers’ routes to a corner-slant combination, designed to beat man coverage with a single high safety and give Dalton a quick throw against a blitz.

The Bengals’ offensive line and running back pick up all six blitzers perfectly and give Dalton plenty of time and space to make his throw.

Griffin rarely, if ever, had the freedom to do anything like this under Mike and Kyle Shanahan. That could well be because they felt Griffin hadn’t developed enough to correctly identify blitzes and set the right protection. But on the Redskins’ play shown above, neither he nor the man the Shanahans trusted, Montgomery, were able to identify the safety blitz from Woodson.

Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay appear to be willing to allow Griffin more freedom, something that Griffin is excited about.

“If you’re going to give me more opportunities and allow me to control the offense more, that’s all a quarterback can ever ask for,” Griffin said. “So, I’m excited for the opportunity to do everything, and I think Jay is going to allow me to do that. That’s no pressure. That’s what you want. When you believe in yourself, you trust in yourself, and you trust the guys around you, that’s what you want and all you can ask for.”

They’ll need to work with Griffin to improve his ability to read the defense both pre- and post-snap if he’s to be effective at changing the protection schemes at the line. But perhaps this freedom will help the Redskins bring down that sack number and allow Griffin to make best use of his weapons.

Mark Bullock is The Insider’s Outsider, sharing his impressions of the Redskins without the benefit of access to the team. 

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