Ok, fluke is a strong word. It implies that something occurred by accident, but it did get your attention. This column is not an attempt to bash Robert Griffin III or to discredit his accomplishments. He has the potential to become a Hall of Fame quarterback, but the road won’t be easy, there’s a fine line between a flash in the pan and a superstar.
Griffin finished his record setting rookie season with 3,200 yards passing, 820 yards rushing and a 65.6 completion percentage, while throwing 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions. RG3 is a special talent, with the unsophisticated focus on his running ability, overlooking his most valuable asset. Griffin has an elite arm, he can make every throw in the playbook and probably some that aren’t. His passing ability, not his running ability makes him special.
From a schematic standpoint, it’s Griffin’s legs that teams fear most. Mike and Kyle Shanahan masterfully combined elements of the traditional west coast offense, with spread principles from the college game. RG3 began the season comfortable with the offense, reducing the learning curve a normal rookie encounters. The Redskins offense was predicated on movement in the backfield, which paralyzed the second and third levels of the defense, giving Griffin large passing lanes. The stats bear this out, Griffin’s QB rating on play action passes last year was 116.2.
The NFL is a league of action and reaction. Offenses and defenses create schemes and their counterparts find ways to stop them. Tom Landry’s Flex defense was considered revolutionary, so was the zone blitz, the wildcat and the run and shoot. Each of these concepts–when first introduced–flummoxed opponents, but as time passed, the opponents studied, adjusted and were able to negate them to varying degrees.
The spread is all the rage, but the key is that the teams using it are a step ahead of the teams that aren’t. This offseason, defensive coordinators will have a summer to digest its principles and concepts and work on a way to stop it. They’ll also have a chance to study Griffin. Griffith took the league by storm in part because opposing defenses didn’t know what to expect from him. The zone read confused and Griffin’s accuracy surprised. There won’t be any surprises this year. RG3 is a known commodity.
Last year, the Redskins (wisely) coddled Griffin as a passer, the nature of the zone read allows Griffith to make quick throws without having to go through multiple progressions. More telling is that when Griffin did pass, he didn’t throw it far. 20 percent of Griffin’s passes were thrown behind the line of scrimmage, while his average pass traveled 5.8 yards per throw.
The Shanahan’s did a masterful job of hiding Griffin’s inexperience and spotlighting his strengths. This season, the league will adjust. We’re more than halfway through this exercise and I haven’t mentioned that Griffin TORE HIS ACL last year. Hello, people are acting like RG3 will be the same player day one. The team, doctors and fans alike have all bought into the propaganda that RG3 has wolverine’s healing factor and will comeback next season better than ever. That may happen, it may not, but to count on Griffin to be the same dynamic player that we saw last year is asking a lot.
Finally, Griffin has had a taste of stardom, he’s one of the most popular athletes in the NFL. He’s also getting married this summer, which is another subject that we don’t have enough room in this blog to entertain. His fame has grown, so have expectations. It’s human to believe your own hype. RG3 has always seemed like a kid with a level head on his shoulders, so hopefully this won’t be an issue.
RG3 may have a fantastic season this year, but there are small indicators that an encore performance may prove difficult.