For all of the talk you hear about the Washington Redskins and their "gimmicky" offense with rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, Griffin's actually been pretty good this year when he's thrown the ball way downfield. Griffin is the leading passer in the NFL in completion percentage and yards per attempt on throws that travel at least 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, and what may be most impressive is how well he identifies when to take those chances.
Doug Clawson of ESPN Stats & Information has done an All-22 video analysis of Griffin's season and determined that the key to Griffin's downfield success is his performance against single-safety coverage. NFC West blogger Mike Sando pointed me to Doug's analysis and said he and NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert were going to be discussing it on their Inside Slant podcast today. We are one big, happy team here at ESPN.com. It's pretty beautiful to watch, really.
Anyway, here's some of what Doug came up with after watching film of Griffin's first 11 games this year. (At the time we got the numbers, he hadn't yet reviewed Monday Night's game.):
Griffin has shredded single-safety defense. Remember, a single-high safety is like having a center fielder in coverage, typically requiring man-to-man defense from cornerbacks, while the other safety prowls the line of scrimmage. Griffin has averaged 10.3 yards per pass attempt against such coverage. When he faces split-safety defense, he is averaging 6.5 yards per attempt. Split-safety defense constitutes having two safeties ‘split’ deep in coverage.
Griffin has aired it out more against single-safety coverage, exploiting only one safety deep. His average pass travels 10.3 yards downfield against such coverage, and 5.8 yards against split-safety defense.
He has completed nearly two-thirds of his passes on throws more than 10 yards downfield against single-safety coverage, and fewer than half against split-safety coverage.
Which is very interesting and, as it develops, might offer some opposing teams some clues about how to defend Griffin. But I doubt it's as simple as keeping two safeties back. After all, the Redskins are the No. 1 rushing offense in the league this year, with rookie running back Alfred Morris paired with the speedy Griffin in the backfield. So I imagine that the reason teams like to bring a safety up against Washington is to help against the threat of the run. To this point, Griffin is making them pay.