The Washington Redskins' passing game struggled last season and not just because the starting quarterback was coming off knee surgery. The protection failed; the receivers didn’t get open; the coaches could not add as much to the offense as desired.
But with a new staff, a quarterback more like himself and with a full offseason and better receivers, the Redskins’ passing attack should improve. Of course, there have been many times in the past that an aspect of the Redskins should have improved and did not. Quarterback Robert Griffin III has maintained all along that nothing has yet been accomplished. He is absolutely right.
One veteran offensive player said what helps is that Jay Gruden’s passing game is similar to what Washington ran under Kyle Shanahan. It also helps that the coaches say the run game will be the same. Still, it’s a new offense that Griffin and the others must learn.
I know that Gruden’s favored alignment on first-and-10 was two tight ends and two receivers last season in Cincinnati. I don’t know how often he will use what alignment, but the Redskins did invest in the passing game -- DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts to pair with Pierre Garcon, all of whom can win downfield -- and you don’t do so without the intent to maximize that talent.
The Redskins have devoted 15.57 percent of their cap space to receiver -- that’s 36.05 percent more than the average NFL team.
Also, the feeling, for now at least, is that the Redskins will rely less on play-action passes than they did in the past. The Redskins averaged an NFL-best 11.85 yards per pass attempt from play-action in 2012; they averaged 6.97 yards per attempt last season, 26th in the NFL. By comparison, Cincinnati ranked 12th last season at 8.22 yards per pass attempt from play-action (all statistics courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information).
However, the Bengals definitely ran it less: they ranked 19th in the NFL with only 47.6 yards per game out of play-action looks. The Redskins, meanwhile, were ninth at 70.3 yards per game.
The sense is that the Redskins won’t need to use it as much because of an improved receiving corps, one that is much more capable of winning one-on-one battles at the line (unlike last season). Therefore, in theory, it should result in quicker opportunities for Griffin. That will allow the Redskins to use less complicated reads until Griffin and the receivers grow in the offense. Without the benefit of a regular offseason a year ago, the Redskins could not expand the offense under Griffin the way they would have liked. When they tried to, it did not work for a variety of reasons.
Griffin has had a good offseason and, the veteran said, has done a good job of picking up the offense. But the fact remains that this is his first legitimate NFL offseason and he’s learning a second offense. Don’t complicate matters (even if every NFL offense is complex). This should allow him to be more decisive and play to his strengths, which should include throwing the deep ball.
A lot of this depends on how well the protection holds up. If it doesn't, then play-action can be used more often.
Gruden inherited different talent offensively than he had in Cincinnati. The Bengals did not have a workhorse runner as good as Alfred Morris. They did not have the depth among the receiving talent Washington now appears to have (including tight end Jordan Reed). Of course, the Bengals did have other weapons: receiver A.J. Green, one of the game’s best; running back Giovani Bernard, good at running from the spread and catching passes out of the backfield.
Griffin is a different threat than Andy Dalton. Griffin, obviously, is more mobile but he also has a stronger arm and should be more dangerous throwing downfield. But keep in mind that Cincinnati led the NFL with 83 pass attempts on passes that traveled at least 20 yards or more (the Redskins had 60 such attempts) but were 16th in completion percentage (37.3 percent) and 13th in yards per attempt (12.83). Again, if Griffin is sharper, then it would help here: The Redskins ranked second in the NFL in yards per pass attempt on these plays in 2012 (though they were 31st in number of passes attempted). Last season, the Redskins ranked 26th in completion percentage (28.3) and 25th in yards per attempt (9.92). With Jackson, a healthy Reed and an improved Griffin, I would expect both numbers to improve by a decent amount.
Also, what we have learned thus far about Gruden is that he will adjust. Well, actually, all we know is that he says he will adapt. That is why he is leaving the same run game in place, knowing it has been effective. Though some aspects of his offense have to remain the same -- you need core beliefs -- he can’t, and shouldn’t, ask Griffin to be Dalton.
The Redskins need Griffin to be Griffin again. They have the receivers to help him get there; they definitely need the line to help as well. Otherwise, a lot of what the Redskins hope to do -- and want to do -- will have to change.