Washington Redskins quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur was encouraged by Robert Griffin III’s outing against Oakland because he saw something he hadn’t seen a whole lot of in the first three games. It’s a good sign for Griffin moving forward. “He finally was able to make some big-time off-schedule plays in key situations,” LaFleur said. “He’s getting more comfortable and confident.” As you’ll recall, it wasn’t just Griffin’s eluding the corner blitz and running to his right to hit running back Roy Helu en route to a 28-yard gain, it was him stepping up in the pocket and finding Helu for 15 yards on an earlier third down (Griffin's third-down numbers need improving; 52.3 completion percentage; 73.3 passer rating though it was 105.9 versus the Raiders -- 7-of-13 for 104 yards and a touchdown). Griffin also got outside the pocket and found Niles Paul for 16 yards when he could have run.
LaFleur said those plays show maturation in Griffin’s game. A year ago, those receivers were open, but Griffin often decided way too early to tuck the ball and run. Therefore he never saw them -- and often took unnecessary hits. “He knows where our guys are going to be now whereas in Year 1 it’s survival mode. You see what you see," LaFleur said. "He didn’t see Niles [against Oakland] but he knew he was going to be there and that’s why he threw to him. ... It shows that he’s growing as a quarterback to make those plays as well. A lot of guys get in situations where it’s dicey and the [route] concept hasn’t shown itself yet and no one’s quite open and they’ll take off and run.” Griffin tried to do that against Detroit late in the first half; because of it he missed a receiver breaking open downfield late. He slid out of the pocket to the left, had the ball poked away and recovered his fumble. But against Oakland it was different.
More on this particular topic because it’s a big one for Griffin, and it’s why his legs remain vital to his game. Griffin can improve as a passer from the pocket, but his legs always will be a factor. That doesn’t mean having to run the zone-read but it does mean getting outside the pocket and making plays, with his arm or legs. The more he extends plays and then hurts teams with his arm, the more he can limit hits and sustain his career. Remember, the questions about his durability do not just apply to running the zone-read; there were scouts and draft experts who wondered pre-2012 draft about him surviving in the pocket, too, because of his leaner frame. Anyway, LaFleur was encouraged. “Again, you like to see that body movement, not only for us but for himself to prove that he can make that play.”
LaFleur also noticed a steady improvement in Griffin’s mechanics over the first four games. “In this last game his footwork compared to the first game was much more smooth. Better weight transition in his throws as well.” The Washington Post’s hard-working reporter Mike Jones took a look at this same subject during the bye week. Here’s my report on Griffin’s game against Oakland, providing a detailed look at some progress (and areas that still must improve).
Can the Redskins and Griffin still be effective with the zone-read option? The Washington Post’s Mark Maske interviewed a number of people to look at this, more so from how it's being defended it league-wide. Two weeks ago I talked to some Redskins players about this topic because it’s clear the zone-read runs have not been as effective. But a lot of this is because of Griffin’s lack of explosiveness in the first couple of games. Defenses have given him the outside on some runs because they knew he wasn’t going to run -- or would not be as effective if he did. And it’s not as much that defenses have figured out new strategies to deal with the zone-read. What’s happened is that they’re sticking to their assignments better, showing less hesitation at times on the run. Detroit took away some of the zone-read simply because its tackles won one-on-ones against the Redskins' interior. Still, in a nutshell, defenses are more prepared. But the zone-read play-action fakes still work as the amount of time it holds the linebackers is often about the same as last year (around 1.9 seconds). Last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Griffin ran off the zone-read 43 times for 344 yards (8.0 per carry) and gained 1.02 yards after contact. This season? He’s rushed four times for 19 yards out of this look with .25 yards after contact. The trickle down is that running back Alfred Morris, who averaged 5.25 yards out of this look in 2012 now averages 3.18 yards per carry. Last year he gained 2.30 yards after contact -- partly because of hesitation as defenses weren’t sure who would have the ball, leading to arm tackles. Now, with Griffin’s legs not as big (yet?), Morris gains only 1.27 yards after contact. If Griffin regains more of his old explosiveness, it'll be interesting to see what happens to these numbers.