ASHBURN, Va. -- It’s not the December anyone wanted; it is one that could still make a difference when it comes to the Washington Redskins' future. That’s because the final four games will be, in large part, about the development of quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Yes, the Redskins want to win regardless of who’s at quarterback. But it’s Griffin who can calm fears about 2014 – and beyond – by having a strong finish. Thus far, he’s looked every bit the second-year quarterback that he is. Of course, there will be as many questions about his relationship with coaches, assuming they're back, as his on-field performance. But, for now, we'll stick to the field.
Therefore, I checked in with quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur to see what progress he thinks Griffin has made – and areas he can improve. There were no questions about their relationship, I promise.
We talked about a few areas:
Griffin did a better job last week of getting rid of the ball quicker, especially in the first half. We saw it in the number of checkdowns and even on the final drive, when he went through his progressions quicker and found other options. LaFleur saw it on the first play of the game when Griffin pumped to the right and threw back to the middle for Alfred Morris. It wasn’t a designed play; it was Griffin seeing his first option wasn’t there and immediately finding his second. "We ran a quick game concept and it didn’t look great and without any hesitation he got it to the halfback and that got us going,” LaFleur said. “Plays like that can make a huge difference in wins and losses and just being successful on drives.”This is a week-to-week issue. If teams play man, the checkdowns aren’t as available. Heavy zone teams are more vulnerable to checkdowns. It also helped that in the first half especially the offensive line was solid.“He was afforded the time to get through his reads,” LaFleur said. “All quarterbacks, each play is its own entity and you can pick apart each play. Sometimes they do a good job getting to the checkdown and sometimes they progress faster. Our job is to help them see the defense and based on coverages and when to eliminate the No. 1 and through the progression so they can get to No. 2. They have to have an understanding of what coverages they’re attacking and how our concepts attack that coverage. Each week is a different challenge. Last week he did a better job.”
Despite what Antrel Rolle said about Griffin taking too many hits, that wasn’t really the case Sunday night. Griffin was hit 16 times, but a number of them were shoves or came after he slid, avoiding worse collisions. Two stood out: the play on the sneak and the failed block on the end around.“Last week he did as good a job as he’s ever done in terms of getting down and avoiding hits, except for when he ran out of bounds and fell on the track,” LaFleur said. “He could have gotten lower [on the sneak].” The start of something or a one-game aberration? “Time will tell,” LaFleur said.
Griffin’s timing on some routes has improved, though that’s still game to game. Against Minnesota he anticipated more routes, for example. “That’s something we work on every day,” LaFleur said. “That timing with the receiver is done on the practice field.”
Griffin remains inconsistent at getting his feet around in the pocket, so they’re in sync with the rest of his body when he throws. Otherwise it leads to errant passes, as we have seen.“You better know where your eyes are taking you,” LaFleur said. “Your eyes will take you to the correct read but the feet tell you when to get off a certain read. That’s your timing mechanism. Your eyes have to get there before your feet. Body position is absolutely critical. If you don’t have good body position, your balance is off and your accuracy will be off. It’s absolutely critical you get your body in correct position to make the correct throw. He’s done a better job. It’s a constant work in progress.”
His decision making on the final drive was solid. There were two occasions where if Griffin had waited a half-second longer, a deeper route would have opened. But in those situations you can’t take a chance. “You never bypass an open receiver,” LaFleur said. “You try to go through your progression and the timing of the progression. We’re not in a vacuum. There are other variables going on whether you have to move in the pocket or whatever happens if a receiver is late on a route.”
There’s a lot of work to be done in the offseason and there’s only so much you can do during the season. “We’ll work on them now, it’s just hard to ingrain that when you have so much going on,” LaFleur said, “and so focused on the game plan. It’s hard to hammer down your fundamentals and make it subconscious.”