When Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was asked why Robert Griffin III threw so well on third downs Sunday, he’d point to a variety of factors, from coverage to accuracy to receivers winning routes. And after watching each of his third-down throws, it’s easy to see why Shanahan did not just point to one factor.
Yes, Griffin threw well. He was accurate and gave his targets a chance to make plays after the catch most of the time. But the Redskins did a good job taking advantage of matchups, allowing Griffin to throw with more confidence. Overall he completed eight of nine passes on third down for 89 yards and six first downs.
Here’s a look at his third-down plays:
Third and 6, Redskins’ 5, first quarter. A mismatch the Chargers eventually changed, but not in time. They had safety Eric Weddle cover tight end Jordan Reed one-on-one, with Reed in a stack formation to the left. Easy pickings here. Griffin knew pre-snap where he would go and it showed. He reached his third step and the ball was out as Reed broke to the outside. Griffin hit him on his outside shoulder. Eight yards.
Third and 11, Chargers’ 39, first quarter. Same drive. Same scenario: Weddle trying to cover Reed one-on-one. They still haven’t learned. This time, Reed was in a three-point stance next to left tackle Trent Williams. Again Griffin was decisive. Weddle shaded Reed about two yards to the inside, forcing him to break outside. Reed pivoted back outside at the top of his route, Griffin made another decisive throw – third step, pat and throw -- to his outside shoulder. Fourteen yards.
Third and 6, Chargers’ 21, first quarter. Same drive. Same victim. This time the target was Logan Paulsen, out of a three-point stance next to Williams. But he was not the initial read. However, at the snap Griffin peaked in that direction and then back to the middle. He immediately went back to Paulsen, again hitting him on his outside shoulder allowing him to gain yards after the catch. Again decisive: 2.0 seconds, no hesitation. Seven yards.
Third and 5, Redskins’ 22, second quarter. The Chargers mixed it up here, playing zone and that caused indecision. Griffin did not look calm in the pocket. The protection was good and had he been more patient, he could have hit Reed sitting down around the right hash in a soft spot. But he wanted Aldrick Robinson running a crossing route underneath. Four yards.
Third and 12, Redskins’ 34, third quarter. Back to man coverage with a single high safety. Pierre Garcon is aligned wide to the left against corner Derek Cox. Mismatch. Griffin knows this is where he’ll throw, eyeing him the whole way (against man coverage, the corner can’t read the quarterback’s eyes so it’s not a huge sin; the safety was held in check by another route over the middle). Griffin let Garcon try to win, taking Cox from the numbers almost to the left hash and then back outside. He has a step, but the ball is underthrown and Cox had his back to the quarterback. Garcon makes a one-handed grab with his right arm reaching around Cox. Griffin deserves credit for patience and staying calm, sliding to his left with his eyes upfield after a blitzer starts to get free. Griffin delivered the ball in 3.3 seconds. Thirty eight yards (Cox was called for pass interference, too).
Third and nine, Chargers’ 46, third quarter. The Griffin run. A great effort, but the hit could have been avoided. The Chargers played man with two-deep safeties. Corner Johnny Patrick looks like he has Reed one-on-one off the line, but then as Reed breaks outside, Patrick settles in the middle and the safety on that side rotates over to cover Reed. However, Reed was open on the break at the 34-yard line and Griffin was looking in that direction. Instead, he scrambled to the left.
Third and six, Chargers’ 19, third quarter. The Chargers played zone coverage, with Leonard Hankerson running a crossing route. But he crossed by safety Darrell Stuckey. Griffin made a decisive throw. Stuckey had tight coverage, but Griffin put the ball low and to the outside, preventing any deflection. A good throw. However, Reed, split wide left, also ran to the middle and was uncovered. He would have reached the 5-yard line and with one broken tackle might have scored. Still, a good throw by Griffin. Eleven yards.
Third and eight, Chargers’ 35, fourth quarter. Griffin knew where he wanted to go pre-snap and it showed. He immediately targeted running back Roy Helu, who started in the backfield and ran wide of the tackle and, with Stuckey playing outside leverage, cut back to the middle. Griffin eyed him the whole time and had the right matchup. But it only gained six yards. Part of the problem? A missed hold on Stuckey. Right decision by Griffin because of the matchup.
Third and eight, Chargers’ 45, overtime. Back to Reed, who motioned to a stack formation on the right against man coverage with two linebackers playing zone in the middle. Again, Griffin knew where he wanted to go. Safety Jahleel Addae was about eight yards off Reed at the snap. So Reed went inside immediately, Griffin did not eye him the whole way – in fact he did not look at him until his third and final step of the drop -- so the linebacker to that side could not cheat (he also had a receiver running underneath). Reed caught the ball about a yard from the first down, but gained five after the catch. Twelve yards.