Red zone key for RGIII, Redskins

ASHBURN, Va. -- His quarterback handled this area well a year ago. Nobody threw more touchdowns in the red zone than Andy Dalton did in 2013, except for Peyton Manning.

Still, Dalton’s effectiveness throwing inside the 20-yard line helped Cincinnati’s playoff run. And it’s an area coach Jay Gruden hopes is repeated in Washington with his new quarterback, Robert Griffin III.

Last season, Griffin was mediocre in the red zone, finishing with a passer rating of 83.7. He completed 29 of 58 passes for 205 yards, 12 touchdowns (22nd in the NFL) and two interceptions.

In 2012, the Redskins did not ask him to throw a lot in this area. In fact, he tied for 27th in pass attempts in the red zone according to ESPN Stats & Information. As a rookie, Griffin completed 24 of 39 passes for 111 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Also as a rookie: Griffin ran 22 times for six touchdowns in the red zone compared to 10 rushes and no scores a year ago. Griffin is more likely to run the ball this year on a scramble than last year. But it’s his arm that Gruden wants to use inside the 20. Gruden saw Dalton mature into a good red zone passer as he gained a comfort level with his targets, going from 15 touchdowns his first year to 22 and then 23 last season.

“We still have that process going on here,” Gruden said. “Robert is still in the process of seeing the throws and sometimes he’s pulling them and sometimes he’s not. It’s a process quarterbacks have to go through. You have to practice these throws and these tight windows and gain that trust factor with the receivers. And the quarterback has to know the receiver’s going to be there.”

It’s not all on Griffin. If he can’t trust the receivers -- if they’re not running routes at the right depth for example -- it’s tough for him to unload the ball as fast as necessary. And it’s also on the run game. The more balanced you can be in the red zone the more success will be found.

But in the NFL it always comes back to the quarterback. Griffin stayed after practice late again Friday, working on his drops and footwork in the pocket. Thursday he threw to tight ends Jordan Reed and Logan Paulsen for an extra 15-20 minutes.

Griffin understands the burden he carries. And coaches and quarterbacks have often said the area quarterbacks earn their money is in the red zone.

“There’s a lot of factors involved,” Gruden said. “But mainly it’s when throwing the ball, it’s gaining trust between your receiver and quarterback … It’s started to click. I feel good about where Robert is at.”