It’s fair to say that the Redskins 2012 season was effectively ended when Quarterbacking sensation Robert Griffin III suffered a knee injury in Washington’s week 14 win over Baltimore in ‘the battle of the beltway’, and then re-aggravated it in the play-off loss to Seattle.
The injury may not have been the result of the read-option, as it was a scramble on a straight drop-back, and he had sufficient time to go down safely prior to the tackle.
However, despite it being common knowledge that pocket passers like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are equally susceptible to injury, recent comments from Griffin about the need to run more may have Skins fans and Dr. James Andrews collectively bracing themselves.
Griffin's legs provided an extra dimension last season to the overall potency of the Redskins offense in 2012-13, to the degree where many were reluctant to send extra rushers while also playing man coverage, fearing (and with good reason, just ask former Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan whose unit received a thanksgiving roasting to the tune of 417-yards, and 38 points at the hands of Griffin and co) what would happen if the rookie quarterback escaped from the security of the pocket and broke out into the open field.
He (Griffin) would eventually finish the 2012 campaign with 815-yards, averaging 6.8-yards-per-carry, and registering seven scores in the process.
2013 has presented a very different picture thus far; over the two games played to date, Griffin has averaged 2.8-yards-per-carry.
Conservatism born out of concerns over the knee may serve as the post plausible explanation, but there are other factors at play. One of which being defensive deficiencies have led to the Redskins being behind by a combined 50-7 in the first half of both games, a reality that has contributed mightily to the concession of 1,023-yards at the hands of both the Eagles and Packers respectively.
Thus, Griffin has been forced to air it out more than he ordinarily would, creating an imbalance leading to the conversion of 5 out 21 third downs. "I'll do whatever we have to do to win the game," said Griffin. But is he being asked to do too much?"
After surgery to repair his battered knee, and with others, including the player's own father, stating in no uncertain terms they were loath to see him run too much, some wondered if this would signal a directional chance for Griffin and the offense.
RG3 however, was having none of it - "The plays are in, they're ready to run, and I'm ready to run them," Griffin said. "We just haven't had a chance to do them because we've fallen behind too much. It's not that I want to run more, I just feel like that's what we need and if that's what it takes for us to win games; I'm willing to do that. It's not anything I'm going to shy away from.”
However, he won’t just run for the sake of it. When the Redskins used the zone read-option against Green Bay last Sunday, for example, the Packers sent a linebacker right at Griffin to force a handoff.
When they rushed him, the ends stayed wide and they blitzed the middle, keeping him contained (Has Don Capers already found the key to unlocking the read-option?)
"It's not going out and running to prove other people wrong or prove other people right," Griffin stated whilst addressing the associated press.
"You have to do it when the time arises, and I haven't had those opportunities in those first two games. Hopefully I'll get that opportunity in this game and it will be a spark for our team."
Griffin, refuting teammate Pierre Garcon's assertion, said the brace on his right knee hasn't slowed him down. Shanahan claims he can't see a difference.
"I've seen in practice that he's got some pretty good speed," Shanahan remarked. "Is it the same speed it was before? I can't tell you that, but I do know it's a much different game when you get behind by 20, 30 points … We're not going to abandon our offense. I know we haven't been very impressive, but we still have a lot of confidence in what we're doing." .
Shanahan may have confidence in his triggerman, and with good reason, given the extraordinary gifts bestowed upon him, and with the four teams that ran the read-option as a major part of their offense - 49ers, Panthers, Redskins and Seahawks going a combined 39-24-1, winning four of the two NFC’s divisions in the process, the formula clearly has its merits.
That being said, Cam Newton is 6.ft.5 and 245-pounds, whereas RG3 is a lankier 6.ft.2 and 217-pounds, and with a suspect knee, durability is a major concern moving forward.
Shanahan and Griffin can spin reality any way they want, but overburden the load (on the knee) and they (Shanahan, and Garcon, in this instance) and the Redskins organization will ultimately wind up seeing a difference that could be to the detriment of not only the organisation, but to this most precocious of talents.
It’s called the read-option, but one major miss-read, and Washington may see their options greatly reduced.
Shanahan, Dr. James Andrews, you’re on the clock!
image: © Keith Allison