A few things that stood out about Robert Griffin III’s first game, after watching the game again:
1. Big plays: Griffin extended the play on five occasions; three of them resulted in big gains. All three occurred on scoring drives totaling 17 points.
Griffin’s first big play with his legs: a second-quarter bootleg to the left in which, again, he was looking at Young. The fullback was open too and could be seen clapping his hands for the ball. Yes, there was a rush but Griffin could have hit him. But as blitzing safety Malcolm Jenkinsclosed in, Griffin slid to his right and – after 5.4 seconds -- threw a rope to Fred Davis for 26 yards.
Another was the 32-yard pass interference penalty in the end zone on fourth and 1 in which Griffin rolled right, saw his first target, Darrel Young, was covered and heaved the ball to Aldrick Robinson. He made the throw in 3.5 seconds.
The other big play occurred when Griffin found Santana Moss for what should have been a 27-yard gain (but turned into 16 yards because of a Roy Helu penalty). Griffin stood in the pocket for 4.1 seconds then ran to his left. The play lasted 5.8 seconds.
Of the two incompletions: One took 5.2 seconds (Griffin left the pocket at 3.1 seconds, ran to his right and threw deep to the end zone. Moss had started to turn upfield as Griffin scrambled, then broke off as the ball was being thrown so no one had a chance. The other one took 4.0 seconds off a bootleg and was wide to Davis.
2. Trust: A lot of plays exemplify this, but there were two that stood out and both just so happened to involve Robinson. But the first time the trust was in his protection and resulted in a five-yard touchdown. The Saints rushed six players, leaving the Redskins’ five linemen and running back Roy Helu in one-on-one blocking. Griffin never showed a hint of panic, standing calmly and delivered a strike. Griffin showed urgency, but his feet remained calm as he let the route develop.
Another time he showed trust in his receiver to run the right route. Again, it was Robinson. This time on a second and 19 Griffin faced the heaviest rush of the day as the Saints sent seven men. The Redskins had only six to block, so a delayed blitz left a defender unblocked running at Griffin. He threw to Robinson on the left side running a hitch. As the ball is in the air, Robinson starts to turn around. The defender, Patrick Robinson, reaches over and if the ball had been throw just a little later, he would have knocked it down. Or if the ball had been put too far inside, it’s a deflection. Instead, he allowed Robinson to ward off the defender by putting it enough to the inside, and in the middle of his body (away from Robinson's left hand). You can’t make this throw if you don’t trust the wideout to be where he’s supposed to; otherwise, it’s an interception.
3. Fakes: I could do a whole report on every play fake that fooled the Saints and the impact of the zone read on the plays. There were many, many examples. But I’ll stick to a couple plays. It would be easy to pick one or two from late in the game, but at that point the Saints are selling out to stop the run thinking the Redskins would work the clock. Different situation. But that wasn’t the case throughout much of the game.
There were times when players were fooled but, because of one mess-up, the hole closed. That happened once when linebacker Curtis Loftonwent with the flow on a stretch zone to the left in the fourth quarter. After Griffin handed to Alfred Morris, he turned as if continuing on a bootleg to the right. That was enough to cause Lofton to stutter step, allowing Will Montgomery to reach him. Alas, a block was missed at the line and the play resulted in only three yards, but it’s the hesitation in Lofton that will be seen often. And if the blocks are held, the gains will be long. On another play, this time a legit bootleg, the right end (Turk McBride) has no clue where the ball is. He’s pursuing Morris as Griffin gets outside.
The first series alone featured the impact of the zone read and how it opened space on the bubble screens. Wrote about that after the game. No need to repeat.
The touchdown pass to Garcon was, also, set up by the fakes. It bit a number of people and prevented what could have been a big play by the Saints’ defense. Safety Malcolm Jenkins is an eighth defender in the box so the Saints are clearly expecting a run. Jenkins blitzes backside on a stretch zone look to the right (Griffin was under center, by the way). Jenkins and the other front seven members go with the fake (a simple play-action, not a zone read). Jenkins stutter steps as Griffin pops back and has an open passing lane to hit Griffin. Had Jenkins not hesitated, the play might have been different. He did; it wasn’t.
By the way, Jenkins had to hesitate on his blitz another time too. On the first play of the second quarter Griffin faked a stretch zone to the right, with fullback Darrel Young heading out to the left flat (swap-boot). Once Jenkins realized his mistake, he changed directions. But it’s tough to recover and then catch Griffin and indeed he was able to get wide, and re-set and throw to Davis.
This is one of my favorites because the Saints had clearly made an adjustment to the zone read. But Kyle Shanahan stayed a step ahead of them. On the first play of the third quarter, Griffin fakes the zone read handoff to Morris. That brings safety Malcolm Jenkins flying up from the left hash, about 10 yards deep all the way over to the outside of the right end. My guess: he was responsible for Griffin keeping it wide. Ah, but Griffin stepped back and hit Santana Moss for 14 yards. A better pass (it was low and forced Moss to stumble after the catch otherwise it could have been a long gain. The lane was open, too, because the two linebackers (the Saints were in nickel) were near the line. Nobody dropped. Easy throw.
On first and 10 from the 19-yard line in the second quarter, Griffin has an easy decision on a zone read as left end Cameron Jordan flies inside to get Alfred Morris. The outside was open and if tight end Fred Davis had held his block better, or shoved the guy wide or something, then Griffin would have gained more than seven yards. Still, the fake worked.
That’s it; you get the point. The zone read fakes work.
4. Forced throws
Griffin forced one pass in the red zone to Moss in the end zone. It’s a similar set to the play that worked for a touchdown vs. the Colts in the preseason. But the Saints wisely played zone on this play; very tough to defend that look in man coverage. Griffin got away with that one.
Griffin got away with two other near mistakes: the deep ball down the left side to Robinson in which the corner nearly made a terrific leaping pick. And another time in which he threw high to Robinson on an out to the left. But had the ball not been high, the pass would have been intercepted. If that was the intent of the throw, then kudos.