Did it matter if Robert Griffin III passed out of shotgun formation or from under center? Well, yes, but there’s a slight asterisk. Against Pittsburgh, Griffin dropped back to pass from under center eight times. He completed three, but they went for 72 yards – and he barely missed an open Logan Paulsen or he would have had more than 100 yards on four completions alone. It suggests that big plays are possible because of the play-action look. His 37-yard pass to tight end Niles Paul came from under center. And Dez Briscoe’s dropped touchdown pass came with Griffin under center. On passes from the pistol/shotgun formation, Griffin was 13 for 26 for 105 yards.
Griffin’s athleticism in the pocket was evident on numerous throws, more so than in most games. It started early: On the first play of the second drive of the game, a screen to Joshua Morgan, Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley was rushing at him. Griffin tweaked his arm angle enough that he threw over the top of Woodley, whose left arm was in the spot Griffin would have released the ball. So Griffin ended up throwing more over the top. Subtle, but effective.
Another example on the flea flicker: Griffin never had a chance to look downfield — the All-22 tape isn’t up yet, so it’s hard to know how open anyone was — because both outside linebackers had pinched the edges, forcing him up in the pocket. Griffin runs up and to the left and on the run squares on the move, but to throw he has to turn back that way, causing him to almost pirouette as he gets hit and completes the pass.
And one more (on a drop): Griffin runs a bootleg to the right, but Woodley, again, is there. Griffin avoids him deep in the pocket and, while another defender races at him he throws as he looks like he’s about to slide. It was slightly behind Darrel Young, but in this case could you blame Griffin? No.
Loved the five-yard pass to Morgan early in the second quarter. Griffin rolls to his left, then has to pull up because James Harrison is rushing to the outside, around Paulsen. Griffin throws off his right foot as his left leg is in the air – and delivers a strike to Morgan on an out. Just a pretty pass, even if for only a short gain (and a first down)
I know the deep ball to Paulsen did not work, but it still shows a difference from last year. Griffin led Paulsen a yard too much, but he only had three yards on the linebacker so anything underthrown might have been broken up. Last year, those passes tended to be underthrown. Had Paulsen caught the ball, he’d have run another 15-20 yards (perhaps). In the past, there weren’t enough yards after the catch on this play (of course, 40 yards is better than an incompletion). Yes, Fred Davis’ speed would have made a difference here. That goes without saying. And yet I just said it.
The passback to Griffin was a risky play, but I can’t rip on it too much because I’ve seen it work many times. The problem is, the receiver must be told if he’s not absolutely wide open, don’t throw the ball. Maybe Morgan should have known that, but it’s always, always, always better to make sure he knows it and don’t leave it up to a guy who has now thrown one pass in his NFL career. He’s probably so jacked to make the pass that he’s not thinking about whether or not the safety might take his quarterback’s head off. Adrenaline takes over the decision-making. But there should be no way the ball is thrown in this situation; the 35 yards you might gain is not worth losing the franchise’s most important player – for now and the next 10-15 years. The play can be run, but only if you trust the receiver to make a good decision.
Griffin’s legs, save for his ability to extend plays, wasn’t really a part of the offense. If the Redskins are going to grow as an offense, there will be games like this and if the receivers had held onto the ball his legs wouldn’t have been needed. But Griffin really only carried two times (he was credited for six, but there was one sneak, two kneel downs and the fumbled exchange in which he’s credited for no yards). On those two plays he gained 10 yards – the quarterback draw inside the 5-yard line and a seven-yard run around right end.
On the QB draw, Griffin might have scored if guard Chris Chester hadn’t lost his block. But as Griffin starts upfield and head around right end, Ziggy Hood, sheds guard Chris Chester and forces Griffin wider. Corner Keenan Lewis is waiting. Without Hood there, Griffin could have cut tighter and perhaps dived into the end zone. Instead, Lewis got his legs and Hood got him up high. On the seven-yard run Griffin turned the corner and this time had to widen because Woodley shed Tyler Polumbus on the outside.
All things considered, Griffin’s day was not reflected in his statistics (16-34, 177 yards). Yes, there were a handful of throws that were off (not every drop, either came off a perfect pass, but receivers get paid a lot of money to catch the tougher ones, too). He handled the pressure well and made mostly quick decisions — the Redskins kept him clean with bootlegs, rollouts and play-action — but you have to give the Steelers credit for keeping him contained in the pocket. It’s probably the best job anyone has done all season in that regard, which is why he never scrambled for yardage. Of course, he had some big plays downfield that were missed – whether by inches on the pass to Paulsen or on drops. There were times when a defensive lineman, with a five-man rush, might linger in the middle in case he breaks through an opening inside. But the edge rush did a good job keeping him in the pocket when that’s where he started. And on bootlegs the backside linebacker was disciplined (usually) to stay home and keep him from running.