Redskins' RG3 not so easy to read

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Sports,NFL,Redskins,John Keim

Saints learn the lesson Redskins already knew

ASHBURN -- The Redskins' linebackers didn't sympathize with their counterparts in New Orleans on Sunday. They did, however, understand what they were going through. They had been through it themselves this summer, during training camp practices.

They had tried to stop Robert Griffin III on those zone read plays. Sometimes they guessed right and the play ended. Other times they froze, uncertain who had the ball, which is what happened to the Saints during the Redskins' 40-32 season-opening win Sunday.

Griffin's ability to execute the zone read -- he ran it at Baylor -- was pivotal. And it will be pivotal all season.

- John Keim

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Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon still has a bruised right foot, and it remains uncertain whether he will play Sunday vs. St. Louis. Garcon said Sunday he would play vs. the Rams. But coach Mike Shanahan said his availability depends on how much Garcon can play with pain. Shanahan called it a "nagging injury" similar to turf toe. If Garcon can't play, then second-year Aldrick Robinson would take his spot. Robinson caught four passes for 52 yards -- and drew a 32-yard pass interference penalty -- in Sunday's 40-32 win over New Orleans.
» Long snapper Nick Sundberg broke his left arm and won't play vs. the Rams, Shanahan said. But neither Shanahan nor Sundberg knows how much time he will miss. Sundberg said there's a chance he will play with a brace. The Redskins likely will work out long snappers Tuesday. Sundberg broke his arm on the punt block in the second quarter. He stayed in the game and snapped another eight times. "At the end of the day you have to look at yourself and see what you're made of," Sund?berg said. "It really was a test to myself. It's pretty terrible, but I felt like I really didn't have another option. ... There was so much adrenaline when I was on the field it wasn't an issue."
» Redskins safety Jordan Bernstine tore the ACL, MCL and PCL in his right knee and will miss the rest of the season. The Redskins signed Jordan Pugh to replace him. Pugh started a combined three games the past two years with Carolina.

"He's very patient. It freezes you," Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "As an end, I'm closing down and he's holding the ball, and you don't know if the running back or he is going to keep it. All of a sudden you have to take one, and then the other has the ball. It's a huge problem."

The Redskins didn't show this part of their game until Sunday, though they worked on it all summer. The impact was noticeable Sunday. On the first drive, the Saints' linebackers couldn't get outside to cover the bubble screens because they had to pause -- and pause a little more -- to see who had the ball. It enabled left tackle Trent Williams to then seal the linebacker, creating a lane for the receiver.

They delayed the linebackers more than a normal play-action fake would with the threat of a quarterback who could run or pass.

"Not a little bit more," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "A lot more."

New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins had two chances to sack Griffin. But in each case he hesitated as he came through because of the fake handoff to the running back. And that hesitation allowed Griffin to complete these two passes as he was hit: an 88-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon and a 26-yard pass to Fred Davis.

Griffin doesn't have to run the ball often for this play to work.

"You only have to run it two or three times a game," Shanahan said. "But in the back of their mind the defense knows you have the ability to do it."

On Garcon's touchdown pass, no linebacker jumped in the passing lanes. All fell for the fake. On the second play of the third quarter, another fake froze all three linebackers again. With another open passing lane, Griffin connected with receiver Josh Morgan for 21 yards.

Nobody knows better than the Redskins' defenders what it's like to face Griffin on these plays.

"You haven't seen these offenses since high school or college," Orakpo said. "Now you've got to be disciplined to stay with your assignment. That presents a problem. You want to get up the field. You want to get big plays. Guys want to rush and fill the gaps. All of a sudden they draw back the play-action pass, a quarterback keeper. It's a challenge."

The Redskins dealt with this last season when they faced Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who also ran the option game. That's why they say that, though teams now have film on Griffin, stopping this part of the offense won't be easy.

"Preparing for it and facing it are two different things," Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "Last year we prepared for Carolina, and we were ready for all that he was going to do. But once you get the player out there, whether it's Cam or in our case Robert Griffin III, it's a whole new ballgame. ... Thank God we don't have to face him."

jkeim@washingtonexaminer.com

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