The narrative on Robert Griffin III has turned. This was entirely predictable, because it is how it works. You get built up to get knocked down. The slow starts by the Washington offense in two consecutive games has lead to the calls about Robert Griffin being ready. Tony Dungy last night suggested that he would bench Robert Griffin III in favor of Kirk Cousins. This makes me think Dungy should thank his lucky stars that he had Peyton Manning.
For those that see red-blue in a two item pattern and assume that it is red-blue-red-blue-red-blue forever, this is just confirmation that Griffin is rusty, racking up garbage yards, and we know those don’t count. Before we go deeper, here is a key audiovisual breakdown of an important play that sums up the Griffin criticism.
Oh wait, that’s a graphic at the start of the second half showing the first half stats. In the first game against Philadelphia, Washington could not move the ball early. In this one, it was a matter of some key third downs where the Packers beat them. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, it was ugly.
Here are Joe Buck and Troy Aikman talking late in the game, right before the final touchdown by Washington to make it 38-20, before Green Bay went on a seven minute possession to end the game, just as they started it, with a 13 play possession against Washington’s defense.
We will get to those hollow yards in a bit. First, before going to a more detailed breakdown, here are some key stats.
Group A: 4 plays, 70 yards, 3 first downs on series.
Group B: 6 plays, 21 yards, 2 first downs on series.
Group A is first down passes by Washington in the first half. Group B is first down runs. This was in the first half when Griffin was struggling and Washington scored zero points. Griffin was 3 for 3 passing for 76 yards. The one negative play was a sack that may have been a keeper or a pass after a run fake–it was blown up by the defensive play call, a DB blitz out of the slot to the side the fake was run.
That was a common theme. On first down, Griffin faced favorable pass situations as the Packers were focused on stopping the run and the linebackers were looking to fill. Once Washington was “behind the sticks”, the Packers blitzed early, late, and often. Five rushers came. Six rushers came. This play even shows a seven man blitz, on a ball that was batted down at the line. This was one of the plays where I have a criticism of Griffin. I thought he could have delivered the ball to #86 here early (his man defender is just off screen), and held it another second and tried to throw right.
There are of course, criticisms one could draw of Griffin, but most of them you are probably going to hear today are misguided and lazy. Some of this emanates from the broadcast crew of Buck and Aikman, who I felt were advancing a narrative early, and stuck with it. This was the most noticeable crew of the games listened to so far this year where I wondered if should believe them or my lying eyes.
On a scramble where Griffin was forced from the pocket, Aikman told the viewers, “he’s always looked to throw the ball when he’s got outside of contain. This one, though, there was a little bit of yardage out ahead of him, that he might have been able to pick up something on that play.”
I suppose the implication here is that Griffin should be running and being the old Robert Griffin. Here is the snapshot of that play right as the pass is thrown:
I don’t think I want Griffin running there, with that free defensive back coming up field. I don’t think he even gets to the line of scrimmage, and if he tries to cut inside, he risks getting buried by the defensive lineman in pursuit. The listener, though, is just going to hear that Griffin left a bit of yardage on the field.
As for those blitzes. I count a 6 man blitz on the first third down of the game, an incomplete throw to Morgan deep. The next third down was a 6 man blitz out of a 3 down lineman front. These blitzes were often featuring a slot defensive back, aligned over one of the receivers, coming well disguised. The next third down was a completion short right on a screen to Helu, that did not pick up the first down. I would bet that Washington dialed this play up anticipating another blitz with the DB to that side, and instead got a 5 man rush with the extra man coming out of the slot to the other side.
The fourth third down of the game was that seven man blitz I highlighted above. The fifth possession featured a six man blitz on third down near the scoring zone. Griffin got rid of this in rhythm to Garcon, delivered it slightly high, but certainly a ball that should have been caught for the first down. Washington then went for it on 4th and 5 from the Green Bay 29. By the way, Troy Aikman would have tried a 47 yard field goal with a replacement kicker signed this week here, down 24-0. Just sayin’. (That kicker would later miss a 50 yarder from the same area). On fourth down, the Packers actually went with only a four man rush, the first time on a third or fourth down they did that. The pass was still delivered to Josh Morgan, who deflected it for the interception.
So let’s talk about that start versus getting three touchdowns in garbage time. Obviously, the game was decided. But from an evaluation standpoint, this wasn’t a case of garbage yards. The Packers starters were in and they were playing the same way they did in the first half. They would go four man rush early in downs, but mostly brought blitzes on third and fourth.
The first touchdown came on a great throw and great catch by Garcon against a six man blitz at the goal line. The second touchdown drive really got going against the Packers when Griffin stood in and delivered to Garcon against a six man blitz on 3rd and 11. At the goal line, probably wanting to switch it up after the previous touchdown and with Washington game planning against the blitzes better, the Packers went with only a three man rush all three times starting at 2nd and goal. Griffin completed short passes all three times, including the touchdown on fourth down.
On the final scoring drive, Griffin hit Morgan against a six man blitz, and it was dropped. He then found Santana Moss against a five man rush for a big gain on the next play. He went back to Moss when the slot DB blitzed from his side, hitting him on a simple pivot route. The touchdown pass to Moss again came against a six man blitz, where he hit Moss in the back corner of the end zone on a great throw.
Overall, Griffin played well. He struggled with a few early third down blitzes, but I think that was also Dom Capers winning the early chess match with his slot blitzes. There were drops, most of which the announcers put on Griffin, but I found to be better placed than some in other games where the announcers chide the receiver when another star quarterback is playing.
I know I am not supposed to say that in a game where he finished 26 of 40 for 320 yards and 3 touchdowns, but his team was trailing 24-0 at halftime. I thought he was tentative and rusty in the first half against the Eagles. I don’t think that here. They are not utilizing him as a runner, but I think it’s time to loosen the reins. He looks just as good to me if not better as a passer compared to last year. I was impressed with how he handled the variety of defenses and blitzes thrown at him in the second half, as the Packers certainly didn’t just lay back and let off.
Washington just needs to make those one or two key plays early that extend drives, make the catches, make the blocks, anticipate the blitzes with the right play call. The offense will be just fine. The bigger issue is that defense and how much pressure it places on the offense to be perfect, or find themselves down big before they blink.
OTHER CONTENT ON THE BIG LEAD THIS WEEKEND:
Exciting Endings: Houston Survived in Overtime Against Tennessee Thanks to DeAndre Hopkins while E.J Manuel connected with Stevie Johnson to give Buffalo the win over Carolina, 24-23. The Saints also rallied to win, as Tampa again loses on the final play.
Big Hits, Big Flags for use of helmet: Brandon Meriweather Knocked Eddie Lacy Out with a Helmet-to-Helmet Shot and then Tried to Deliver Another Dirty Hit, But Got Knocked Out. Drew Brees Got Blown Up on This Sack, Drawing a Flag. Jimmy Graham also took a bad shot from Ahmad Black.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]