Robert Griffin: Perfect Play Action
We’ve been touting our new Signature Stat that breaks down the best quarterbacks on Play Action Passes, but it’s now time to take a look at some of the game film behind the best play action passer in the league, Robert Griffin III.
Most quarterbacks see a moderate improvement when using play action, as passing lanes are generally bigger with the defense having to show respect for the run. But in Griffin’s case, the difference is astronomical. His 12.5 yards per attempt when using play action ranks first in the league, while his 5.7 yards per attempt without play action ranks dead last.
% Play Action %PA Rank Comp% Diff YPA Diff
Robert Griffin III WAS 37.3 1st +3.8 +6.8
Drop-backs Att. Comp. TD INT Comp% Yards YPA YPA Rank QB Rating QB Rating Rank
with play action 137 113 79 8 3 69.9 1410 12.5 1st 124.9 1st
w/o play action 230 192 127 8 1 66.1 1094 5.7 32nd 92.7 8th
Why is there such a drastic difference?
A lot of credit has to go to the Washington Redskins’ coaching staff that has put Griffin in a position to use his unique skill set. They’ve expanded their playbook this year to include a number of zone read variations where Griffin can be used as a run threat, but they’ve also kept the base zone blocking scheme that has been a staple of the Shanahan family for a number of years. The diverse running game, along with having a run threat from both the quarterback and a running back, has made for some nice throwing lanes for their rookie passer.
That’s not to say that Griffin’s had an easy time of it on play action, but it’s his skill set that has opened up these opportunities. I compare Griffin to New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker in that their stats may be inflated because of what are perceived as ‘easier’ plays. Welker’s reception numbers are inflated every year by a number of screen passes, but he is only used in the screen game because of his after-the-catch ability. Obviously, any wide receiver would love to have the extra receptions, but Welker’s skill set allows him to make the most of those opportunities. Similarly, Griffin’s ability to torch defenses with his legs has netted him some much easier throws.
Let’s take a look at a pair of examples:
Week 11 vs. Philadelphia Eagles — 3rd Quarter, 1:23
Washington does a nice job of selling the run, the linebackers bite up to respect it, and Griffin turns his head around to a wide open middle of the field.
Outside wide receiver Josh Morgan likely has an option on his route where he can take it to the post if the deep middle of the field is open, but with the free safety staying put, he rounds it off into more of a dig route into the vacated middle. Despite tight end Logan Paulsen being a little late in picking up defensive end Brandon Graham, Griffin has a nice throwing window and a fairly easy 16-yard completion.
Week 12 at Dallas Cowboys — 2nd Quarter, 13:57
Griffin is in the pistol with a running back, fullback, and tight end in a ‘diamond’ formation. This set is rare in the NFL, but the Redskins have made good use of it this season. They fake the run and essentially run a two-man route. Much like the last play, the middle of the field is wide open, but Griffin had bigger things on his mind. Wide receiver Aldrick Robinson runs a post route on cornerback Brandon Carr, but it’s safety Danny McCray who is the key to this play. He gets caught looking in the backfield and by the time he realizes his mistake, Robinson is well past him. Here we see Griffin’s strong arm and accuracy as he throws the ball almost 60 yards in the air and hits Robinson in stride for the touchdown.
The Redskins’ offense keeps linebackers and safeties ‘on a string’ as well as any in the league. The variation in their run concepts, including the threat of Griffin as a runner, has kept those middle-of-the-field defenders moving forward, backward, and laterally with confusion.
The next step for Griffin is showing improvement in situations where the defense is expecting the pass, particularly 3rd-and-long. Without moving defenders, the throwing windows are a little tighter and the reads a little more complicated. This is not unique to Griffin as many rookies struggle in this area, but with the Redskins playing to his strengths so efficiently in the play action game, it’s going to buy him some time to develop in other areas.
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