Robert Griffin: Perfect Play Action

The Redskins have designed their offense to give him every chance to succeed, and Robert Griffin is making the most of it with play action passing.

| 5 years ago

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 RankComp% DiffYPA Diff
Robert Griffin IIIWAS37.31st+3.8+6.8

 Drop-backsAtt.Comp.TDINTComp%YardsYPAYPA RankQB RatingQB Rating Rank
with play action137113798369.9141012.51st124.91st
w/o play action2301921278166.110945.732nd92.78th

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.


Follow Steve on Twitter: @PFF_Steve

| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • Joe

    Barry Church has been on injured reserve since the third week of the season

  • Nick

    The article makes little mention of the fact that his usage has a lot to do with why his non-PA stats are so unimpressive as well. The Redskins frequently spend the entire first half of games running screens and short outs and slants. I’m not sure if it is an attempt to get in a rhythm or gauge the defense’s plans or what, but they rarely take real shots until the second half, which results in his non-PA stats showing a high completion percentage and stellar TD:Int ratio, but very low ypa.

    The last two weeks, since the bye week, however, the offense has been quite a bit more aggressive in taking shots and letting RG3 make plays in the passing game before the team is to the point of “needing” the big plays for a chance at winning. The results have been outstanding, so hopefully that continues.

    One other thing that is sort of glossed over is that RG3’s running ability and option plays aren’t the only thing making the play action so effective; he fakes a handoff better than any quarterback I’ve ever seen. That’s much more of an effort and discipline thing than skill, but most quarterbacks barely get the ball near the halfback they’re pretending to hand it off to, while RG3 really puts it in and rides the fake. Cameramen regularly get fooled by the fakes, and I sometimes have trouble with it too. As trivial as it might seem, his play fakes are and have all season been actually the thing that most impresses me about Griffin. The detail is great and I think that has a big impact on the effectiveness of those fakes.

  • LightsOut85

    GREAT article. I don’t know how to describe it other than I think it has the perfect mix of numbers & written explanation. Had a real “flow” when reading.

    I’d have to second RG3’s fantastic faking ability. They even commented on it during the Thanksgiving game. It’s very smooth & consistent, as opposed to someone like Favre who has what I like to call the “Hall of Presidents” move, where he’s like a rickity animatronic model on a track sliding back to the ball carrier, stiff-armed & telegraphing the type of play.