If the Redskins end up irrelevant and playing out the string in December, at least QB Robert Griffin III’s development would provide some intrigue. Griffin has significant room to grow as a thrower, and we’re seeing his evolution each week.
It will be interesting to see whether the Redskins have him take more straight dropbacks from under center in the second half of the season than he did during the first nine games. I’m also eager to see if he starts taking more risks to measure what throws he can get away with. He has been so careful to protect the ball – a positive, overall – that some big plays appear to have escaped the Redskins.
One element of his evolution, in particular, was evident in the second half against Carolina on Nov. 4. Griffin completed several long passes by anticipating receivers getting open. It’s an indication he knows the Redskins’ offensive scheme, their personnel and that he is getting comfortable reading defenses.
Let’s use the NFL.com coaches’ film to look at how Griffin anticipated WR Leonard Hankerson getting open on a 25-yard completion in the third quarter.
1. From the all-22 angle, we see the the Redskins present Carolina with the possibility of the triple option on first-and-10. RB Alfred Morris lines up to Griffin’s left, and WR Joshua Morgan is the tailback. Hankerson is the receiver on the right, and WR Santana Moss is to the left.
Griffin fakes a handoff to Morris in order to draw the linebackers forward and create space in the secondary. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is circled in blue.
Moss runs a go route down the middle, and Panthers CB Josh Norman runs with him in man coverage. Moss’ vertical route also occupies the attention of the single high safety. Hankerson, meanwhile, runs a deep cross underneath Moss.
2. The play-action fake draws Kuechly (circled in blue) two yards toward the line of scrimmage. He was at the 27-yard line before the snap, and he takes a hard step at the 25 to change direction and drop into pass coverage.
Griffin is looking to his left toward Moss, and he can see Norman is in man coverage and that OLB James Anderson is covering Morgan’s flare to the flat instead of dropping. That means Hankerson (circled in yellow) should have open space underneath Moss’ clearout.
3. Griffin is protected well against the Panthers’ four-man rush, which gives the route combination time to evolve. Kuechly is dropping to cover Hankerson, which is a speed mismatch in the Redskins’ favor. Norman is running stride-for-stride with Moss, and it’s clear Hankerson will be open underneath them.
4. Here we see Griffin’s anticipation. He has started his throwing motion before Hankerson clears Kuechly to the outside. Hankerson isn’t open yet, but Griffin knows he will be because of Hankerson’s speed and the fact Norman is running with Moss.
The anticipation is essential because, as we’ll soon see, Norman passes Moss off to the safety and peels back to cover Hankerson.
5. Griffin’s throw is on target, beyond Kuechly, and arrives before Norman can switch off of Moss. The reception is a 25-yard gain because Griffin anticipated Hankerson being open.
6. Here’s the play from the end-zone camera. Kuechly (circled in blue) comes up two yards because of the play-action fake. Anderson, the outside linebacker, covers Morgan’s checkdown route to the flat. And the left side of the field outside the numbers will be open for Hankerson (circled in yellow) crossing from the right.
7. Kuechly is trying to recover and drop into coverage. Meanwhile, Griffin can see the 24 on Norman’s back, so he knows Norman will be slow in peeling off of Moss and changing direction to cover Hankerson’s cross.
8. This is a great view of Griffin (circled in red) beginning his throw before Hankerson has cleared the linebacker. Griffin’s anticipation makes the completion possible.
9. The throw arrives before Norman (circled in black) can get there. Big gain - and proof of Griffin’s development as an NFL passer.