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SNYDER: Balance is key with RG3

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Washington Redskins and their star quarterback face a dilemma that's unlikely to fade as the season progresses. It's not a choice between equally undesirable alternatives because clearly there's an advantage in using Robert Griffin III to his fullest. 

But utilizing him to that significant and magnificent extent leads to a perplexing problem for RG3 and his coaches alike: How much is excessive and how much is enough?

Unfortunately, that's a question best answered in hindsight. When RG3 didn't get out of bounds before suffering a concussion-inducing hit against Atlanta a week ago, that was a bad decision. When he took off for 13 carries — several by design — in Sunday's 38-26 victory against Minnesota, that was brilliant strategy.

Coach Mike Shanahan actually heeded the masses and scaled back Griffin's runs against Atlanta. The fact that he got hurt anyway merely proves that the game's inherent perils are unavoidable — in or out of the pocket. But there's a heightened sense of danger whenever RG3 tucks the ball and essentially becomes a halfback, a position that doesn't enjoy the protection designed for quarterbacks.

The cringe factor is involuntary on RG3's rushing attempts but the payoff can be exhilarating, as we saw on the quarterback draw in the fourth quarter. He scampered 76 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown, creating the final margin with 2:43 remaining.

However, it was surprising to see Shanahan revert to the early-season game plan of calling Griffin's number so often. Not counting the kneel-down plays at the end of each half, Griffin rushed 11 times for 136 yards. Some were scrambles after he couldn't find an open receiver.

But about half appeared to be preplanned and/or option-reads, the type of plays that brought heavy criticism upon Shanahan.

"Sometimes designed runs help the quarterback," Shanahan explained afterward. "If he had gotten into a dropback passing game against that defense, without those designed runs, there would've been a number of sacks. Doing what he does keeps the defense off-balance and gives him a chance to stay healthier."

The Redskins face dueling health concerns in that regard, like what the Washington Nationals dealt with recently. In the short-term — as in for 60 minutes on any given Sunday — the team's won-loss record has a much-rosier outlook with a full measure of RG3. Conversely, the overall future looks dark and grim if overdosing on Griffin leaves him sidelined.

Finding the proper balance will be a seasonlong process for Shanahan, just as Griffin must find the proper proportion of staying upright or getting down. He seemed to do a good job Sunday, running out of bounds several times, though not on his long TD run.

"I got to the sidelines and thought about running out of bounds," he said, "because everyone has been telling me that lately. But I know when I have a guy outflanked and I took off running. The rest is history."

Griffin realizes his value and promised his teammates that he "won't leave them hanging" by taking unnecessary risks to gain extra yards. But the game situation still comes into play, like when he ran up the middle and dove across the goal line for a 7-yard touchdown in the third quarter. He took a hit for his troubles but put Washington ahead, 24-9.

Though it Shanahan reduced Griffin's exposure against the Falcons, Sunday's game plan against the Vikings indicates the usage will vary from week to week. The coach said he can't treat his quarterback any differently just because he suffered a concussion in his fifth NFL game.

"The quarterback has to play," Shanahan said. "I think common sense prevails and he learns every game when to slide, throw the ball away and when to get out of bounds earlier. We saw that today in a number of situations. As time goes on, he'll keep getting better and better."

That's certainly the goal. RG3's playmaking ability isn't much of a question, but his decision-making — particularly when he runs — is crucial to the Redskins' success. The coaching staff has made its decision: RG3 is going to get the ball.

What he does with it — and how often — are the only questions.

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About the Author

Deron Snyder

Deron Snyder is an award-winning journalist and Washington Times sports columnist with more than 25 years of experience. He has worked at USA Today and his column was syndicated in Gannett’s 80-plus newspapers from 2000-2009, appearing in The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit News and many others. Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder or email him at deronwashtimes@gmail.com.

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