Imagine a scientist who dedicates his life to curing a disease. He tirelessly studies it, examining for weaknesses. He experiments, collects data and performs more tests, as the cycle plods. Meanwhile, the quest for the remedy consumes him, even defines him.
In the world of football, Kyle Shanahan is that scientist — sans the disheveled gray hair and lab coat, of course.
Shanahan is a football junkie who freely acknowledges he has no life outside the sport. He’s addicted to watching film, a passion that formed as a boy following his father.
To Shanahan, defenses are the disease. And last season, he discovered the cure.
“The threat of a quarterback who can run, especially in the running game with the zone-read, whether that’s working or not — just the threat of it — opens up everything else,” he declared Wednesday.
Shanahan couldn’t hide his excitement nine months after his eureka moment. The threat Robert Griffin III posed as a runner last year slowed opponents’ pass rush, froze linebackers and simplified coverages. That threat, he discovered, produces a cornucopia of yardage and points and victories.
If Griffin embraced that fact — which the game film and statistics prove — then there would be harmony at Redskins Park.
“I go crazy thinking about blitzes every week,” Shanahan said. “How are we going to pick all this stuff up? About halfway through the year, I’m starting to realize we’re not getting any of these blitzes that I used to see. It takes a lot of stuff you used to worry about, you don’t get.”
Shanahan and his father surely have emphasized to their franchise quarterback how the zone read will help him become an elite passer by forcing opponents to play sound 11-on-11 defense. There’s plenty of evidence in game film cut-ups and the list of NFL rookie passing records Griffin set in helping the Redskins average more yards per play than any other team.
Griffin grew up a fan of Mike Shanahan’s Denver Broncos. He watched Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway lead two Super Bowl-champion offenses that ranked fourth in the NFL in yards per pass without the help of the zone read. And Mike and Kyle Shanahan would be among the first to say Griffin has the arm strength, accuracy, mechanics, vision and decision-making skills to be such an effective passer.
We also can’t diminish how Griffin’s second severe anterior cruciate ligament injury and rehabilitation impacts his psyche. He was in tears after waking up from surgery Jan. 9. Griffin requires some emotional healing, as do others in the organization.
Ultimately, though, eliminating the zone read from the Redskins’ game plan as it relates to Griffin’s health is a moot point.
The threat of the zone read slows the opposing pass rush, which helps preserves Griffin’s health in the pocket.