- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

For coach Jay Gruden and quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Washington Redskins‘ victory over Philadelphia on Saturday was about getting back to basics.

The weight of a six-game losing streak had placed considerable stress on both of them, with the coach struggling to find ways to end that skid and the quarterback hoping to be a part of the solution.

Griffin got his wish, regaining the starting role he held earlier this season after a pinched nerve in Colt McCoy’s neck shelved him for the final two games. Gruden, meanwhile, met his quarterback in the middle, working a steady diet of runs and play-action passes into the game plan to accentuate his strengths.

The result was a 27-24 victory — one no doubt aided by two missed field goals by the Eagles, but a victory nonetheless.

“We needed it greatly,” Gruden said Tuesday. “I think the whole team needed it, the quarterback obviously needed it, I think everybody needed it. To go through the week, prepare and compete against a team that really had a lot to play for was a very impressive evening by a lot of guys.”

For months, it remained clear that Griffin, despite his abilities, had been having trouble adjusting to the specifics of Gruden’s offensive philosophy. Gruden, in his first year as the coach of the Redskins, predicated his scheme on timing, demanding that his quarterbacks throw the ball quickly and decisively and allow receivers to make plays.

Griffin, for the most part, struggled to do that, especially after returning from a six-week hiatus because of a dislocated left ankle. He patted the ball too long, failed to see plays develop and didn’t trust his protection. That led to significant, frequent collapses — he was sacked 16 times in those three starts — before Gruden pulled the plug and turned back to McCoy.

But with McCoy out of the picture, placed on injured reserve early last week, Gruden turned back to Griffin. He knew that some of the principles of his offense would have to be tinkered if Griffin were to succeed, and against the Eagles, Gruden used the run to set up the pass.

With running back Alfred Morris averaging a steady four yards a carry against Philadelphia — his most productive output in a month, since Griffin was pulled as the starter — the Redskins were able to do just that.

“I’m not going to sit up here and talk about that stuff,” Griffin said Tuesday when asked about the modified game plan. “We wanted to make more plays than they did, and at the end of the game, we did. That’s why we won — not just offensively, but defensively, special teams. Everybody stepped up in a big way, so I think it would be wrong for me to stand up here and kind of describe the plays I had.”

Gruden didn’t stop by fiddling with the game plan. Earlier in the week, he asked Griffin about the possibility of wearing a wristband with a selection of plays — a common occurrence in the league, but something Griffin hadn’t done since high school.

It wasn’t that Griffin didn’t understand the play calls, but that they had, at times, become convoluted. Rather than having Gruden relay his choice of play to offensive coordinator Sean McVay, and McVay giving it through the headset to Griffin, the duo could just give a number to the quarterback to bark out in the huddle.

Gruden was pleased with the early returns, but admitted that late in the game, they scrapped the idea because of the difficulty of finding the number attached to a certain play.

“We just wanted to experiment a little bit,” Gruden said. “We have some calls that are a little bit wordy, and [we] just put about five or six runs on there and a couple play-action plays and a couple dropbacks just to speed up the process, maybe, for third down, where you can say ‘Hey, No. 5.’”

When Griffin was a rookie in 2012, and the Redskins qualified for their only playoff appearance since 2007, then-coach Mike Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, experimented with a variety of plays — play-action, zone-read option, even the triple option — to take advantage of Griffin’s strengths.

Gruden, upon his hiring in January, didn’t want to acquiesce to the same degree. He believed Griffin, as a professional quarterback, could adjust to becoming a straight drop-back passer and didn’t need to sprinkle in many play-action passes.

On Saturday, he did. And while it’s no guarantee that similar designs will lead to similar results, either Sunday against Dallas in the season finale or heading into next season, it worked.

“It’s a process,” Gruden admitted. “Since [Griffin] missed so much time, we still really, to be honest with you, are getting to know one another and what he’s good at, what he likes, what he’s comfortable with.

“[But] there are certain things that he does better than others — not saying that he’s poor in anything, but there are things that he needs to continue to rep and work. Hopefully, he’ll get better.”

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