- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Waffling between faith and irritation, Redskins coach Jay Gruden kept coming back to one term Wednesday: sacks.

When asked about quarterback Robert Griffin III, three times — off separate questions — Gruden mentioned that the quarterback can’t take some of the sacks he did in last Sunday’s season-opening loss to the Houston Texans.

Griffin was sacked three times and punished numerous others. Two of those sacks Gruden feels could have been avoided. Countering sacks, coupled with intricacies like making reads against the blitz and footwork in the pocket, are among the early issues in the remolding of Griffin into a pocket passer.

“If you’re going to be a professional football quarterback, you’re going to have to learn to be a pocket passer at some point in your career and he’s learning,” Gruden said. “He’s not a finished product yet by any stretch of the imagination, but he will get there.”

Griffin’s first game of his personal repackaging was a mixed bag, much of which had to do with the Texans’ pressure. He missed wide receiver Andre Roberts for a big gain when the on-the-run throw pulled Roberts too close to the sideline. He properly read a middle linebacker blitz in the third quarter, lofted the ball to a streaking Niles Paul and hit him for what should have been a 57-yard touchdown. Paul fumbled on the way to the end zone when hit from behind.

In addition to the pressure from defensive lineman J.J. Watt and blitzing linebacker Brooks Reed, Griffin was often faced with soft coverage from the Texans’ defense, all but eliminating downfield opportunities.

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This was accentuated early in the second quarter, on second-and-9, when the Texans defense backed off.

The ball had not been snapped, yet numerous defensive players were in reverse, continuing their daylong effort to push the Redskins offense in front of them. At one point Sunday, Texans cornerbacks were almost as deep as their safeties.

“When they’re playing soft, they’re trying to see what we’re doing and react to it,” wide receiver Pierre Garcon said.

This, along with the ineffectiveness of the offense on play-action, forced the majority of Griffin’s throws to come from the pocket and be aimed at receivers running short routes.

His accuracy on the quick outs was high. They are also among the easiest throws for a quarterback to make since much of the decision-making dilemmas are removed and the rapid deployment of the ball helps mute continuous defensive line pressure. They helped bolster his completion percentage to 78.4 percent for the afternoon.

On the day, Griffin officially ran three times, sliding down when necessary. Gruden did not call a zone-read play for Griffin.

“I just don’t think the opportunity presented itself for me to gash the defense in that way,” Griffin said. “And yet, it’s always a threat. It’s always there. I’m not trying to stay in the pocket just to play quarterback. I’m trying to the play the game at an efficient level, a high level, and be what my team needs me to be to win.”

What Griffin saw from the Texans is likely to be different than what he will see this Sunday from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Their coach, Gus Bradley, helped build the Seattle Seahawks’ defense during his time as defensive coordinator in the Pacific Northwest from 2009-12. Bradley often deploys the Seahawks’ style of press coverage at the line of scrimmage, and mixes it with some zone and deep multiple safety looks. His cornerbacks should be up and challenging Garcon and DeSean Jackson more often than the Texans’ did.

Griffin faced Bradley’s defense in the Redskins’ 24-14 playoff loss to the Seahawks two seasons ago. He had a rough day, going 10-for-19 for 84 yards before leaving with a knee injury. Seattle developed into the league’s top defense from there.

Jacksonville does not carry the same high-end personnel that Seattle possesses, though it has two new players who were with the Seahawks for that playoff game, defensive ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons. Bryant said Wednesday he has noticed a change in Griffin since that game.

“It does seem like he is trying to be more of a pocket passer,” Bryant said. “He is actually letting the play develop a little bit more.”

Griffin, 24, appears to still be figuring that out in this new system. Gruden has referenced Griffin’s experience — he’s starting his third year and has played 29 regular-season games — numerous times since training camp. He pointed it out again Wednesday.

“Overall, I think from a mental standpoint, I feel good about it now,” Gruden said of Griffin’s understanding. “It’s just a matter of him getting comfortable and letting loose and playing. He’s still a young kid, he’s just got to go out there and play and let loose and let it rip.”

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