We’re back with another edition of the weekly OC. Let’s get the self-promotion out up top then talk some football! Go and check out my weekly football podcast & my ALL US Sports podcast – First Take UK – that we do four times a week.
Anyways, enough of this let’s get on with it.
2013 was a torrid season for Washington and in particular the face of their franchise Robert Griffin. It’s been two years since the ‘Skins sent a bevy of draft picks to St Louis to move up the #2 overall pick and select the Heisman Trophy winner.
After a record shattering 2012 rookie season, Griffin struggled to produce anything of note in a 2013 season that was fractured by on-the-field and off-the-field controversies and setbacks.
Heading into 2014, with a new head coach, offensive coordinator and another year removed from his devastating knee injury, Griffin is widely considered to be a premier ‘bounce back’ player nominee. Or is he? It’s time to take a look at the tape and see just how far he has progressed since he was drafted in 2012; the positives, the negatives and where he stands going forward.
Off the Field
Away from the field Robert Griffin has been nothing short of toxic. A selfish ‘me first’ attitude plagued the entire Washington organisation last offseason. ‘Operation Patience’ and ‘All in for week one’ were RGIII centric slogans that served only to further himself and his own commercialisation.
I think it’s fair to compare the careers of Andrew Luck and Griffin. They were the consensus number one and two picks in the 2012 NFL Draft with many analysts siding with the fast rising Baylor quarterback rather than the perennially elite quarterback since day one at Stanford. Griffin’s ability to turn the team into the ‘Washington Griffins & Co.’ was not all his own doing, though. Owner Dan Snyder pushed him onto a pedestal that serves only to draw resentment from a veteran roster and veteran coach who felt disrespected when a rookie/2nd year QB was basking in the limelight.
That being said, Griffin did nothing to deter the owners and medias advances. Time at the White House, Nike commercials, documentaries, and a street named Robert Griffin all helped see to that. All absolutely deserved in my honest opinion, but it’s hard not to look to Indianapolis and the way Andrew Luck has embraced the game of football and being a leader as a rookie. No prime time adverts, no television series, no leaking his thoughts on the offense to the press. Just down right football. Luck joined a far weaker team and embraced being a professional football player dedicating almost all his time to two highly successful Colts seasons.
Don’t believe that Griffin’s attitude and histrionics affected the side? Well why not just look at what leading veteran and receiver Pierre Garcon had to say.
On The Field
Away from the off-the-field TMZ/ESPN analysis. Time to fully break down how Griffin has developed in the league and how he has been utilised.
The Redskins under Mike and Kyle Shanahan put Griffin into the system he was born to run: A spread pistol system that utilises stacked formations, lots of play-action, zone-reads, zone-blocking and an increasing use of motion. However, the way they’ve implemented the system has been nothing short of egregious. The more I watched the tape the more dumbfounded I was.
Let’s start with the basic concept of the Pistol offense. The Pistol was first introduced, not for athletic quarterbacks like a Robert Griffin, Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson, but to allow a quarterback to never have to turn his back to the play. On a run play, pass play or even a play action the QB can keep his eyes down field and make instant decisions based on the first step of the safeties and Mic linebacker.
The ‘Skins employ a lot of Split-Pistol concepts (two back in the backfield, one back to the side and one back behind the QB). For a right handed QB, such as Griffin, a Split-Pistol One has one back to his left side. And Split-Pistol Two has the back on his right side. It stands to reason — to keep with the key principles of the Pistol offense– that in a Split-Pistol system, using a right-handed quarterback you will predominantly play in the two-set. Meaning the QB never has to turn his back and reset his feet.
However in their Split-Back sets last year the Redskins lined up 60% in Split-One. Eliminating one of the key bonuses to running a Pistol system. But even during times that Kyle Shanahan had the Redskins in the correct formation, they still forced Griffin to turn his back.
Take a look below.
Griffin fakes the end around and fakes the reverse, two fakes that easily could have been done in front of him with built in options. It screams of a lack of trust from the play-caller to thQB. Did the Shanahans trust Griffin’s decision making? It seems not, and led to the detriment of Griffin and the team.
So why did the coaching staff not trust RGIII’s decision making?
Let’s start under center…
From under center Griffin is way below average. As you can see in the example above if he steps up into a clean pocket he has the back in the flat, the back shoulder throw to the X receiver and the Z receiver coming on the under route. Instead Griffin rolls to his right and scrambles passing up the easy out pass in the flat and putting himself and the ball in danger.
Now the Play-Action…
On first down there’s no need for RGIII to force a play so again he has any easy play to the flat that would pick up 6-7 yards.
But watch what happens when Griffin makes the correct decision.
Griffin is one of, if not the most, accurate throwers down the field I’ve evaluated out of college. His ball-location is incredible. There’s a reason he takes the risks down the field: because he knows he can make the plays. In a clean pocket, when he steps into it correctly, he’s as good as anyone.
He has a tendency to get sloppy with his fundamentals and basics but if he continues to strive to be perfect on every drop back, every hitch and every play he’ll be one the most accurate players in the league.
Interestingly Griffin struggles as he scans from one side of the field to the other. Throwing to the left side he has a 91.4 passer rating, but to the right it’s a 79.7. Is it scheme or is there something intrinsically wrong with the passer? I’d go for the former.
It’s one of the biggest debates in football: Is it the read-option that’s putting RGIII at risk? As you’ve seen from the plays above, more often than not it is Griffin’s own decision making in the pocket that puts him at risk but I do believe Washington overused the designed runs and used them in the wrong situations. For me the read-option should be a red-zone and third down package.
Too often Griffin was taking off on a designed call on first down or second downs. The ‘Skins had schemed themselves into a big play team but they need to be more methodical than that. He’s too talented and too prone to injury to force him to play a college style game. It’s exciting for fans but long-term it could kill a franchise. Utilize his athleticism outside the pocket on roll-outs and run-pass option plays don’t limit him to a designed handoff/run because even when he gets big chunk yardage if it’s called in their own half of the field it will more often than not end up with a helmet in his chest.
There’s no doubt that this is one of the most skilled players to enter the league in the past decade. I have no qualms with saying if he grows and matures off the field and takes that attitude onto the field, he will be one of the best but the best quarterback in the entire league.
Jay Gruden has just landed in a situation that has delivered one of the most talented QBs right into his lap. I scoffed at the reports when the RGIII camp tried to place the onus solely onto the Shanahans but they do have to take a big portion of the blame for some terribly called games and game-plans.
It’s up to Gruden now to take this talented young player and mould him on and off the field to allow him to reach his potential. I’m not letting Griffin completely off the hook, though. He too needs to put down the Nike commercials, the Powerade commercials, the celebrity meet and greets and focus on the field. Improve his decision making and prove to the staff and players that the franchise should be run through him and that it’s in safe hands.
We’ve got only 82 days till the College Football season kicks off and I for one can’t wait. The NCAA finally took the correct approach of moving to a playoff system (once they knew their wallets could be lined) and although it’s only four teams it will have to do to begin with.
My top five teams heading into the 2014-15 season:
5) Oregon – Mark Helfrich did an unbelievable job in year one as the new Ducks head coach. The defense continues to improve and the Oregon offense is as potent as ever. They’ve lost some key tools in De’Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff but with Marcus Mariota (my #1 QB) under center they are certainly in contention.
4) UCLA – Another Pac-12 School returning a ton of starters. They have 17 returning faces (the most of any title contender), their top four running threats, six receivers and ten tackles. Not to mention the incredibly talented Brett Hundley will quarterback the side and coach Jim Mora is into his third year as head coach. They have a favourable schedule with their only true tests coming against Oregon, Stanford & USC. If they get through that with only one blemish on their record they’ll find themselves firmly in the playoff picture.
3) Ohio State – Urban Meyer and his Buckeyes struggled at the back end of last season. Back-to-back losses stifled what was a sensational two years in which they won 24-straight games. Easy schedule or not, twenty four games in a row is an incredibly impressive feat.
The Buckeyes have 12 starters back (including their leader Braxton Miller), seven of whom are on the defensive side of the ball. You have to figure that the unit will be vastly improved led by all-Americans Michael Bennett and Joey Bosa.
Their schedule once again matches up nicely for them with their toughest test travelling to Michigan State. They have another great shot to run the table.
2) Alabama – The recent three time national champions enter neck and neck with Florida State. Don’t think that losing veteran QB AJ McCarron will have a major impact on Nick Saban and his crew in Tuscaloosa; McCarron was a terrific leader and player but the Tide have won twice in Saban’s tenure with rookie QBs; McCarron himself and predecessor Greg McElroy.
The enter the year with Jacob Coker slated to be their starter, a prospect who was tied with Jameis Winston heading into Florida State camp last year. He’s supremely talented and surrounded by some of the nation’s top talent with my #1 running back (TJ Yeldon) and #1 wide receiver (Amari Cooper).
As always any Nick Saban team will be stout defensively – unless facing Johnny Manziel – and despite the huge loss of CJ Mosely I have every faith that Saban has a player primed to fill the void.
Their schedule will be more demanding than any of the other contenders but with the talent they possess I’d be shocked if they weren’t one of the four best teams when we hear from the committee.
1) Florida State – The reigning National Champions enter the year as my #1 team. How could they not? They’re returning a ton of talent, most notably reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and have one of the best coaches in the game in Jimbo Fisher.
They face their three toughest opponents all at home and have a defense led by the spectacular Mario Edwards Jr.
This team is just as dangerous as it was last year and we could see something extremely special from Winston and the Seminoles in 2014.
This week saw us lose two sporting icons. Yesterday we lost baseball hall of famer Tony Gwynn. Gwynn was an unbelievable player and personality who was taken far too young and will be sorely missed by the baseball world.
The football world also lost one of its very best. Chuck Noll was taken from us earlier this week in what is a major loss to the football community. I encourage you all to read my colleague Neil Dutton’s piece regarding the genius of Noll. Here’s a sample.
‘’ A private man, Noll was hardly seen after his retirement in 1991. His later life was riddled by chronic back problems, restricting his mobility. He leaves a wife and son. Legend is an oft and over used term, in keeping with the transitory nature of the modern game. True legends don’t flash brilliance for three seasons then slip back into mediocrity, safe that the saturation of modern media intrusion will keep the flame alive for them. True legends turn a moribund franchise around through diligence and hard work over years in post. When contemplating crowning someone a legend, we should ask ourselves this – can we write the history of our game without mentioning that persons name? Only a fool would try to do so without Chuck Noll. He is responsible for the modern perception of the Pittsburgh Steelers as a team of winners, and his legacy flies in the face of the modern way of rebooting a franchise after every bump in the round. As NFL fans, we owe Noll a huge debt of thanks.’’
Despite making the Pro Bowl for the first time last season, the Chiefs decided to cut veteran cornerback Brandon Flowers last Friday.
The Chiefs went out and drafted the talented Phillip Gaines in the third round of the draft then placed the veteran firmly on the trading block. There were no takers and with Flowers set to make $5.5m in base salary this season the inevitable came down from the front-office and they sent Flowers packing.
In the last five years Flowers has received a +35.5 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus and should still be considered a top end talent who’s going to come in and really help a clubs secondary. There should be plenty of takers, including;
Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens are CB needy, have a championship pedigree and the money needed to court Flowers. To me it’s the best fit for both parties.
New York Jets – Flowers is strong in man-to-man coverage; a staple of Jets defense. They need some veteran savvy on the backend after losing Antonio Cromartie as well as CBs who don’t excel on one side of the field.
Atlanta Falcons – A difficult landing spot for a CB who’s looking to earn another long-term deal. You have to face Drew Brees, Cam Newton and a mixture of Mike Glennon/Josh McCown eight times during the year. It’s a tricky sell.
Detroit Lions – Detroit would be a great new home for Brandon. Unfortunately their cap situation coupled with the need for a new long-term Ndamukong Suh deal means it’s unlikely.
Overtime Part One
I’ve often criticised the Oakland Raiders organisation and their General Manager Reggie McKenzie but I have to applaud them. Take a look at the top ten ‘dead cap’ figures heading into 2014:
The 10 highest dead money totals for 2014 and the teams affected:
|Name||Team||’14 Dead $|
|Source: ESPN Stats & Information|
The Houston Texans gave up on Matt Schaub, absorbed the dead money and replaced him with? No one. The Raiders brought in a veteran QB with a defined skill set and a contract they can easily get out of. They doubled down by picking up a talented prospect, Derek Carr, in the draft who has no pressure to play week one and can work on all elements of his game (and he needs a lot of work). Congrats Raider nation. You nailed this one.
Overtime Part Two
It’s time to dip into the mailbag. Remember you can tweet @OllieUKEZ with the hashtag #Mailbag to get involved with Overtime.
This is a tricky one. The Bears are a really talented team with a really talented new coach. They have an unbelievable array of offensive weapons in Marshall, Jeffrey & Forte. But in Jay Cutler we still have unfulfilled potential. His release remains lighting quick, with a cannon for an arm and having two giant receivers to help, but he continues to make mental mistakes and cost his team points and games.
They also play in a premier division with the best quarterback in pro-football, the best running back and best wide receiver, not to mention some pretty stout defenses. It’s difficult for Chicago to even GET to the playoffs but if they do get there they’re definitely a dark horse.
It’d be difficult for the Chiefs to improve on last year. To me they’re a one-and-done playoff team and that’s exactly where I have them finishing again. They’re extremely talented defensively and have one of the most versatile fronts in the entire league. But as many positives as Alex Smith provides them – ruthless efficiency, 10-point guarantee, great decisions – He is also a source for frustration making them a one-dimensional offense. They’ll go as far as Reid’s great offensive mind can take them. I’d like to see them try and move Dwayne Bowe and maybe take a hit on the defensive side of the ball to go and get another offensive playmaker. But I have them firmly rooted as an AFC Wild Card team.
That’s it for this week.
Until next time…
You can find Oliver Connolly on Twitter where you can find more of his writing as well as hear him yapping about sports on multiple podcasts