In 2012, the Washington Redskins led the league in two important categories: big running plays (defined as runs over 10 yards) and fewest third downs faced. These two factors covered up a passing game that was mediocre at best and is still a long way from maturing.
Everything the Redskins do on offense stems from the running game. Whether it’s the pistol formation, I formation, read option, or outside-zone runs, this offense goes as the ground game goes. The passing game is simply not sophisticated enough to exist on its own when the run isn’t working.
In 2012, because the Redskins’ rushing attack was the best in the league in total yards, yards per carry, and big running plays, defenses had to commit extra men to the box, and linebackers had to react to the run on almost every play. Robert Griffin III’s running ability added an extra dimension. If defenses sold out against the zone runs, RGIII could bootleg and create big plays with his legs or his arm. If a defensive end and linebacker went with the running back on the read option, Griffin could bounce it to the outside for a big play.
As far as the passing game went, not much was asked of RGIII. The ground game was so effective that any type of play-action resulted in huge windows to throw into at the intermediate level, and Griffin wasn’t put in so many third down situations. His running back, rookie Alfred Morris, emerged as one of the best in the game at reading the defense and attacking running lanes.
The problem is that this offense hasn’t taken any strides towards improvement in 2013. RGIII was busy rehabbing all offseason, which thwarted his ability to build as much of an on-the-field rapport with his young and raw receivers. The result? Washington’s offense has become predictable.
Griffin has looked better the past few weeks, but he’s nowhere near the runner he was in his rookie campaign. Defenses can now sell out against Alfred Morris and Roy Helu knowing that Griffin is not as much of a threat to run. The Redskins have fallen back to the middle of the pack in terms of big running plays as a result.
The passing game has not evolved enough to take pressure off the running game. Last season, the Redskins’ aerial attack consisted of what Jon Gruden called one-and-done plays. Basically, everything was based off of play action and simple reads. If those weren’t there, Griffin could pull the ball down and take off. This season, RGIII’s inability to run as well has diminished the effectiveness of these plays.
It doesn’t help that Washington’s defense has been pretty bad itself. Over the first two weeks of the season, the Eagles and Packers got out to big leads that took away the Redskins’ ability to establish the run. Washington used most of the game trying to catch up by throwing – that’s kind of a problem with the passing game is built almost entirely off of the threat of run.
The question remains, how can Washington develop a passing scheme that it can rely on when it falls behind or can’t run the ball? There is certainly pass-catching talent on this roster in speedster Pierre Garcon, raw talents Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan, as well as tight ends Fred Davis and Jordan Reed. Yet this part of the offense needs time to gel together, time they lost during the offseason when RGIII was rehabbing his knee. The Redskins will certainly be able to develop over the remaining 11 games. Unfortunately, it might be at the expense of the season.