His talent is undeniable. He can throw the ball out of the stadium. In his brief career we’ve seen his ability to make some unbelievable passes. As a runner he can get to the edge and create explosive plays. He’s the definition of a dual threat. Unfortunately, that ability to make plays with his legs was clearly diminished in 2013 after his knee injury. Yet the bigger issue is that because of his knee, Robert Griffin III’s pocket passing skills were put on full display in his sophomore season; and they proved to be merely adequate.
In his rookie season, the Redskins ran tons of zone-read play fakes, as well as other types of play action. Because of the threat of RGIII’s legs, linebackers were sucked up towards the line of scrimmage, leaving a huge void in the intermediate levels behind them. Griffin’s first receiver was generally open. If he wasn’t, Griffin was able to pull the ball down, escape the pocket and create explosive plays with his legs.
In 2013, linebackers still bit hard on play action, leaving huge voids behind them for open receivers. The only difference was that if Griffin’s first receiver wasn’t open, he wasn’t as quick to run. Whether the knee still hurt or felt unstable, or whether he just didn’t trust it as much, Griffin wasn’t as successful creating plays with his legs in his sophomore season. The knee forced him to play from the pocket much more than in 2012. And because so much of his success passing the year before was based off of the threat of his legs, the lack of the same explosiveness hurt his general effectiveness as a passer.
Griffin looked very uncomfortable at the beginning of last season. Much of this was probably due to rust, but the knee also played a significant factor. Griffin didn’t drive off of his back leg (the injured leg). He would often lift up his back foot before releasing the ball. His feet were all over the place, meaning his mechanics and therefore his accuracy suffered.
While he did eventually look healthier as the season went on, Griffin still didn’t look incredibly impressive from the pocket. Healthy or not, Griffin hasn’t looked comfortable throughout his NFL career the longer he’s had to hang in the pocket. He isn’t a refined passer, and he hasn’t yet shown the ability to consistently move from receiver to receiver. His feet aren’t always ready to throw, and this doesn’t have anything to do with his injury.
The below play provides a good example of how Griffin’s inability to consistently play from the pocket hurts him as a passer. On this particular play, a 3rd-and-10 situation, he faced quick pressure to his left. This called for him to climb the pocket to avoid the rush. As you can see, Griffin started moving up in the pocket.
The issue here is that Griffin never reset his feet even though he had ample room to do so. Instead of shuffling forward in the pocket while maintaining his throwing base, he started to run.
In this case, Griffin was locked on to wide receiver Aldrick Robinson streaking deep through the middle of the field. Had Griffin calmly shuffled in the pocket and reset his feet, he may have seen Santana Moss over the middle of the field for an easy pitch and catch and a first down. Instead, Griffin threw a low percentage pass on the run for what ended up being an incompletion (Aldrick Robinson did end up slowing down in his route, but the point here is that Griffin missed an easy drive-extending completion right in front of him).
When a quarterback moves to run, he generally cuts off a part of the field because of his body positioning which limits his options. He can either run or throw in the direction in which he is moving. This is clearly what happened on this play.
For Griffin to take the next step as a passer, he’ll need to improve his mechanics from the pocket. His footwork and ability to work through his progressions are necessary for him to gain more precision in his game. Should he do that, the consistency will come.
Anticipate RGIII having a bounce-back season in 2014. Mike Shanahan did him a favor at the end of the year by not playing him (no matter how controversial it was). Griffin was taking a beating in his last few starts, and if he suffered another serious injury, a second straight offseason of rehab would have been detrimental to his development. But because Griffin has been able to work on his game and not just his health over these past several months, he should be much improved as a passer. Those explosive RGIII running plays should return to the Redskins offense this season as well.