Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Trouble with RG3

Halfway through his second season, it’s impossible to call Robert Griffin III anything but an unrefined quarterback. Slowed by his surgically repaired right knee and often playing from behind, he’s learning how to be a drop-back passer the hard way

By
Andy Benoit
· More from Andy·

Robert Griffin III was the NFL’s most talked about player entering the season, and the conversation surrounding him hasn’t waned over the first nine weeks. Much of it has been conjecture and pontification, which is the nature of football’s media coverage. As a result, some important points have been lost along the way.

There’s no question that RG3’s surgically repaired right knee has significantly impacted his game. His trust in the knee seems to fluctuate, and it’s no surprise that his running prowess has declined. Through the first half of the 2012 season, he had 24 scrambles for an average gain of 12.0 yards. According to Football Outsiders, he also averaged 4.8 yards on 40 “other runs” such as read-options, draws and bootlegs. So far this season, Griffin has scrambled 18 times for an average of 5.7 yards. He’s averaging 5.9 yards on “other” runs, but those attempts are down 30%. It’s clear that he lacks the same burst and change-of-direction quickness that defined his rookie season.

Griffin has also been cautious with his knee when dropping back to pass. Though he is stepping into his throws with more conviction than he did back in September, his footwork remains inconsistent and has led to accuracy glitches, with too many of his balls sailing high.

These issues aren’t great secrets.

If he can't flourish as a pocket passer, hits like these will eventually catch up with Robert Griffin III. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
If he can’t flourish as a pocket passer, hits like these will eventually catch up with Robert Griffin III. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Less noticed, but more important, is his failure to grasp the cerebral elements of his position. Because his otherworldly athleticism has diminished, Griffin is now operating from the pocket more often. Every great NFL quarterback (with the possible exception of Ben Roethlisberger) has a refined pocket presence. Griffin, at this point, does not.

This should be alarming to Washington, because it factors into the amount (and severity) of hits RG3 takes. Last season Griffin absorbed many big hits at the end of scrambles. He scrambled because he was a one-read quarterback, meaning he tucked the ball and ran if his initial receiver wasn’t open. Though he remains mostly a one-read QB in Washington’s run-based system, Griffin has been given more multi-progression play designs by head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. (It’s been a must because Washington has played from behind more than any team except for Jacksonville.)

Griffin’s growth has been sluggish here. To be fair, he’s only 23 and he spent the entire offseason rehabbing his knee. And the process isn’t as simple as the Shanahans saying, “On these next few plays, if Option A is covered, we want you to stay in the pocket and look for Option B instead of scrambling, and if he’s covered, go to Option C.” Staying in the pocket requires fine-tuned mechanics. It also requires the quarterback to actually understand what he’s looking at.

Inexperienced quarterbacks often think that reading the field means recognizing when a guy gets open. Great QBs know that reading the field is more about recognizing when a guy is not open. Quickness is the key to good recognition. Great quarterbacks have a scientific understanding of how each route works in relation to the others, and how they’re all designed to leverage different defensive looks and find holes in the coverage.

After diagnosing the defensive scheme, a great quarterback knows almost immediately what his best options are. Instead of waiting to see if Option A, B or C eventually gets open, he treats those reads as quick confirmations (maybe a defender has slipped?) before targeting Options D and E. This is how QBs like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are able to work deep into their progressions, and why they’re so tough to stop.

An unrefined quarterback sits in the pocket and waits … and waits … and waits … for Option A to get open. Or, when he finally moves on to Option B, he starts the mental process all over again. He treats Options A, B and C as separate entities, not realizing that the specific way in which Option A is covered often reveals everything he needs to know about B and C. By waiting too long on Option A, the window for hitting B or C—exploited spaces that are often built into the play design—can open and close without the quarterback ever seeing it.

Halfway through his second season, Griffin is unmistakably an unrefined quarterback. He is unable to consistently anticipate whether receivers are going to be open or covered. He tends to fixate on his initial read, which leads to trouble.

There were several illustrations of this in Washington’s Week 8 loss at Denver, where Griffin was hit (often viciously) on half of his drop-backs. Several of those hits, including the two plays broken down below, were enabled by his poor pocket presence and his inability to make multiple downfield reads.

Graphic A1

Graphic A2

Graphic A3

Graphic A4

The only thing worse than taking an unnecessary hit is taking such a hit while failing to see a wide open touchdown. Take a look at the play below:

Graphic B1

Graphic B2

Graphic B3

Graphic B4

Plenty of young quarterbacks struggle in the pocket like this. Griffin has the potential to be great, but he must get sharper as a pocket passer no matter how well he runs.

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20 comments
LeslieLittle
LeslieLittle

Chris Collinsworth is a big dummy too...last year RG3 lost his top 2 recievers and was throwing his to 3, 4 and 5 recievers..and if his 1st choice was usually open...it was because of how badly he fooled defenses...his passes are sailing on him now...just like they were right after he injured his knee the 1st time in that playoff game to Seatle. At this point, right now...its all mental...after the knee heals, then your mind has to, and that takes alot longer...but it will come back, and no team in the NFL will want to play The Redskins. Because of the time he's spending now as a young pocket passer...then all the more deadly he will be when he's all the way back..physically and mentally. Next year RG3 will be a major force to be reckoned with in the NFL. And no one is smarter : )

LeslieLittle
LeslieLittle

ok listen up dummies...i had a severe knee injury same or worse as RG3's..if u think for one second that any human beimg can be the same after something like that..well then all I can say is you have never lived it...Trust me on this tho...RG3 wil be fine..it takes a couple of years to get over that devistating injury..and dont blame it on..Oh RG3 was too egotistical, or I'm the starting QB of this team and I'm the best option to come out of that playoff game...that's balony...its called cometivness ok. I for one was never gonna be taken out of a game unless I was carried out of the game..and i didnt play for money..just for fun

JamesLee1
JamesLee1

This one-read stuff came from Chris Collinsworth during the Sunday Night Game.  It's not entirely untrue but a more factual statement would've been:  "Due to the effectiveness of the read-option last season, defenses were often frozen and Safeties were so often out of position that Robert's 1st read was often wide open (and thus targeted) so he never truly gained much experience going through multiple reads."  BTW, Griffin very rarely simply tucked and ran.  Usually, he used a bootleg or moving pocket to great effectiveness and if no one got open he'd run in certain spots.  He rarely, if ever, simply gave one look to his primary receiver and just took off running which you are implying.  

Rex1979
Rex1979

Good analysis.

I will point out though that RG followed up his worst game of the season in Denver with his best game of the season versus the Chargers.  That’s because he has amazing character.  That is very encouraging. He is a leader.  He was challenged in the media by his best receiver and he responded in a must win game for Washington.

He consistently made 3rd down throws from the pocket last game to keep the chains moving versus the Charger.  Those are the money downs in the NFL.

Here’s the big question: Can he do that two games in a row? Can he do that 3 or 4 games in a row?  Thus far he has not shown the ability this season to put two great performances together.  Perhaps he can do that tonight versus a depleted Vikings secondary.

When you have a rushing attack that is top 7 in the league and a QB that can consistently convert on 3rd down like he did versus the Chargers it keeps the other team off the field.  


aaronin14
aaronin14

This is exactly the kind of stuff I love to read. Insightful, interesting and it makes me a better fan of football for helping explain something that I honestly hadn't quite grasped as fully as I wish I had. Brilliant, keep this stuff coming. 

unit5139
unit5139

that's an amazing article, thank you. i just learned more about pro football than i have in 5 years.

danek73
danek73

This is a fantastic article - really insightful, well-written and with visuals that work brilliantly. Can't remember when I last learned so much from a single piece. Thank you Andy, and keep up the good work.

Sabahtwit
Sabahtwit

Awesome insight. Finally the truth. It's not bad play calling that is different in Washington this year....It's a bad "RG 3&Out"

BenWilliam
BenWilliam

This is very good sports writing.  Thank you. 

AlexCross
AlexCross

He's got some work to do. Tough to take advantage of a clean pocket when you see one 4 or 5 times in a game. Tough to take advantage of a clean pocket when you just got drilled into the ground on the previous play. The headline suggest all hope is lost but he made some nice passes from the pocket on third down in the chargers game. I will withhold judgement until he gets a full off season of work with the number ones and his coaching staff.  Not like the guy is Randall Cunningham at the end of his Eagles tenure.

Jon8
Jon8

I believe Shanahan destroyed the career of RGII by not taking him out of the game at half time when he hurt himself last year!

Forget the, he said he could go nonsense, forget the Doctor said he could play, everyone watching could see he was hurt and ineffective!

Time for Shanahan to go!!!

zemongoose
zemongoose

A very insightful read. I sure RGIII will make huge strides in his reads. I just hope he doesn't take too much punishment as he's learning.

trechenbach
trechenbach

This is a good read but honestly I think you're completely missing the point. You're referencing the Denver game and specifically a couple plays in the game that RGIII himself said was his worst game of his career. That play where he missed garçon for a wide open TD and took a big hit was a play that he even noticed immediately after the play that he screwed up because he was seen on camera screaming at himself.

Look, he isn't the same RGIII but to say he's a horrible pocket passer is just so off base. You don't reference his most recent game where he went through his progressions and found other WR's. Also, where were you last year? He is making the same one read plays as he did last year but he's just missing the throws this year. He's just more inaccurate but he is not just standing back there taking unnecessary hits. He's no Manning but Manning wasn't Manning either in his second year. Give him some time and stop writing articles just to get a rise out of people. If you're gonna reference game film than do it from the games he does well not the one game this year where he played horrible.

Rumrunner11
Rumrunner11

Really good read.  I'm sure it will draw some nasty comments from RGIII fans (who are many), but the breakdown of the different plays is fascinating.


Fair that you noted he missed the offseason to grow his game - that can't be discounted, but both your illustrations show pretty clearly that he's slow to responded.  Hard to say for sure, but in the second example it looks like he locks in on Reed and doesn't even notice Morgan to his right.  Garcon was a definite touchdown, but Morgan had an easy 15-20 yard gain himself and an easy throw to execute. 

flamiemcflamerpants
flamiemcflamerpants

@Rex1979 Yes, such amazing character that he wouldn't take himself out of the playoff game last year with his injured knee, even when he knew he was harming his team, because, and I quote, "I'm the QB, I'm the best option, I'm the starter" or better said "I was too prideful to take myself out of the game".  Kirk Cousins provede that he could win just as well as Griffin, and Griffin was too cocky and didn't want someone stealing his glory.  

The problem with Griffin is he is buying into the hype all the media types constatly say that he's a 'great QB' and he's 'sensational' etc.   He's not great.  He's mediocre and can only benefit from a college system.  Watch him over and under throw his receivers constantly.  He can't make proper reads.  He holds the ball too long.  His running is affected because he doesn't want to bust his knee again.  He also takes too many chances and will throw his body in harms way for nothing but a highlight.  The way he is going, he won't have a very long career.  

He still has room to grow, and can become a great QB.  But coaches and the media need to stop babying him.  

matthewmhunter
matthewmhunter

@trechenbach I think you're correct and a better example to be used i the article was the game against San Diego, where he was trying to focus on his first read or a particular receiver, meanwhile, two other receivers were wide open, one, uncovered entirely in the end zone. while the pass was successful, it was the third best option

HelmetHead
HelmetHead

@trechenbach You aren't suggesting this was the only game RGIII played poorly in this season ... right?

WilliamBarbour
WilliamBarbour

 It's mostly a 2-3 read system at max. Most of the routes come from the same side of the field. So what looks like he's starting down. He's actually reading the defender. 

You should do some research before suggesting he just stares down everyone.

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