Chargers keying on RG III

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
3:33
PM ET
RGIIIJohn McDonnell/The Washington Post/Getty ImagesAlthough the Redskins have run fewer read-option plays this season, the Chargers still need to prepare for Robert Griffin III in the run game.
SAN DIEGO -- As an 11-year NFL veteran, San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Jarret Johnson isn’t used to preparing weekly for option football. And as an edge rusher whose No. 1 priority is getting after the quarterback, Johnson doesn’t like it.

But with San Diego facing quarterback Robert Griffin III and Washington’s zone read-option led by former Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, Johnson said he'll be ready.

"You see sprinkles of kind of old Denver [offensive schemes] kind of mixed in there," Johnson said. "So it’s very interesting to play against them. They've got a lot of really good personnel. I hate it. I didn’t play against it in college, so I'm still getting used to who has the freakin' football.

"It’s tough, but it’s in the NFL. As long as these athletic guys that keep coming out have big arms, you’re going to see it."

In his second season, Griffin is experiencing somewhat of a sophomore slump.

Griffin's drop in production is predictable after offseason knee surgery limited his practice time to mostly individual work and mental reps.

"I think everybody looks forward to that second year," Shanahan said. "Usually in your first year as a quarterback you're learning terminology. It's a different language, so you're trying in your mind to make that transition from college to pro. And it does take some time understanding pro defenses.

"In that second year you have a chance to go back, and while your terminology is automatic, in that second year you're getting a lot of reps going against that defense in the offseason. And when you miss that offseason, you're missing a lot of reps. Even though you’re getting mental reps, you’re not getting physical reps. So that always hurts you. But I think he feels comfortable now."

Creating explosive plays has been an issue. In 2012, Washington finished with 53 passing plays of 20 or more yards, the 12th best in the league. This season through seven games, Washington has just 16 passing plays of 20 or more yards, which ranks 30th in the NFL.

Griffin threw 20 touchdowns and five interceptions in winning rookie of the year honors in 2012. This season, he has thrown nine touchdowns and eight interceptions through seven games.

"Each year, things are going to change with how teams try and shut you down," Griffin said. "We just have to execute better as an offense. Really, every week it's not about what teams are doing to us; it's what we're doing to ourselves with mental breakdowns, and just not being on our assignments. So we as an offense have to be better there."

Even though Griffin is not playing at an elite level, he's rounding into football shape and playing better of late. And based on their struggles against athletic quarterbacks this season, the Chargers cannot afford to take Griffin lightly.

"When you do have an opportunity to get him, you've got to break down and tackle him," San Diego coach Mike McCoy said. "He's very athletic. He makes a lot of plays with his feet. And the great thing he does also, is once he gets out of the pocket he makes some big throws down the field. So it's a challenge for you as a defensive player to be disciplined and understand that you’ve got to stick to your responsibility. If you freelance at all, he'll make you pay for it."

San Diego's defense allowed Michael Vick to throw for more than 400 yards in a close victory at Philadelphia. The Chargers gave up nearly 300 passing yards and 68 rushing yards to Jake Locker in a loss at Tennessee.

And in the team's last loss in Oakland, San Diego allowed Terrelle Pryor to throw for 221 yards, two touchdowns and post a 135.7 passer rating in a humbling setback to the Raiders.

Although he hasn't been as effective, the Chargers still have to prepare for Griffin to run the read-option.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, in 2012 Washington ran zone-read plays 118 out of 994 snaps (11.9 percent). This season, Washington has run 37 zone-read plays out of 484 snaps (7.6 percent).

Griffin has not been as effective running the ball. According to ESPN Stats & Information, through seven games last season Griffin had 468 rushing yards and six touchdowns, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. Through seven games this season, Griffin has only 240 yards and no touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry.

Something that should help the Chargers contain Griffin is younger players such as linebacker Manti Te’o are familiar with defending the option in college. Te’o said the best option quarterbacks he played against at Notre Dame were Michigan’s Denard Robinson and Ricky Dobbs of Navy.

"The thing about it is every read-option is different," Te’o said. "Everybody has their own flavor. Navy's flavor was different than Army's flavor. Although the Redskins' flavor is similar to Oakland, it’s still different.

"So you have to figure out what they like to do, what they're looking at, what their keys are and who they are reading. Then go play football and know who has what. In option football, that's exactly what it is -- there are many options, and you have to make sure you have a guy for every option."

Eric D. Williams

ESPN San Diego Chargers reporter

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