- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Thoughts and observations on Robert Griffin III’s game versus the Oakland Raiders:
Maybe Griffin isn’t quite what he was pre-knee injury, but he’s getting closer. By the way, you get there by playing because it’s as much a mental exercise as it is physical when coming back from a knee injury. Regardless, Griffin had several plays that showed his legs are becoming assets once again, by extending plays whether with a slide in the pocket or by eluding a blitzing corner. Yes, there were a couple times in which the Raiders pressured him into throwaways instead of scrambles. Other quarterbacks would not have escaped those situations.
Griffin still has a tendency to lock on a target or, at the least, not influence defenders with his eyes. It’s among the areas he’ll need to keep focusing on moving forward if he wants to improve in the pocket. Every game you see a defender get a good break in zone coverage because of this, leading to a breakup. Linebacker Kevin Burnett dropped into coverage on one zone (in a curl area) and broke early toward receiver Pierre Garcon because Griffin eyed him the whole way. Griffin had less of a target and threw wide (and incomplete). It wasn’t the only example. It also happened early on an out to Leonard Hankerson; the corner sat on the route as he read Griffin’s eyes and forced a tougher throw.
On the fourth-and-3 play, the Redskins had a good play called but Griffin failed to throw the ball. Safety Charles Woodson was unblocked because the Raiders overloaded that side -- and all the linemen were engaged. That put it on Griffin. Santana Moss, in a stack formation on the left, was open after getting a screen. He was not open long, but he was open. Griffin started to throw, but pulled it back down and anticipated a deeper route coming open. He did not have that sort of time; Woodson drilled him.
There’s a lot to like about what Griffin did against a solid defense. He’s limiting his hits with unnecessary scrambles. The Raiders played a lot of zone, which can be tougher to run against or at least leads to bigger hits -- defenders already are staring at him and can gather more momentum coming forward. On one bootleg to the left, Griffin had room to run had he wanted it -- the corner was about 10 yards off. Griffin likely would have scrambled for seven or eight yards. Instead, he threw back to the middle to a wide open Niles Paul who gained 16. That also could stem from knowing the offense better and trusting where players will be. He also had another run-and-dump pass to Roy Helu (not that one). This time, against a three-man rush (and zone coverage), he started up through the left side. Two linebackers, including Burnett, took off after Helu. Burnett then stopped and ran at Griffin, who finessed a nice pass to Helu on the run for a 15-yard gain. Again: his legs don’t need to equal long runs by him. But they were a factor. He did take off a little early on his two-yard scramble (ending in the ugly plop down slide). Had he kept his eyes downfield, he had either Paul or Garcon as legitimate options. That’s a tougher one though.
The other Helu pass play was vintage Griffin. The corner who blitzed, Mike Jenkins, did not plan to do so. Nobody released to his side – and no one was wide. So he blitzed. Griffin pump-faked as he looked downfield. At the last second, he turned to his right and spotted Jenkins. After stepping up, Griffin spun out and ran to his right and completed the pass to Helu. Nearly half of his 227 passing yards occurred directly because of his ability to extend plays.
On Griffin’s two zone read runs, he looked plenty quick. The difference? How the defensive back played it. The first time, Griffin tried to pull corner Tracy Porter inside with a fake and then cut wide around a Darrel Young block. But Porter did not bite and tackled Griffin outside for a one-yard gain. Next time, Griffin made the same move on Woodson’s side as he came up from the deep half. But Woodson was sprinting hard to the inside so Griffin could swerve wide for seven yards. His quickness looked good on that run.
Two other plays stood out because of Griffin’s effort in the pocket: The 33-yard pass to tight end Logan Paulsen and a 16-yarder to Garcon. In both cases Griffin had to slide to his left under pressure. He kept the ball up and his eyes downfield, allowing him to see his receivers. He threw a bullet to Paulsen back across his body. And you can tell he has a different trust with Garcon than others. This play shows why. Garcon had to jump up to grab the high throw right in front of the safety. The Redskins don’t have another receiver who would have made that play (though tight end Jordan Reed makes those grabs too).
Griffin was better on third-down passing in the second half, completing three of his first four (3-of-6 for the final two quarters total). His five-yard touchdown pass to Garcon occurred on third down; a good throw on time, but also with a linebacker headed his way. Griffin never looked at him.