How different will the Skins' offense look this year?
The potential for a revamping of the Redskins’ offense is a topic that has been discussed by virtually everyone surrounding the team from Mike Shanahan to Robert Griffin III to Griffin’s dad to fans to columnists, beat writers, and bloggers. The debate has been whether or not to change the team’s highly successful Pistol and read option scheme—the team led the NFL in rushing and in yards per offensive play in 2012—to a more conventional attack. The primary reason that changes are being discussed is the belief on the part of some that turning Griffin into more of a pocket passer will extend his career.
But until today, nobody has been able to ask the man who will be primarily responsible for making any changes what he thinks about the whole thing. And offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan met with the media today he did not sound someone who is going to be making any major changes.
Here are some of the major points that Shanahan made in his news conference after the team’s minicamp practice today:
—Griffin was not injured on read option plays last year: “As far as the zone read and everything, it’s opened up a lot. Those aren’t really designed quarterback runs. They’re designed to give the ball to Alf [Alfred Morris] and when the whole defense is not accounting for the quarterback and taking everyone else, that’s when he goes the other way. So, I kind of enjoy the zone read because really, your quarterback’s not taking it unless there’s no one to hit him. If there is someone to hit him, you’re usually handing it off, so the zone read is something I feel in the long run helps the quarterback.”
—The Pistol formation keeps the defense guessing: “That’s the whole key to the pistol. I laugh when people talk about the ‘Pistol Offense’ because you can run the zone read out of the pistol, so it gives you the threat to run the zone read. The good thing about the pistol is that it’s the exact same as your entire offense. The quarterback is taking about three steps back behind the center, so instead of reaching his hands under the center, he’s just reaching out to catch the ball. But the back is still behind the quarterback so you can run your entire offense. Nothing changes. I think that’s the key to everything.”
—The threat of the quarterback running forces defenses to play differently: “I think a lot of it was huge. The threat of Robert running was, to me, the thing I enjoyed the most throughout the year. I go crazy thinking about blitzes every week, how we’re going to pick all this stuff up. About halfway through the year I’m starting to realize that we’re not getting any of these blitzes that I used to see. It takes a lot of stuff you used to worry about, you don’t get. The threat of a quarterback running makes defense play sound and makes them play 11-on-11, as opposed to 11-on-10 like they’ve been doing my whole career that I’ve seen. Just the threat of a quarterback who can run, especially in the running game with the zone read and everything, it, whether that’s working or not, just the threat of it, opens up everything else.”
The key to the whole thing is emphasized above. The defense can’t gamble as much when the quarterback is a threat to run. That makes it easier for the offense to attack.
Shanahan did say that they can do a better job in designing their plays to account for “free hitters”, unblocked defenders who could be a threat to hit the quarterback. But he added that they did make some adjustments last year after their Week 4 game against the Bengals, when Griffin took a pounding from the Cincinnati defense after he handed off the ball and when he still had it in his hands.
He also noted, as many others have, that Griffin did not get injured on any read option plays. Griffin sustained a concussion against the Falcons when scrambling out of the pocket on a pass play. Then in Week 14 he injured his knee during another scramble out of the pocket. Finally, the weakened knee gave way as he tried to field an errant shotgun snap in the Redskins’ playoff game against Seattle.