We don’t know what Jay Gruden’s Redskins offense will look like but it’s growing apparent that it won’t look a whole lot like the one that Mike and Kyle Shanahan drew up during the team’s run to the NFC East title in 2012.
During his rookie season quarterback Robert Griffin III ran the zone read on 118 of 519 rushing plays (22.7 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Information. They ran it less in 2013 (83 of 453, 18.3 percent). And in 2014?
"It’s not going to be a major part [of the offense],” Gruden told Andy Pollin of SportsTalk 570 earlier this week. “I want to make sure that we have other things that we can do besides the read-option, because it takes a toll. You have to practice it a lot to be very good at it. It kind of takes away from the defense’s ability a little bit, it takes away from other plays that you need to work on, your protection schemes, your running game, all that stuff. It just takes away from that. So we want to make sure that we work on the core running game that we have, the core drop-back passes we have. And then once we get going, we get those implemented, maybe sprinkle in some read-option.”
The key phrase is what Gruden said is “it takes a toll”. Not only does it consume a lot of practice time, the quarterback pays a price physically. Griffin’s ambivalence about running the play became a major storyline during last offseason and throughout the 2013 season.
It appears that Gruden is coming to grips about how best to utilize Griffin’s speed and elusiveness. Designed quarterback runs will be few and far between, maybe a few per game if that. Most of Griffin’s rushing attempts will come after he drops back to pass.
“Obviously when we call drop-back passes, we want him to be a drop-back passer, but if things break down like sometimes they do – sometimes guys are covered, they’re not open – he needs to be Robert and make good decisions,” said Gruden. “And sometimes throwing it away is a good decision, sometimes running for two yards is a good decision and getting down. So he’s got to play the position the way he plays it.”
“The way he plays it” does not always entail getting down after gaining two yards. If Griffin has wide-open spaces he will run through them. It must be noted, however, that it was during a run after a dropback pass play broke down against the Ravens that Griffin suffered a knee injury that knocked him out for a game late in 2012. Scrambling is not necessarily the safest route.
But it does make sense to work Griffin into more of a pocket passer with designed runs being more of a wrinkle. Limited practice time makes it difficult to commit to running much zone read and if you can’t do it well you shouldn’t do it very often.