Mike Shanahan discusses RGIII

Is Mike Shanahan trying to rehabilitate his image by speaking up now about Robert Griffin III?

Shanahan has plenty to answer for, as many of us felt he committed coaching malpractice by letting RGIII take a beating as they implemented the read-option in RGIII’s first season. In many ways that season was a smashing success, but there was a price to pay with those injuries.

Of course, the real story is more complicated, and frankly Shanahan has been giving some pretty candid interviews about what happened.

Shanahan defends what they did with the read-option, pointing out that they took advantage of what RGIII did best. Ok, that’s a fair point. Yet he tries to argue that RGIII’s injuries came from more traditional QB plays as opposed to designed runs. That may be true, but the real reason for the injuries had to do with RGIII’s poor judgement about when to slide. Shanahan addresses this, comparing RGIII to Russell Wilson who has been brilliant using his judgement on when to run and when to slide:

And Wilson doesn’t care how many yards he gets. He gets as many yards as he can, and then he falls to the ground. You will never see him get hit running the read-option, or very seldom, because he knows when to give it, when to keep it, when to slide, and that’s what quarterbacks who run the read-option have to do. He knows there is nothing more important than him staying healthy. For all these analysts that say, oh, you can’t run it because you take too many hits, well, that was true about Robert. Robert did take too many hits. One thing I didn’t do a very good job of is trying to emphasize to him that you can’t take a hit; you’ve gotta slide, you are too valuable. But was hard for him, because that’s not what he did in college. He was such a good athlete, and he was used to being faster and quicker and sometimes bigger. But in the NFL, these guys all can run and they all can hit, so you have to give yourself up. He was very competitive, and he didn’t want to do that.

Shanahan’s admission here that he didn’t do a good enough job teaching RGIII when to avoid contact tells the real story. The success of the read-option only reinforced RGIII’s willingness to take chances, and it was in this context that Shanahan let things get out of control.

Shanahan’s larger point is that judicious use of the read-option can be a huge advantage, and that argument is persuasive. He points to RGIII’s initial success, the success of Russell Wilson, and the success of Colin Kaepernick before he and Jim Harbaugh made the mistake of focusing way to much on pocket throws.

The question now is how will RGIII do in Cleveland with Hue Jackson. Shanahan likes that Jackson is very flexible and he thinks Jackson will use some read-option principles to take advantage of what RGIII does best. But he seems to put way to much emphasis on RGIII not being able to do much from the pocket. It’s hard to imagine RGIII being effective without making at least some progress on that front.

The good news with Jackson is that he focuses much more on play-action and deep throws to stretch the field, as opposed to the complex West Coast Offense employed by Shanahan and Jay Gruden in Washington. One can argue that the West Coast Offense was the worst fit for RGII, and he may have a better chance to succeed in a more vertical passing game that takes advantage of his strong arm.

We’ll see how this goes.

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Schaub and Vick find landing spots

There’s been an unual amount of logic to the quarterback moves this offseason, with today’s moves making sense for both the Raiders and Jets.

The Raiders sent a late-round pick to the Texans for Matt Schaub, who is coming off one of those season where everything went wrong. We’ll see if he can turn things around in a place like Oakland, but that franchise is desperate for steady play at quarterback. If Schaub can return to form, then the team has a shot at improving quickly. If he’s a bust they have some young quarterbacks behind him, or they can even pick up someone like Mark Sanchez as well.

Speaking of Sanchez, he was just released by the Jets after they signed Micheal Vick, who has had plenty of ups and downs over the past several years. I would expect Vick to beat out Geno Smith for the starting job and give the Jets a spark on offense, but Smith is there in case Vick suffers his annual injury when he refuses to slide. It’s a good risk for the Jets.

My favorite QB move was the trade for Blaine Gabbert by the 49ers. Whether you love or hate Jim Harbaugh, you have to admit he gets the most out of his quarterbacks. Gabbert has been a mess on a crappy Jaguars team, but he has athletic ability and a decent arm. I’m guessing Harbaugh can salvage his career, and I know the 49ers want to hedge their bets as they face ridiculous contract demands from Colin Kaepernick. Cap has been a stud, but I’m not sure he’s the kind of superstar who deserves a monster contract.

I’m rooting for Josh McCowen to do well with his new opportunity in Tampa, and I respect Lovie Smith, but quarterbacks don’t exactly thrive on his football teams. I have no idea how this one is going to play out.

Finally, is anyone going to give Josh Freeman a chance? He may have ended his career with that miserable performance last year for Minnesota.

NFL Championship Game Free Picks

AFC Championship Game: Patriots vs. Broncos, 3:00PM ET
After the Broncos hung on to beat the Chargers last Sunday in the Divisional round, oddsmakers opened the line for the AFC title game at Denver -6.5, which immediately drew New England bettors. The line quickly dropped to Denver -4.5 but has since been bet back up to 5, indicating that books are receiving good two-way action on today’s game.

All of that aside, the Patriots have accomplished remarkable feats this year despite losing Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes, Tommy Kelly, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker since the start of the offseason. It’s a testament to Bill Belichick’s ability to plan around his strengths and attack opponents’ weaknesses that the Pats are once again back in the AFC title game. That said, the Patriots might finally face their end, ironically at the hands of Peyton Manning, whom they have bested plenty over the past decade.

If Denver can stop LeGarrette Blount, which is no easy task, especially since they too are depleted defensively due to injuries, and force Brady to work outside the numbers, then the Broncos could flip the script on Belichick. It sounds insane for Denver to put the ball in Brady’s hands but New England, in its latest rebirth, is a team that plays power football and uses play-action to stretch defenses vertically. Take away Brady’s ability to use the middle of the field to get the ball to Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola and the Broncos may turn this thing into a track meet.

Again, Belichick has done amazing things with his defenses, including using rookie Jamie Collins as a moveable chess piece in last week’s win over the Colts. But tight end Julius Thomas didn’t play in the first meeting between these two teams, which gives Belichick one more weapon to worry about. While it’s tempting to take the points with a red-hot Patriots team (if not the smart thing based on the value that the point spread offers), I like the Broncos.
FREE PICK: Broncos -5.

NFC Championship Game: 49ers vs. Seahawks, 6:30PM ET
Perhaps no team remaining in the playoff field is playing better than the Niners, whom have put together impressive back-to-back wins against the Packers and Panthers. This would be a perfect time to wax poetically about how difficult it is to win three-straight road games in the postseason but if any team is build to win on the road, it’s San Fran. First and foremost they play outstanding defense, their physical, they can pound the ball on the ground, and Colin Kaepernick’s ability to test the edge gives pause to even the most aggressive defensive coordinators.

But obviously San Francisco will meet its perfect match tonight in Seattle, which too plays outstanding defense, can run the ball and is just as physical is its counterpart – if not more physical. Pete Carroll’s hybrid front often gives opponents fits and nobody plays the Cover 3 better than the Hawks, who are tough to beat outside the numbers. Russell Wilson is also a versatile threat who forces defenses to adjust to his mobility.

So who offers the most value? Honestly, it’s the Niners, who are 3.5-point underdogs. One would expect this game to come down to a field goal based on how evenly matched these two teams are, although I don’t view the game that way.

I admit that this is more of a hunch than anything, but I believe Kaepernick will struggle today. Carolina gave him trouble for most of the first half last week in Carolina and Seattle will be even tougher on him today. The Panthers problem is that they couldn’t reach pay dirt twice in the first half when they had the ball at the goal line. And one thing that has separated Seattle and San Francisco in the previous three meetings is execution inside the red zone. The Hawks have made 11 trips inside the red zone versus San Francisco in the past three meetings, averaging 5.9 points in those three games. The Niners, meanwhile, averaged 2.6 points in 10 trips. Even though Wilson has struggled for nearly a month, I’ll take him in the red zone tonight over Kaepernick, who has had his fair share of issues in Seattle. While the Niners settle for field goals (much like they did a week ago in the first half against the Panthers), I expect the Hawks to eventually pull away with touchdowns.
FREE PICK: Seahawks -3.5.

Joe Montana explains the quarterback position

Here’s a quote from Joe Montana:

“The game is changing. Nobody wants to throw with pressure anymore. But the guys who can win in this league are the ones who can make throws from the pocket.”

You can read the article for more context, as Montana is discussing how he likes the game of Colin Kaepernick but sees room for improvement. Kapernick is part of the new wave of mobile quarterbacks, but give him and head coach Jim Harbaugh credit as they have tried to limit how often Kaepernick takes off and runs. He’s starting to look more like a young John Elway as opposed to a “running quarterback” like year one RG3.

But as Montana points out, the most important part of a quarterback’s game involves throwing in the pocket, and particularly the ability to make the right throw accurately under pressure. This is where many young quarterbacks struggle, but it can be even more difficult to develop this skill for mobile quarterbacks who take off running when the pressure gets too hot, as opposed to shifting in the pocket and making the big throw. Relying on scrambling will cause a quarterback to leave some big throws on the field, limiting some big plays.

We’ll see if Kaepernick or Russell Wilson can actually win a Super Bowl. One of them will be matched up against a classic pocket passer in either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. And yes, the game is changing and we’re seeing more mobile quarterbacks. But Montana is pointing out a critical element for ultimate success in the NFL, and this gives us some perspective as we enjoy the rest of the NFL playoff season.

Sportsbooks set early odds for NFL Final Four

After a typical NFL season with all sorts of surprises and countless ups and downs, we end up with four teams left standing who many would list as the four best teams in the NFL. New England pounded Indianapolis with the running game as LeGarrette Blount ran wild for 166 yards and 4 touchdowns, giving the rest of the NFL the blessing of not having to listen to Jim Irsay any more this season. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning and the Broncos took care of business against upstart San Diego last night to set up another Peyton Manning/Tom Brady matchup for a trip to the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, on the NFC side, San Francisco took care of Cam Newton and the Panthers while Seattle won a slugfest against Drew Brees and the Saints.

Anyone looking forward to next week already can check out the early NFL odds at online sportsbooks as Denver is a 5-point favorite at home versus New England and Seattle is a 3.5-point favorite at home versus San Francisco. Not only do we have 4 excellent teams, but we have some serious rivalries as well which makes these games even more interesting and also complicated to pick. We have the Manning/Brady matchup, though now Manning is wearing Denver orange. Can Tom Brady and the Pats take another championship run away from Manning in a season where Manning shattered the record books? Does New England’s new-found running game alter the analysis here?

Also, with Seattle and San Francisco we have one of the more physical and bitter rivalries in the NFL, with a deeper rivalry between coaches Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll as well that’s been going on since their Stanford/USC days. Seattle has owned the 49ers in Seattle and has frankly overpowered them. But San Francisco has improved dramatically from early in the season with Colin Kaepernick playing much better. Also, Russell Wilson hasn’t been playing quite as well, and look for the 49ers to stack the box and dare Wilson to throw deep. We’ll see which young quaterback emerges this week.

Regardless of the results next week, we should have an epic Super Bowl on our hands with contrasting styles, as the AFC has two traditional teams with classic drop-back passers while the NFC teams feature younger, more mobile quarterbacks. This should be fun!

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