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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Jim Harbaugh whines about read-option ruling

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, as Jim Harbaugh wants to keep any advantage he has with Colin Kaepernick playing quarterback. But, Harbaugh is also a baby who loves to whine when he doesn’t get his way. He’s a great coach, but he cries with the best of them.

His latest antics involve the NFL’s interpretation of what is a legal hit on a quarterback in the read-option offense. Basically, as long as a quarterback is faking the run, he can be treated like a runner by the defense, and he doesn’t get the modern, over-the-top protections that the league has put in place for passers. Basically, the rules of traditional football apply. Naturally, Harbaugh responded by saying the ruling was “flawed and a bit biased.”

This sets up what was already the most interesting storyline of 2013 in the NFL – will the read-option continue to proliferate or will it be a fad?

I’ve always been in the fad camp, because coaches are taking huge risks when they run their quarterback and let them take hits usually reserved for running backs. You want your quarterback to have a long career (if he’s a good one), but running backs have very short careers for a reason. Having your quarterback act like a running back is a huge mistake in the long run.

That’s why I was saying all last year that Mike Shanahan was committing coaching malpractice by letting a stud like RG3 run so much. He was hailed as a genius as Griffin and the Redskins offense racked up huge stats against defenses who were not prepared to handle the read option and Griffin’s amazing athleticism, but then he was rightfully ripped to shreds when he kept playing and running RG3 after he was clearly hurt and limited. He never should have let him run like that to begin with. Now, with the clarification of the rule, it’s an even bigger risk.

We know why he did it. In the short run it’s almost impossible to resist turning Griffin or Kaepernick loose. Look what happened to the pathetic Packers defense in the playoffs against Kaepernick and the 49ers. But in the long run you risk a quarterback’s career by playing with fire too many times.

Now, it’s important to differentiate between the read-option and planned quarterback runs with scrambling. Having a mobile quarterback like Griffin and Kaepernick is a huge advantage, and having them take off when the opportunity presents itself is an important weapon. Look how many games quarterbacks like John Elway, Steve Young and Donovan McNabb won with scrambles that broke the back of the defense. Mobility is a real weapon, but you don’t have to go to that well too often with planned runs that put your quarterback in danger.

That’s particularly true with Robert Griffin III, who is one of the best quarterback prospects in a generation. He can be the next John Elway with his golden arm and accuracy, but you put all of that at risk when you run him too much, particularly with with his history of knee injuries.

It’s less true with a guy like Russell Wilson. I know Seattle fans and many in the media want to anoint this kid as a “great” quarterback, but he really didn’t start playing well until the Seahawks started running the read-option to mix up the offense. Russell Wilson was a third-round pick for a reason. He doesn’t have the size or arm of RG3. If he just played from the pocket, I don’t think he’d be nearly as effective, and he might be the quarterback who suffers the most from defenses adjusting to the read-option and this rule clarification that makes it clear that defenses can light him up if he’s faking the run.

Now, throw in Chip kelly and whatever the hell he has planned with Micheal Vick and the Eagles and you have even more intrigue around the read-option for this season. And with Vivk at this stage in his career, I’d probably run him even with his injury history, as he’s shown that he really can’t cut it playing strictly as a pocket quarterback. And that’s where the read-option in the NFL makes most sense. If you don’t have a real franchise quarterback that you want to keep around for years, then read-option quarterbacks can be treated more like disposable commodities like running backs. Grab a group like Vick, Tim Tebow, Vince Young and Terrelle Pryor and just rotate the next one in when one goes down.

But don’t do that with a franchise quarterback like RG3. Let’s see what the Shanahans do with RG3 this year, and let’s see if he has some growing pains taking the read-option out of his arsenal. In the long run it will make him better, and he’ll have a better chance of being around ten years from now.

Let the Russell Wilson hype begin . . . again

Bill Barnwell takes a look at the big four rookie quarterbacks from 2012 and tries to project out to 2013 and beyond. He offers up some interesting statistics and comparisons that contribute to any conversation about the future prospects of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.

Yet while he addresses how Andrew Luck had little to work with in Indy, he then brushes that off when deciding which of the group has the biggest upside. Like many NFL writers he obsesses too much about the stats and spends less time discussing what he actually sees on the field.

Andrew Luck was the single factor that drove the Colts. Plus, he did it as a classic drop back passer. Sure, he’s big and strong and he can scramble, but he didn’t rely on the trickery of the read-option to open up the passing game.

RG3 showed tremendous passing ability, but he’s the best runner at the quarterback position since Michael Vick, and the Shanahans milked that for all it was worth until the “geniuses” outsmarted themselves and almost destroyed Griffin’s career. Griffin is a rare talent with a golden arm, but now he’ll probably need to rely more on that arm without the same threat posed by his legs. His numbers from last year mean much less in that context.

Kaepernick and Wilson also benefited from the threat posed by their running ability, but both of them had the luxury of playing for teams that were loaded with talent. Both teams had excellent defenses and two of the best running games in football. Alex Smith looked like a pro-bowler in the same 49ers offense before Kaepernick took over. So it’s hardly fair to compare their stats to Luck’s stats without taking that into account.

Wilson definitely showed me a lot last year, but he’s also playing a dangerous game when he runs out of the pocket. At least Pete Carroll isn’t as reckless as Mike Shanahan, but I’m still not completely sold on Wilson being an elite quarterback. That said, he gets another weapon this year with Percy Harvin, but I suspect NFL defenses will adjust to his game.

I’ll take Andrew Luck over all of them, any day of the week.

Ten Observations from Wild Card Weekend in the NFL

1. Mike Shanahan cost both his quarterback and his team on Sunday.
That was a shameful display of coaching on Sunday by Mike Shanahan. First and foremost, who cleared Robert Griffin III to play? Dr. James Andrews said he never even examined him, so if it was Shanahan that cleared him then the league needs to investigate why a head coach is playing doctor. Secondly, RGIII was clearly in pain after he tweaked his knee near the end zone of the Redskins’ second scoring drive. It was painful to watch him fall to the ground after being untouched and then quickly glance to the sidelines looking for somebody (his head coach maybe?) to waive the white flag for him. But he’s tough and he should be commended for staying in the game. Still, it shouldn’t have taken his knee bending sideways and him lying on the ground withering in pain during the fourth quarter for Shanahan to finally pull him. He couldn’t run and he couldn’t put weight on his back leg, which caused him to throw inaccurately on nearly every attempt. By keeping him in the game, Shanahan continued to put RGIII at risk for serious injury. Forget being a human being at that point – why didn’t Mike Shanahan, the head coach, recognize that his injured quarterback was costing him an opportunity to win? Even if RGIII had begged to stay in the game Shanahan should have pulled the kid at halftime and allowed a healthy Kirk Cousins to have a crack at Seattle’s defense. There was a lot of bad coaching that took place this weekend but Shanahan was the king of stupidity on Sunday.

2. There’s a lot of good and bad that came out of the Seahawks’ win.
After 12 minutes had ticked off the clock on Sunday, it looked as if the Redskins were going to waltz down to Atlanta next week. So it was impressive to watch the Seahawks weather the storm and produce what wound up being a convincing victory. Marshawn Lynch was in full “beastmode” while rushing for 132 yards on 20 carries and he could be in store for another big game next week because the Falcons can’t stop the run either. Russell Wilson was shaky in his NFL postseason debut but he made plays when they counted, specifically on a 22-yard pass to Zach Miller on third down to set up a go-ahead touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. The defense also harassed a limited RGIII and held Alfred Morris in check outside of the first quarter. But the news wasn’t all positive for Seattle. The early reports are that top pass rusher Chris Clemons tore his ACL and his loss would serve as a big blow to Seattle’s defense with Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ explosive passing game on deck. That was also an extremely physical game for the Seahawks, who now have to fly back to Seattle before making the cross-country flight to Atlanta next weekend. That’s a lot of traveling for a team that has a history of not playing well on the road so while it’ll be a happy flight back to Seattle for Pete Carroll’s team, it might feel like a short week with all that transpired on Sunday.

3. Bill Musgrave did Joe Webb a disservice.
Joe Webb was brutal in Green Bay on Saturday night but he should be spared of heavy criticism. Christian Ponder’s injury left the Vikings in a bad situation and it’s hardly surprising that a quarterback with zero reps in the regular season struggled in a road playoff game. That said, Webb took first-team reps all week in practice so clearly Minnesota knew there was a good chance that Ponder wouldn’t play. So why offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave didn’t play to the strengths of his backup quarterback is beyond conventional wisdom. Remember, Green Bay prepared all week for Ponder, not the athletically-gifted Webb. Outside of Adrian Peterson, the biggest threat Minnesota had was the element of surprise but Musgrave decided against using it to his advantage. Why did he ditch the read-option after the first series of the game (a series that netted the Vikings a field goal)? Why didn’t he turn the contest into the equivalent of a college football bowl game? Instead of using Webb’s speed as a weapon, Musgrave kept him in the pocket. Instead of putting the Packers on their heels, Musgrave allowed Green Bay to turn Clay Matthews loose by forcing an inaccurate Webb to stand still. The results were predictably horrifying for the Vikings, who just one week ago beat that same Packers team to reach the postseason. Granted, Musgrave should be cut a little slack for having to call plays for a quarterback he hadn’t worked with all season (at least not in a regular season game). But instead of going for broke with the cards that he was dealt, Musgrave played things conventionally and wound up losing anyway.

4. The Bengals’ over thought their game plan.
Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden made tight end Jermaine Gresham the focal point of his game plan on Saturday because he believed the way to beat Houston’s defense was to attack its linebackers. It was, at the very least, a novel approach. But Gruden also completely outthought himself in the process. When it comes to the playoffs, teams need to dance with who brought them and in the case of Cincinnati, that would be A.J. Green. Andy Dalton had negative-6 yards passing at halftime of the Bengals’ 19-13 loss to the Texans on Saturday as Green wasn’t even targeted once. When the Bengals changed their approach at halftime to get Green (five catches, 80 yards) more involved, they moved the ball much more effectively in the second half. Granted, credit Wade Phillips for scheming to take Green out of the game. He often used a corner underneath and a safety over top in coverage, which helped neutralize both Green and Dalton. But Gruden’s job is to design ways for Green to get open and he didn’t do that until Houston had built a 17-6 lead in the third quarter. Failing to utilize his best playmaker in the biggest game of the season could eat at Gruden all offseason.

5. Andy Dalton needs more help.
Andy Dalton has struggled playing against the upper-echelon of NFL defenses in his first two seasons. No quarterback likes to have defenders in their face but Dalton especially struggles when teams figure out how to bring pressure up the middle. The Texans did that on Saturday and Dalton struggled mightily. His overthrow to A.J. Green late in the fourth quarter was so bad that a diving Green (who had broken open on the play) never laid a hand on it. And because of his talent limitations (the biggest knock on him is his average to below-average arm strength), there also seems to be a ceiling to Dalton’s development. That said, he’s led the Bengals (the Bengals, mind you) to back-to-back postseason appearances. Poor performance or not, Cincinnati isn’t considering making a change at quarterback right now, nor should it. That said, the Bengals need to find Dalton more weapons because it’s hard to imagine him leading Cincinnati to the Super Bowl on the strengths of his God-given abilities. They need to find another weapon opposite of A.J. Green. They need to find a running back capable of producing explosive runs. They need to find a slot receiver with breakaway speed and another pass-catching tight end to go along with Jermaine Gresham. Outside of upgrading the middle linebacker position (Rey Maualuga was repeatedly exposed on Saturday), Cincinnati’s defense is in good shape. What the Bengals need to focus on now is elevating the talent around their quarterback or else the expectations for both Dalton and the offense should be tempered.

6. The Texans seemed relieved, which isn’t a good thing with who’s coming up.
Despite their victory over the Bengals on Saturday, the Texans are far from “fixed.” Houston dominated Cincinnati in every facet of the game except the scoreboard. Arian Foster went off for 174 yards of total offense and J.J. Watt was once again a one-man wrecking crew but Houston still couldn’t pull away. In fact, had Andy Dalton not overthrown an open A.J. Green in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati could have easily pulled off a victory. Instead, the Texans hung on for victory and were rewarded with a trip to New England (the site of their 42-14 massacre in Week 14). One touchdown and four field goals isn’t going to cut it next weekend versus the Patriots. Nobody game plans to take away a team’s biggest strength like Bill Belichick, so don’t expect Foster to have the same output next Sunday. Can Matt Schaub elevate his play by putting an entire team on his shoulders? Considering how relieved he looked just to make it past a limited Cincinnati squad, it’s doubtful.

7. It was a collective effort by the Packers.
As Cris Collinsworth pointed out on the broadcast Saturday night, Green Bay’s defense did a great job walling off Adrian Peterson throughout the game. Considering he still rushed for 99 yards it’s not as if the Packers shut him down, but they ensured that he didn’t break long runs by tackling and constantly putting defenders in his face. But it was a collective effort by the Packers, who are at their best when they get everyone involved offensively. John Kuhn only touched the ball five times but he found the end zone twice. Greg Jennings didn’t score but he routinely caught passes on third down to keep the chains moving and DuJuan Harris did a nice job serving as Aaron Rodgers’ check down option. Speaking of which, Rodgers didn’t post monster numbers but he was highly efficient. His poise and accuracy allowed Green Bay to sustain drives and keep Peterson on the sidelines. With Joe Webb floundering on the other side, once Rodgers and the offense built a lead you knew the Packers could start preparing for San Francisco. The task gets much more difficult a week from now but Mike McCarthy had to be pleased with his team’s sound effort on Sunday night.

8. Win or lose, it was a hell of a season for the Colts.
This goes without saying – Andrew Luck needs more help. Save for Arizona, Indianapolis had the worst pass protection in football this year and yet because of Luck, the Colts made the playoffs. But teams that regularly have to throw the ball 50-plus times a game don’t win, especially on the road in the playoffs. He was hit on damn near every pass attempt this season and unlike Russell Wilson and RGIII, Luck wasn’t aided by an effective running game. He, and the Chuck Pagano-inspired Colts, were the best surprise of the 2012 season. And while I thought they would have kept the game on Sunday closer than they did, it was still a very successful season for that team. It won’t be long before the Colts are winning AFC South titles on a consistent basis again.

9. The Ravens offense finally woke up.
Throw out their impressive Week 16 victory over the Giants, the Ravens haven’t exactly been awe-inspiring of late. Their offense has struggled in large part to Ray Rice being limited by his own offensive coordinator and Joe Flacco’s inconsistency. But on in the second half on Sunday, Baltimore’s offense finally awoke from its month-long slumber. Anquan Boldin was marvelous. He essentially put the entire offense on his shoulders while harassing cornerback Cassius Vaughn of pass plays of 50, 46 and 21 yards. On a day when Ray Rice uncharacteristically put the ball on the ground twice, he stepped up when his offense needed him most. Credit the Ravens defense too, because they consistently came up with stops or held the Colts to three points when their backs were against the wall. This is a team built for the postseason and while Denver looks like an unstoppable force, don’t forget that Baltimore has often resembled an immovable object in the past. They’ll likely give Peyton Manning all he can handle next weekend.

10. Was anybody else left unfulfilled?
Life is all about expectations. The moment the final seconds ticked off the clock in Washington’s Week 17 victory over Dallas I immediately became excited for the weekend of playoff bliss that was ahead. RGIII vs. Russell Wilson? Adrian Peterson vs. Green Bay III? Andrew Luck making his first postseason start? Yes, please. Fast forward to Sunday night and I’m left completely unfilled. That just wasn’t a very sharp weekend of football. Cincinnati, Minnesota and Indianapolis all stunk. Washington came out of the gates hot but RGIII’s knee injury cooled that fire. Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco were good, but they were the only quarterbacks that played well. None of the games were blowouts by definition yet all four somehow managed to seem over well before the final whistle blew. After watching Northern Illinois, Kansas State and Oklahoma make a mockery of their bowl games, football fans were ready for a great weekend of NFL action. But instead we got three lackluster finishes and one game (Seattle-Washington) that barely would have caused a ripple on a regular NFL Sunday. “Meh” was the word of the weekend.

Shanahan names RGIII the Redskins’ starter and hey, why not?

Mike Shanahan apparently only needed one rookie minicamp to name Robert Griffin III his starting quarterback.

My question is, what took him so long? I’m shocked Shanahan didn’t walk to the podium at Radio City Music Hall and made the announcement while Griffin was busy hugging Roger Goodell.

If anyone is surprised that Shanahan has already made this decision, don’t be. He gave up first-round picks in 2012, 2013 and 2014, as well as the team’s second-round pick this year so why not start Griffin right away? There’s no reason to wait.

“Any time you pick a player with the second pick of the draft and you give up another two No. 1’s and No. 2 and you move up four spots, you’ve got a game plan in mind,” Shanahan told Mike Jones of the Washington Post. “We’re going to adjust our system to what he feels comfortable with, and we’ll watch him grow, and we’ll do what we feel like he does the best.”

You never want to rush a quarterback when he’s not ready but what is Shanahan to do, hold an open competition at quarterback when everyone knows Griffin is his guy? Shanahan has seen enough out of Rex Grossman to know that he can’t win with him under center for 16 games. Why delay getting Griffin much needed experience in his first season?

Given the success that Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton and Joe Flacco had as rookies over the past four seasons, there’s no reason to think that Griffin can’t turn the Redskins into an immediate winner. But his success will depend on how well Washington’s shaky offensive line protects him next season.

Left tackle Trent Williams tested positive for banned substances ten times in September and October according to a report by Pro Football Talk.com last December. Thus, he’s one more screw up away from potentially serving a long-term suspension.

On the other side, Jammal Brown continues to battle lingering left hip and groin issues while left guard Kory Lichtensteiger is coming off November ACL surgery. Granted, the Redskins did draft three offensive linemen last month but who knows whether or not any of those players will be able to make an impact from Day 1.

But even if the Redskins decided to use a banner made of papier-mâché as their offensive line, Griffin will be their starter. He was destined for that role the second Shanahan swung that trade with the Rams.

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