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.
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.
Several years ago I attended the Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year Awards and RGIII was there as one of the presenters. He was riding high as a high draft pick after the Redskins had mortgaged their future by trading a boatload of draft picks. Meanwhile, as a Browns fan, I had to hear about how the Browns blew it by not offering even more for the right to draft him.
Several years later things have changed quite a bit. The Redskins are a mess and RGIII has been benched by Jay Gruden. Meanwhile, Kyle Shanahan is the offensive coordinator for the Browns who are 7-4 with Brian Hoyer as the starter.
The Kansas City Chiefs had the top pick in the latest NFL draft, and now they’re sitting at 7-0 with everyone calling Andy Reid a genius. But are they really that good, and does this make them a good bet in Vegas?
Andy Reid deserves a ton of credit for turning around this team. Everything revolves around the defense, where the Chiefs already had a lot of talent. They play very aggressive defense and they’v been causing a ton of turnovers. With the defense being the core, Reid went out and got Alex Smith to fit into his natural role as a game manager. The Chiefs love to run the ball, and then they don’t ask Smith to take any chances. This conservative approach has been critical to their success so far this season.
Still, is this sustainable? With an excellent defense they of course will be a contender all season long. But will they keep getting the critical turnovers? There’s always some luck associated with that. The Chiefs have had the good fortune of playing some terrible football teams. Also, they’ve faced a string of backup quarterbacks in Case Keenum and Ryan Fitzpatrick, and this week they get Jason Campbell. Later this year reality may set in as they will face Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning twice, Philip Rivers twice and RG3.
Then we have the issue of the offense. How long can they ride Alex Smith and his low yards per attempt numbers?
If you look at the NFL lines this week you’ll see the Chiefs as a 7.5 favorite over the Cleveland Browns. This game is interesting for a number of reasons. With Campbell starting, it’s really impossible to predict what we’ll see with the Cleveland offense. If he’s rusty or plays like he did last year, the Chiefs will have another win to celebrate. But if he can be a competent quarterback like the guy who was 4-2 in 2011 with the Raiders before getting hurt, then the Browns be come a formidable opponent.
The Browns do have an aggressive defense, and DC Ray Horton has promised to let them get more aggressive this week now that they’re healthy. And while he didn’t say it, Alex Smith is no Aaron Rodgers. The Browns will likely stack the box and blitz often in order to stuff the running game and dare Smith to throw passes downfield.
So be careful of this game. With the large spread this one seems like a coin flip that will turn on the unpredictable play of Jason Campbell. And if you’re in a n elimination pool, then this is a classic trap game. It should be a fun one to watch.
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.