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.