Much of the hype surrounding the Washington Redskins and their potential for success this season has surrounded the offense and their ability to put up points this season. Through three preseason games the first team offense failed to score a touchdown and consistently found ways to shoot themselves in the foot, with mental errors, turnovers and penalties. This was not the offense that most were expecting after the Redskins signed two starting caliber receivers in the offseason including Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson. The thought of many was that these two signings combined with Pierre Garcon, Alfred Morris, and a healthy Jordan Reed and RGIII would make the Redskins an offensive Juggernaut that could carry this team into contention. After three preseason games though, it may be time to revisit those expectations.
Now in the first two preseason games, the concern was fairly minimal given that they only played just over 1 quarter combined and despite the lack of points and the poor decisions, the offense was able to move the football. Now some of the Redskins sustained drives came as a result of the stricter enforcement of the contact rules down the field, which may or may not carry over into the season. Even though the Redskins maybe got some extra help via penalties, they still made enough positive plays that would lead you to believe that they could be dangerous this year. Heading into the 3rd preseason game there was still some optimism for the offense (particularly the passing attack) to be a major force this season. In that preseason game it looked like a good match-up for the Redskins as they would face off versus a Ravens team that was missing their top 3 corners. This should have been the type of game where the passing attack really excelled as the talent of the Redskins weapons was far superior to what faced them on defense. Unfortunately for the Redskins passing attack (and first team offense in general) it ended up being their worst performance of the preseason. Despite playing into the 3rd quarter, Robert Griffin was just 5 of 8 for 20 yards with an interception and 3 sacks.
After three preseason games here is the break down of how the first team passing offense has looked (with a heavier focus on the 3rd preseason game):
-Hopes were definitely high that most of Robert Griffin III‘s struggles last year were as a result of the knee injury and the drama surrounding the friction between him and head coach Mike Shanahan. The hope was that a full year of practice, a new coaching staff and more weapons would overcome any developmental issues that Griffin may have been facing. Through three preseason games though the results aren’t positive though. In 28 dropbacks, Griffin is 13 of 20 for 141 yards (65% completion rating and 7.1 yards per attempt), with zero touchdowns, four sacks and two interceptions. Now if you just look at the completion percentage and yardage per attempt it looks pretty decent. Having 65% completion percentage is a great target to have, and 7.1 yards per attempt is a little above average. The problem is of course the lack of touchdowns compared to the interceptions and sacks. That is an ugly stat line due to those two categories and given the sample size. Now obviously this is over the course of three games, but 28 dropbacks and 20 attempts is roughly 3 quarters or a little more of a game. Now I don’t think that means Griffin is going to throw 40 INT’s and be sacked 80 times this season, but it’s troubling to see those numbers in such a limited amount of work.
In critiquing Griffin’s play this preseason, it goes far beyond the raw numbers when thinking that he has some work to do, before he can consistently run this offense effectively. Griffin just has not looked comfortable in this offense in these three games. While you can point to a couple really nice throws (in particular the deep passes to Andre Roberts and DeSean Jackson vs the Browns), most of Griffins’ passes have been more off target or questionable in his decision making. It’s been a combination of underthrown passes, throws behind or off target to the receiver, or throwing a ball into coverage when someone else is open. Now of course some of that is too be expected as no quarterback will ever make every correct decision, have perfect placement or see every open receiver, but the issue here is that too many of these 28 dropbacks has seen Griffin’s play fall into the negative category.
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One of the biggest problems that Griffin is struggling with is how he deals with pressure. Now just about every quarterback sees a significant drop in their production when they are under pressure, but many of the times Griffin has faced pressure this preseason he’s made a mistake. Unfortunately due to the Redskins weak offensive line (more on them below), Griffin has faced a considerable amount of pressure this preseason. That is likely going to be an issue throughout the season as well, and it could get even worse as the Redskins face defenses who get more aggressive and creative with their blitzes. Griffin is going to be tested in this area quite a bit and he needs to start making better decisions and do his part to ensure the pressure isn’t impacting too many plays. Griffin has not done a great job feeling pressure and either throwing the ball away or dumping it off. Too often he tries to buy time with his feet and will eventually run it, leading to a lot of unnecessary hits (at times it can be very beneficial, but he has to pick his spots better). Griffin has also forced the ball into coverage when under pressure rather than throwing it away or using the time he buys with his legs to find an open target. Like most young and/or mobile quarterbacks, Griffin holds on to the ball too long which has led to some of these pressure situations. If Griffin can’t considerably improve in this area, it’s going to be hard for him to put up consistently good production.
-Though the offensive line was an issue for the Redskins last season, the Redskins made fixing their line a secondary concern in their offseason gameplan. Their only change to the starting unit was replacing center Will Montgomery with LG Shawn Lauvao (former LG Kory Lichtensteiger moved over to center). Though the Redskins made Lauvao one of the higher paid guards in free agency, he wasn’t exactly considered a major upgrade (or worth the money) by most pundits. Other than the addition of Lauvao the Redskins brought in 3rd rounders OT Morgan Moses and OG Spencer Long, as well as journeyman free agent C/G Mike McGlynn. Though this added better depth for the Redskins and possibly some starting options if the current starting unit struggled, they weren’t immediate upgrades to the starting unit and the protection for RGIII.
Through three preseason games the line has looked even worse than what the Redskins saw a year ago (granted in a smaller sample size). Shawn Lauvao just hasn’t been consistent enough and has had many of the same struggles he had in Cleveland. Kory Lichtensteiger has gotten abused at the center position and is losing at the line of scrimmage far too often. Guard Chris Chester and tackle Tyler Polumbus have remained weak spots at their spots from a year ago, and both have given up multiple pressures. Even stud left tackle Trent Williams has had some struggles in the preseason, committing a bad holding penalty, giving up a pressure and just in general hasn’t looked as dominant as he did a year ago. Though Williams shouldn’t be a major concern for the offense as he’s still really good, any fall off from his play last year hurts because he was the one guy the Redskins could consistently count on.
What’s most troubling is that the level of offensive line play could get worse, instead of better as the regular season starts. Not only did the offensive line face Patriots and Browns defenses that were missing starters among the front seven, but they saw pretty vanilla pass rushes in general. It was pretty basic assignment football where they had to block the man in front of them. They didn’t see a lot of exotic blitzes or creative attacks that they will definitely face on a weekly basis. Defensive coordinators are going to come up with far more aggressive game plans to attack the pocket once the season rolls around, and that will continue to increase unless the offensive line and RGIII prove that they can handle the pressure.
Also troubling for the Redskins is the idea that they may need to rely on some of their back-ups this season along the offensive line. The past two years the Redskins missed a combined 1 start among their starting offensive linemen. This year they may not be so lucky, meaning the back-up unit may see some significant time. By in large the back-up offensive line hasn’t inspired a lot of confidence in their level of play this preseason. No one has clearly stood out to be worthy of earning a starting job, and that is of course against other team’s 2nd and 3rd units. Perhaps the guy that has the highest upside and the most consistent throughout the preseason, is rookie Morgan Moses. Unfortunately Moses left the 3rd preseason game with an MCL injury. Though it is not expected to be serious, it will force him out of at least the 1st preseason game, and it could last into the start of the regular season. That is going to be some valuable developmental time Moses will miss, making it tougher for him to either unseat Polumbus at RT or replace him if Polumbus went down with an injury.
-This has been by far the best part of the Redskins passing attack in the preseason. Week one both starters Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson were out, but they looked really good in the other two preseason games, particularly DeSean Jackson who has had a couple really nice catches and whose speed has given defensive backs fits in these games. Jordan Reed has been a reliable target and shows really nice potential in making big plays in a passing attack. Though it was wiped out due to a holding penalty, Reed’s 26 yard catch and run was a great play on his part. Third receiver Andre Roberts has also gotten into the mix getting open on a number of routes and coming up with the big catch on a deep throw versus the Browns. There have been some drop issues, but overall the Redskins have to be happy with what this group are doing. I don’t know if they deserve the “elite unit” label that some want to make them out to be as there are still some questions with drops and lack of size, but this is a top 10 receiver/tight end group, which is obviously pretty good. The biggest question is whether Griffin can deliver the ball as he should consistently and if the offensive line will give him the time to do so.