The Redskins and Goal-to-Go Situations

Jamie Squire

Last year with the rookie tandem of QB Robert Griffin III and RB Alfred Morris, the Redskins were one of the best teams in the league in Goal-to-Go situations. The following is an analytic breakdown of their success.

If you are like me, the foundation of your football knowledge started with Madden, the preeminent NFL video game. That foundation has since been built upon with reality, nonetheless there were certain strategies I learned that would impact my expectations during actual Redskins games.

A prime example was the use of the 'Goal-Line Formation.' Gamers have a love/hate relationship with it. For me, it was more hate than love. I found that by packing my players in tight, the defense would adjust with their own line-stuffing formation which would result in a logjam of bodies, disallowing any holes for my RB to fit through. With this bias against the Goal-Line Formation already in place, I found myself rebuking Steve Spurrier, Al Saunders, Jim Zorn, and Sherman Lewis for their persistent use of it over the years. Whether it was Portis unable to leap over the line anymore or Gibbs and Co. insisting on using it 5 yards outside of the goal-line, essentially wasting 1st and 2nd down before attempting a 3rd down PA pass to Todd Yoder out of the same formation. If my memory serves me well, being in 1st and Goal brought me more angst than hope.

However, last year that all changed. Washington ranked 2nd in the NFL in percentage of goal-to-go (G2G) possessions resulting in a 1st down (Defensive penalty) or touchdown. Their 45.8% trailed only the Green Bay Packers who had a 48.9% mark. However, Washington (32) had 5 more G2G possessions than Green Bay (27) and 14 more goal-to-go plays (59 versus 45, respectively). By comparison, the 2011 Washington Redskins had 27 G2G possessions, 62 plays, and ended up with just a 24.2% 1st down/touchdown mark. In fact, the last teams to have at least 32 G2G possessions and have a 1st down/touchdown percentage better than 45.8% were the 2005 New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks who had 50.0% and 47.8% respectively. That year the Patriots advanced to the AFC Divisional Round and the Seahawks represented the NFC in the Super Bowl.

Looking forward to the upcoming year, the question that remains is: Can the Redskins duplicate that goal-to-go success? Many believe that this success stemmed solely from the threat of Robert Griffin III being able to run. In 2012 Robert Griffin III ran the ball 120 times in 15 games. Take a quick look at following breakdown of his attempts:

Designed Rushes Sneaks Scrambles Kneels Aborted Plays Total
61 3 43 9 4 120

Of his 107 designed rushes, sneaks, and scrambles, 9 came in G2G situations. Of his 9 attempts only 1 was a scramble and that play drew a defensive personal foul. On the year, Griffin III had 7 rushing touchdowns, 5 of which came in G2G situations, 1 was a QB sneak on 2nd and 1 at the 2 yard line, and the last was the epic 76-yard touchdown run against Minnesota. Although the Redskins succeeded in rushing with Griffin III in G2G situations, the Shanahans decided to avoid calling his number halfway through the season. In the 6 games he played during their 7-game winning streak to end the season, the Redskins ran Griffin III only once in 15 G2G plays (the slow yet efficient keeper touchdown vs. Dallas in Week 17). Keep in mind that 4 of the 6 games came before his LCL injury. So the decision seemed to be a preventative means to keep Griffin III from taking vicious hits at the goal-line.

With Griffin III coming back from injury in 2013, it is safe to assume the coaching staff will take similar measures in order to keep him clean. So that begs to ask the question: What plays will they run instead? Take a look at my breakdown of their 59 G2G formations:

Shotgun Spread Singleback (under C) I- Formation Pistol Formation Goal-Line Victory
18 11 11 9 8 2

Now look at the 59 G2G play results:

RB Rush Shotgun Pass QB Rush Roll-out Pass Under Center Pass Pistol Pass QB Scramble Kneel
24 13 8 5 3 3 1 2

There are a few takeaways:

  • Kyle loves spreading it out. The 'Shotgun Spread' was the formation of choice in G2G situations and not just those on 3rd down. The Redskins ran 6 of their 18 'Shotgun Spread' plays on 1st down.
  • The verdict is still out on the Goal-line formation. The Redskins used it 8 times from the 1 or 2 yard-line, scoring 5 times. However, in the 3 other plays they lost 5 total yards. One possession that the Goal-line formation was run on 2nd down resulted in a turnover on downs against Carolina.
  • In the 9 Pistol formation plays the Redskins distributed the ball evenly. Griffin handed the ball to the RB 3 times, kept the ball himself for a rush 3 times, and passed out of the formation 3 times.
  • Finally, 17 of the Redskins 26 G2G touchdowns came on the ground.
Bottom Line

Last year's goal-to-go success was a sight for sore eyes. While many may feel scoring with only 10 yards or less to go should be expected, Redskins fans have learned to never take scoring opportunities for granted. In 2012, the Redskins went turnover free in G2G situations, putting them in a class of only 9 other teams. In contrast, the 2011 Redskins turned the ball over 3 times in G2G situations. As important as Robert Griffin III is to Washington's offense as a whole, he is not expected to carry a heavy load with the goal to go. The options are open to him in terms of personnel and play-calling. The coaching staff held him back in G2G situations in the second half of the year and still racked up the wins. Look for Shanahan and Co. to utilize this same strategy with their franchise player on the road to recovery.
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