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Evolution of The 'East Coast Offense': Run/Pass Option

With Robert Griffin III at quarterback, Mike and Kyle Shanahan have done an excellent job of incorporating plays from Griffin's option-based offense in college. Here I break down the run/pass option plays in what Mike Shanahan recently referred to (somewhat jokingly) as the 'East Coast Offense'.


Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III is currently leading the NFL with a staggering 70.4% completion rate. The national media have put this down largely to the play-action passing game and while it's certainly helpful, it glosses over the small group of plays that have a run and pass option in them. These run/pass option plays require Griffin to read either a predetermined defender or decipher the defense from his pre-snap look. From that, he decides to either hand the ball off or throw the ball.

We were first introduced to this concept on the opening drive back in week one against the Saints.


Here Griffin will read the look the defense is giving him. Depending on the look, he can either hand off to Alfred Morris, or throw the screen to Pierre Garcon. As the Redskins have a tight end, Niles Paul, in on the play, the Saints opt for their base 4-3 personnel. But the Redskins line up Paul as the outside receiver, with Garcon in the slot. This forces the Saints hand. If its man coverage, the corner would be forced inside to cover Garcon, leaving Paul one on one outside against a linebacker (that or, the Sains would leave Garcon matched up on a linebacker. Either way is a win-win). But the Saints have a zone defense called, so the corner stays outside to allow him to drop to his assigned zone.


Armed with the knowledge that the Saints are in a zone defense, Griffin chooses to throw the screen. Trent Williams has to fake going with the run inside before peeling off to attempt a block. But he doesn't know where the ball is going. Nor do the rest of the offensive line, who are blocking as if its a standard stretch run.

The Redskins ran this play heavily, particularly on that opening drive. Eventually the Saints changed to a nickel personnel, sacrificing a linebacker for an extra corner to help cover Garcon in the slot. But with a linebacker down, they were less effective against the run.

The run/pass option play that we're most familiar was seen a couple of times against the Falcons.


This type of play has Griffin reading a particular player. In this case it's the linebacker circled above. After the ball is snapped, Griffin will read the linebacker as he goes to hand it off. If the linebacker bites down on the run, Griffin has Fred Davis running a quick hitch route in the space left vacant behind the linebacker. If the linebacker stays put, or even drops back, then Griffin hands it off with one less linebacker to block on the play.


The linebacker spots a running lane and his instincts are to come down and close it up. But that leaves a big hole behind him for Davis to run into.


Griffin pulls the ball and makes the easy completion for a solid gain. As I said, this is the run/pass option play we've seen most often from the Redskins. Most recently Logan Paulsen caught a first down pass in place of the injured Davis against the Giants this past Sunday.

Against the Vikings, Kyle Shanahan opened up the playbook with a triple option run/pass play.


The first read for Griffin on the play is the linebacker, just as before. As you can see, he bites down on the run, so Griffin pulls the ball out. His second read is the coverage on Davis at the top of that picture. Davis managed to force his way inside, and the pass was completed his way. But if you look on bottom of the picture, you can see the third option, a screen to Brandon Banks. The Redskins had two guys in good positions to make blocks should the ball come on the screen to Banks. But alas, it didn't.

Having been fascinated with these plays, I went back and looked at cut-ups of Griffin at Baylor to see what we could potentially see the Redskins run next. The first play I have was a receiver slant in the red zone.


You can see how Griffin is reading the linebacker here, who is coming down to stop the perceived run.


With the entire defensive front biting on the run, Griffin pulls the ball and has a wide open receiver in the end zone. One of the easiest touchdown throw's he'll make.

The most common one I saw while watching Baylor involved the tight end again.


Once again, Griffin is reading a predetermined defender, who is circled in red. He has the tight end running into the flat or his normal hand-off option.


The linebacker comes down to support the run, so Griffin throws to his tight end in the flat.

These are plays I love because of their creativeness and the way it forces the defense to literally cover the entire field. Defenses often get caught cheating to one aspect, either the run or the pass and this type of play will make them pay for doing so. It's what will keep our running game so productive and our passing game explosive. Kudos to Mike and Kyle Shanahan for being open and versatile enough to bring in these plays from Griffin's Baylor playbook.