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"Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics": Where Has the Deep Ball Gone?

A in depth look at the Washington Redskins deep ball passing, and why it makes sense for the team.


Last offseason when the Washington Redskins went out and acquired the 2nd overall pick to select Robert Griffin III and then went out to sign speedster wide receiver Pierre Garcon, it appeared too many that the Redskins were instituting more of a vertical passing attack. And why not, Griffin was known for his rocket arm and dropped scores of deep passes on opponents while at Baylor. Garcon had a reputation for game breaking speed and was seen as the perfect complement (though in reality just 17 of his 188 receptions prior to this season traveled 20 yards or more in the air). The idea was further reinforced when during the Redskins third preseason game, Griffin attempted three long passes (2 of which to Garcon), in one half of play. Despite the fact that none of the passes were complete the expectation (and even some post game comments), was that it was a pattern that would continue. At the midway point of the season a different story has been told.

The Redskins have focused their passing attack on the short and intermediate routes, looking to get big gains by getting yards after the catch instead of attacking vertically. In fact just 15 of Robert Griffin's 223 passing attempts have traveled over 20 yards, according to ESPN. That is just 6.7%, well below the 10.2% mark of Rex Grossman last season and Donovan McNabb's 11.4% in 2010. Though the numbers appear small that is a 34% and 42% drop off, which is pretty statistically significant, and shows a much different direction of this team. To put it another way Griffin is attempting fewer than two passes thrown more than 20 yards a game.

Much will be made about the loss of Pierre Garcon for the majority of this season, but that has probably had very little impact overall. Garcon was never the deep threat that people made him out to be, he was just a guy with the ability to turn a short or intermediate route into a big gain, as evidenced with his 88 yard TD run against the Saints. While the Redskins obviously miss his speed, Aldrick Robinson is just as fast if not faster. Also, none of Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Josh Morgan or even tight end Fred Davis (6 games) should be considered slow and unable to stretch the field (esp. in the 20-30 yard window).

The greater reality is that the Redskins have found their quick strike approach, is more efficient and able to exploit holes in the defense. Griffin is a very impressive 128-174 (73.5%) on throws 20 yards or shorter. Opposed to being 5-15 (33%) when throwing over 20 yards. That is why the Redskins are attempting just 6.7% beyond 20 yards (or the standard for "deep passing"). In fact according to Advanced NFL Stats the Griffin has attempted just 16.1% of his passes beyond 15 yards. That goes to show just how minimal the longer part of the intermediate passing game plays into the Redskins system, when 84% of your passes go less than 15 yards in the air.

Now this is not to say that you abandon the intermediate or deep passing game altogether, but the Redskins shoudl continue to limit their attempts. Too often those become wasted plays, forcing 2nd and 3rd and longs. For as good as Griffin's accuracy is, implementing more of a deep passing attack will negatively affect his completion percentage. Also deep passing plays (even 15 yard plus) take longer to develop, putting more pressure on the offensive line, and could lead to higher sack numbers. There can be some big play opportunities missed, but with the risk factors increased as well it doesn't seem to be worth it.

What do you think? Should the Redskins continue on their path of severely limiting 20+ yard passing? Or do you think it is worth it to open up the playbook some and attack vertically?

Check out, for Steve Shoup's additional Redskins coverage.