It was some debut for Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, in fact, one of the best in the history of the NFL. Griffin had a lot of good, a few bad, and some just damn awesome plays in the Redskins 40-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints this past Sunday. So here's my thoughts on his performance.
Lets start off with his running ability, after all it was a huge factor in his success later on. The Redskins called for plenty of option runs early to establish Griffin as a running threat.
This is one of the first couple of plays on the Redskins opening drive. Griffin reads the defender crashing inside, and opts to keep it himself and run into the gap left behind.
Griffin uses his speed and running ability to gain nearly ten yards, and then makes a good decision to slide instead of trying to break a tackle. We're all worried about him getting injured while running with the ball, so I for one had a big sigh of relief when he chose to slide here.
With that play, the Redskins set the Saints on red alert to Griffin running ability, which the Redskins used to their full advantage to give Griffin some easy throws.
This is the first play of the second half. The Saints had time to regroup and try to figure out a way to stop Griffin's run threat. They decided to bring down a safety, and keep a linebacker on the weak side of the play to contain Griffin should he keep the option run.
The safety and linebacker are so desperate to contain Griffin's run threat, that they are both drawn in by the play action fake, leaving a huge hole in behind them.
Santana Moss runs an in-breaking route, a 'Post' route in this case, in behind the linebackers and safety. He's wide open and it's an easy completion for Griffin.
The very next play see's the exact same scenario.
Once again the safety comes down to help containment. This time Griffin will throw the post on the left side to Joshua Morgan.
The defenders bite on the play action again.
It's extremely hard for a corner to stop an in-breaking route without any help, which helps make this play brilliant. If they want to contain the running threat of Griffin, they almost have to play one-on-one man coverage outside. That gives the receivers the best chance to win their respective battles and make big plays.
It was a very similar concept that the Redskins used on the 88 yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon.
As I said, this is pretty much the same concept as we've saw previously. Griffin starts under center, but otherwise he fakes the hand-off, and has his choice of one-on-one post routes to throw to.
His play action fakes are extremely good for a veteran quarterback, let alone a rookie. He freezes the linebackers in place, as we saw before. This leaves a big gape behind them, and just the one deep safety to try and cover the two post routes.
Griffin stands tall and delivers a strike down the field, even though he knows he's about to get hit by a free blitzing defender. It takes a lot of mental strength to stand and throw when you know you're about to get hit, but Griffin shows his toughness.
Griffin is rewarded for that toughness as Garcon makes a fantastic catch. Morgan uses the momentum from his route to block the single deep safety, while Garcon carries on his momentum to run past the other defender. Touchdown Redskins!
While Griffin did have a fantastic game, there was room for improvement. One of the negatives to come of the game was the couple of mishaps on the play action fakes.
He had a fumble when he was slightly late pulling the ball away from running back Alfred Morris on the fake. The ball his Morris' hip, forcing it loose. Griffin managed to recover it and attempted to scramble his way to a positive play, but was eventually brought down.
There was also the fake where Griffin got too close to Morris again, and tripped over his foot. I'm not too concerned with these kinds of plays. It will come with more repetitions with Morris in practice. Griffin's play fakes are as good as they are because he gets so close and hides the ball beautifully. I can only imagine how good they are in a few years when he's really polished them.
The one bad that does concern me though was this near interception in the red zone.
This is a similar concept to the one that scored a touchdown in preseason against the Colts. Moss will run a quick out, while Griffin will roll the pocket right. But this time, Moss was well covered.
As you can see, there was three men around the ball when it arrived. I like that Griffin is confident enough to back himself to make a throw in tight windows, but this is not a throw he should be attempting, especially in the red zone. He found himself very lucky not to be intercepted and take points off the board. I believe this was just a one off bad play from Griffin and hopefully it wont happen again.
On this first play, Griffin is put under pressure and forced to break the pocket.
Griffin has rolled to his left and has nothing open. Moss might look open here, but it's always unwise to throw back across the field once you've rolled out to one side. So Griffin begins to scramble.
Griffin could probably have picked up a first down on his own, given his running ability. But he keeps his eyes downfield the entire time. He spots Moss, who is free-styling at this point. Griffin resets his feet and pulls the trigger.
Moss makes the catch and has acres of space to run into. Unfortunately there is a penalty on the play which negates a chunk of the yards gained, but that doesn't lessen the amazing ability of Griffin to extend a play and keep his eyes downfield.
The final play I'm about to show you could easily have been in the bad section had it gone wrong. But as it's under the amazing section, clearly it didn't.
Now there's red lines all over that picture, but it's actually a fairly simple play action bootleg play. The fullback Darrel Young is the primary read, he's going to run out into the flat and be the easy completion option for Griffin. Then you have Morgan running the deeper crossing route as the second read. But the receiver to keep an eye on is tight end Fred Davis, who is going to run back across the play completely unmarked.
As Griffin comes out of his bootleg, you can see Young is wide open in the flat. Morgan is also coming across, dragging the single high safety down into the play with him.
But the real threat is Davis, who as you can see here, is completely free.
Griffin strong arms the tackle attempt, breaking free as he comes back across to go to Davis.
Griffin then delivers an extremely awkward looking throw back across the field to Davis.
The ball is on target. Davis manages to make the grab and get both feet down inbounds before being hit out by the defender.
I said at the start of this play, it could have gone down in the bad section. This is because Griffin broke the progression. He had Young wide open in the flat and Young probably would have turned it into a first down. Had Griffin have been tackled, or thrown an incomplete pass, then everyone would be going nuts about him breaking the progression. But at the same time, to even have the presence of mind to think that Davis would be free on the far side of the field; and then to have the ability and guts to come back across and make that throw.... It was simply amazing. There aren't many other quarterbacks in the NFL that could have made that play, which is what makes Robert Griffin III special.