Previously on Going Deep...
Norval. Adrian. Cordarrelle.
Chances are that "Mad Men" teaser-like recap didn't shine a lot of light on anything. Which is why you can go here to binge read last week's column just in time for this week's episode.
This week, we move our focus to the nation's capital where Jay Gruden has taken over head coaching duties of the local football team in the hope of erasing memories of a horrid 2013 season. Meanwhile, fantasy owners are just concerned with whether the former Bengals offensive coordinator can breathe some new life into an offense that at times ran about as efficiently as a congressional budget meeting.
But while a new coach usually brings optimism to his new stop, Gruden doesn't have a deep resume as a play-caller. He spent just three seasons as an offensive coordinator at the NFL level, though he did perform the job over several seasons in the Arena Football League. Look behind Gruden to his OC, Sean McVay, and there's even less experience orchestrating an NFL offense.
During his three seasons in Cincinnati, Gruden gave his quarterback -- Andy Dalton -- an increasingly longer leash to throw the football. Dalton threw the ball 300 times as a rookie in 2011 and graduated to 363 attempts by last season. But through it all, the Bengals never really increased the ratio of passes to runs.
Taken as a whole, the Bengals were actually below the league average. During that three year stretch, NFL teams on average threw the ball 58 percent of the time while Gruden's offenses chucked it 56 percent of the time.
Coincidentally, that same 56 percent applies to Washington's play selection over the past three seasons. The upside for RGIII and company under the new regime should be a sense of normalcy. In 2011 with Rex Grossman as the team's main starting QB, then-OC Kyle Shanahan threw the ball 61 percent of the time. The following year, Griffin came to town ... and so did the run. The club kept the ball on the ground 52 percent of the time, helping Alfred Morris become a breakout fantasy star.
Things changed in The District in 2013. Maybe because of Griffin's recovery from his knee injury or just Shanahanigans in a new form. But last season, Washington went back to the air on 59 percent of its snaps. Those wild swings might cross up opposing defensive coordinators, but they'll also prevent your offense from gaining any sort of identity.
With Gruden and company in town, look for the disparity in that ratio to decrease. However, does that mean Griffin's turnovers could be on the rise? As Andy Dalton gained comfort in Cincy's offense, he was also given license with where to go with the football. That led to a dramatic increase in interceptions -- from 13 to 16 to 20. Considering Griffin's occasional issues making downfield reads in 2013, it's a substantial concern.
The answer? Safe throws and abundant outlets -- something Washington has the personnel to provide. Gruden has the luxury of having Roy Helu on his new roster. The fourth-year player led the team's backs in catches last season with 31. He also posted a career-high 49-catch season as a rookie and can capably fill the role Gio Bernard played last season in Cincinnati.
The upside to Washington's roster is having Jordan Reed in the middle of the field. The young tight end was having a promising season until concussion issues ended it prematurely. Reed looks like a much more consistent option in the middle of the field than the maddeningly inconsistent Jermaine Gresham. Not to mention Reed had already built a solid rapport with RGIII before the injury.
But what of Alfred Morris? After a big 2012, he disappointed fantasy owners in 2013. That was partially because he couldn't match the 13 touchdowns he scored as a rookie. Yet Morris also had 59 fewer carries in his second season. That could be the way of the world for the young running back. And if Gruden and McVay decide Helu is worthy of a few rushing attemps of his own, that number could come down.
Overall there's definitely change coming to Washington. Whether there's hope for fantasy owners remains to be seen. But without a doubt a new modus operandi will be in effect for the 2014 season. Its success of failure is certain to define everyone involved in short order.