As absurd as that question would have appeared prior to the season, given Robert Griffin III's rookie status on the Washington Redskins, the spectacular performance from the No. 2 overall pick over the first six weeks of the season has thrust him into serious consideration.
Griffin leads the NFL in completion percentage (70.2), ranks second in yards per attempt (8.5) and is one of only three quarterbacks with a passer rating above 100.0. (RG3 sits behind Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning with a 100.5 mark.) In addition, Griffin leads all NFL quarterbacks in rushing yards (379) and ranks behind just Arian Foster with six rushing touchdowns.
Those numbers would be astonishing for any player, but they're particularly staggering for a first-year player still adapting to the speed, tempo and complexity of the pro game.
I dug into the Coaches Film to see how and why Griffin is playing at an MVP level in his first season. Here is what I discovered:
1) The Redskins take full advantage of RG3's exceptional athleticism.
As an accomplished former track athlete, Griffin brings a unique set of physical tools to the table. He is an explosive sprinter with sub-4.4 speed and a quicker burst than most elite receivers in the NFL. In addition, Griffin is a nimble runner with superb balance, body control and agility. This allows him to avoid multiple tacklers, leading to big plays when he escapes the pocket.
With such a dynamic weapon in the backfield, the Redskins routinely call a variety of predesigned quarterback runs to give Griffin opportunities to make plays in the open field. In studying the Coaches Film from the Redskins' first six contests, I noticed the team utilizes three different tactics to get RG3 loose on the perimeter:
In the following screengrab, the Redskins have called a QB draw for Griffin on 3rd-and-6, with the Minnesota Vikings in a double A-gap blitz. Griffin is assigned to take a few fake dropback steps, then look for an open lane:
When the lane opens up in the middle, Griffin shoots through the hole and outruns the defense for a game-changing, 76-yard score:
In the screengrab below, Griffin is about to take the shotgun snap and run a QB lead into the A-gap:
With a lead blocker paving the way, Griffin scoots through the middle of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense for an easy five-yard score:
On the following play, the Redskins have called the QB option to the left. Griffin is tasked with reading the reaction of the defensive tackle; if the defender commits to hitting the running back, Griffin keeps the ball and heads around the corner:
When the defender attacks the back, Griffin pulls the ball and waltzes in for a five-yard touchdown:
2) RG3 is a more advanced pocket passer than any other dual-threat QB in the NFL.
Griffin is not only one of the most explosive athletes in the NFL, but he is a lethal pocket passer with the arm strength and accuracy to rival some of the elite quarterbacks in the game. He has shown the ability to deliver pinpoint passes from the pocket to receivers to every area of the field with zip and velocity. In addition, Griffin has shown the awareness and anticipation to throw receivers into open windows between defenders. This not only indicates his supreme confidence in his area, but also reveals his solid understanding of coverage and vulnerable areas in the zone.
In the screengrab below, Griffin has tight end Fred Davis coming over the middle on a dig route. The Cincinnati Bengals are in quarters coverage with the linebackers dropping into intermediate zones and keeping their eyes on the quarterback:
Griffin anticipates the open window and delivers a dart to Davis between three defenders:
In the screengrab below, the Redskins are running sprint right option. Griffin is set to abruptly roll out and throw a quick pass to wide receiver Santana Moss in the flat:
With Moss possessing the quickness to separate immediately out of the break, Griffin throws a laser to the front corner of the end zone for a three-yard touchdown.
Griffin also has shown a surprising mastery of hot reads and sight adjustments against blitzes. In theory, quarterbacks and receivers will react to a blitz by a designated defender and connect on a quick route (slant or quick out) to defeat the tactic. When orchestrated effectively, this allows the quarterback to exploit the vulnerable area of a coverage and potentially produce a big gain without taking an unnecessary shot in the pocket.
3) Kyle Shanahan does a fine job incorporating some of RG3's favorite college plays.
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Griffin's remarkable start should be attributed partially to Shanahan's willingness to implement some concepts from Baylor's playbook. The Redskins routinely run bubble screens and zone-read play-action passes that allow Griffin to utilize footwork/play fakes he is very comfortable with from his college days. This results in Griffin getting the ball out of his hands quickly, enabling the Redskins to put their playmakers in a position to get loose in space. Given the explosiveness of the Redskins' receiving corps, this ability to pick up chunks of yardage on short, high-percentage passes helps Griffin maintain his rhythm and flow throughout the game.
In the screengrab below, the Redskins are facing a first-and-20. They call a tight end screen to Davis from an empty formation:
The result? A 26-yard gain and, of course, a fresh set of downs.
4) Griffin steps up his game under pressure.
The true measure of a great quarterback is how well he performs in critical situations like third down, red-zone offense and the two-minute drill. Griffin has been spectacular in each, particularly in two-minute drills at the end of the game. These Redskins have a propensity to win close games, thanks largely to Griffin's ability to make timely plays with the game on the line.
Against Tampa Bay, Griffin directed a seven-play drive that covered 61 yards to set up the winning field goal. He connected on all four of his pass attempts and added a critical 15-yard scramble that put the Redskins within field goal range. While the overall composition of the drive was impressive, it was the rookie's composure that really stood out in my mind. Griffin understood all of the key components of the situation and masterfully led his team down the field with only seconds remaining on the clock.
Griffin continued to show exceptional awareness and poise while finishing the game against the Vikings. With the Redskins clinging to a five-point lead with less than four minutes remaining and facing a third-and-6, Griffin rolled off his aforementioned 76-yard touchdown run. While it is not uncommon for an athletic quarterback to make a first down with his legs in that situation, it certainly is rare for a quarterback to outrun an athletic defense for a long-distance score.