Robert Griffin III's scintillating debut gave the Washington Redskins an upset win over the New Orleans Saints and earned the rookie quarterback NFL Offensive Player of the Week honors. But coach Mike Shanahan and his offensive coordinator (and son) Kyle Shanahan deserve great praise for crafting a brilliant game plan that allowed the young franchise signal-caller to thrive in his first start. Utilizing a mixture of spread-offense principles and West Coast-offense concepts, the Shanahans unveiled a hybrid offense that accentuated the rare skills of RG3.
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At Baylor, Griffin directed one of college football's most explosive offenses. The bread-and-butter play of the Bears' spread offense was the zone read. According to this concept, the quarterback places the ball in the belly of the ball carrier while reading the reaction of the defensive end. If the defender pursues hard down the line to take away the runner, the quarterback keeps the ball and runs around the edge. If the defensive end stays upfield, the quarterback releases the ball to the running back on an inside zone. When executed well, the play is nearly impossible to stop.
In the screengrab below, taken from the Week 1 win over New Orleans, RG3 is aligned in a shotgun double-wing formation with running back Alfred Morris set to his right. Upon the snap, Morris will cross Griffin's face on a zone run to the left. Tight end Niles Paul will leave Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan unblocked and work to get on the linebacker at the second level. RG3 will read Jordan's reaction to the run and decide to either give the ball to Morris or run a quarterback keeper:
When Jordan pursues hard inside to take away Morris, RG3 keeps the ball and heads for the open alley to his right:
With Jordan fooled by Griffin's deft ball-handling, the Redskins pick up 12 yards on the quarterback keeper:
Packaged plays: Inside zone or quick/bubble screen
The Redskins utilized a popular spread-offense concept by packaging a pair of plays together to exploit the Saints' defensive weakness. In theory, the quarterback comes to the line of scrimmage and reads the alignment of an assigned defender. If the designated defender is located within the box, the quarterback will throw the bubble screen to the perimeter to take advantage of the lack of defenders in space. If the defender is outside of the box, the quarterback will give the ball to his running back against a defense outnumbered at the point of attack.
In the screengrab below, the Redskins are in a dubs formation with the slot receiver flanked out to the left. RG3 will read the alignment of the nickel corner/outside linebacker to determine if the Saints have seven defenders in the box. If the Saints are heavy in the box, he will throw the ball outside to the receiver on a quick screen:
This play was executed flawlessly, with Garcon picking up 12 yards and a Washington first down.
Shanahan created easy opportunities for his young quarterback by featuring play-action passes prominently in the game plan. The threat of the run lures linebackers to the line of scrimmage, creating huge voids for receivers between the hashes. RG3 has shown a terrific feel for finding receivers after play fakes, so the utilization of run action in the backfield plays to his strengths. In addition, the deceptive ball-handling in the backfield slowed down the Saints' pass rush, providing Griffin with more time to find receivers down the field. As a result, the young quarterback repeatedly connected with his receivers over the middle, keeping the ball out of harm's way for most of the day.
The Redskins took advantage of Griffin's rare athleticism and mobility by putting him on the move on bootlegs. By using ball fakes to draw defenders to the line of scrimmage and getting RG3 on the perimeter, the Redskins put major pressure on the defense, given his ability to run or pass. In addition, bootlegs provide Griffin with simple reads and easy throws.
In the screengrab below, the Redskins are in a pistol formation. RG3 will execute a bootleg throwback pass to tight end Fred Davis. He will fake the ball to Morris on the right before rolling to his left to draw the defense to the back in the flat and the receiver on the crossing route. Simultaneously, Davis will leak out into a route on the backside:
Successful execution of the misdirection on this play leaves Davis wide open down the sideline: