Donovan McNabb joined the crew of ESPN’s First Take with Skip Bayless on March 30, 2012–just less than a month before the April 26, 2012 NFL Draft kickoff–and said Robert Griffin III is not a fit for Mike Shanahan’s offense. I do not necessarily agree with this, but there is more to where this is going. Donovan McNabb continued to break down exactly why he did not think Mike Shanahan and Robert Griffin III were going to be a match made in Heaven.
What type of offense do you run with him? Is it the spread offense that you try to continue to flourish, that he’s been successful in? Or are you gonna just have him in a foxhole–with a makeshift offensive line? You keep bringing in receivers, you have a solid tight end in Fred Davis that you need to feature. What are we gonna see? I don’t think it’s a great fit.
When McNabb was asked if he had “an ax to grind because of the way [he] was treated in Washington”, McNabb said, “you know, I do but I don’t.” He went on to say, “you’re only as good as the guys around you. And also, you have to be in a system that’s catered to your ability. That’s what we hear in Denver–’we’re gonna cater this offense around Peyton Manning, and what he knows.’”
Now I’ll let Donovan have the floor again.
He is a pocket passer. RGIII is a pocket passer, who can make plays with his legs. Now, I think a lot of times, we overlook that because of the ability… of that ability that he has… where automatically he’s a bootleg guy – you know, get out of the pocket. I think he’s a pocket passer first. 3-step, 5-step, 7-step kinda guy. We’ve seen that in his workout. He has the ability to be in the shotgun where he can see the field, peruse the field, read off the defense, get the ball out of his hands. He does a great job of taking care of the football, which is the most important thing. But you have to be in an offense where I think it’s catered to your ability, not trying to mold you into something that you’re really not.
Sitting beside Donovan McNabb in all of this is Michael Smith who closed the segment out with this nugget:
I want to say one thing about Mike Shanahan’s body of work, since those Super Bowls – you definitely need to distinguish between Mike Shanahan the coach and Mike Shanahan the personnel evaluator.
Anyone who is familiar with Robert Griffin III’s work at Baylor knows that Donovan McNabb hit a ringer when he said RGIII was a pocket-passer who can make plays with his legs, all out of the spread offense. The spread offense was the signature, and the read option a random play to call when defenses got aggressive when attacking the backfield so that Baylor could counter-punch the pressure. This is what made RGIII the most dynamic football player in college football, gaining him the Heisman Trophy in the 2011-12 NCAA season, propelling him to being drafted #2 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins. Donovan also made an incredible point to suggest we overlook this because of his ability with his legs. I do not necessarily agree that Robert Griffin III is not a bootleg guy. I do not think he has been coached into it, first of all, and definitely not coached into it enough to be highly effective at it. The fact is, he has rarely been put into the Mike Shanahan, or Kyle Shanahan, offense, which can–and often does–incorporate many things from the spread offense.
What happened in Washington in 2012 was amazing, and fun to watch. It also set this organization up for the mess it is going through right now in the final month and a half of the 2013 NFL season. Kyle Shanahan put Robert Griffin III in the read option offense. Not the zone-blocking stretch. Not boot-action. Not the spread offense (which has worked very well for several in the NFL). They used the Pistol, but they bunched formations up and ran the read option, because everyone was caught off guard and could not adapt to what Washington was throwing at them. Kyle Shanahan also noticed that his offensive line (as McNabb suggested) was not up to par. He would mask their deficiencies by allowing defenses to bully through, only to find that they were late and missed out on the read option with RGIII running down the sideline.
Last season was brilliant for Kyle Shanahan. It really was. He found a way to counter his team’s weaknesses and what defenses were doing to exploit those weaknesses, and he made them pay. However, in 2013, Kyle Shanahan did not adjust his offense except to use more max-protect to clutter the backfield because he knew his quarterback was not going to be as explosive as the year before and defenses clearly keyed in on how to attack not just the read option, but Washington’s offense.
Kyle did not adjust to those adjustments. First of all, the Redskins should have gone to the spread offense solely to put RGIII in position to find comfort in returning from a knee injury, to keep pressure off of him in the pocket as defenses would not blitz all out, and to keep defenses out of a box. Instead, Kyle invited every defense into a disciplined 7-man box, and saw his two-man routes doubled on the outside and pressure getting up the middle of his offensive line. RGIII, hobbled, is bouncing outside against LB’s who are not playing out of position. What Kyle failed to realize all year long is that if he showed a look like max-protect, and spread the field out on the line, LB’s would have been mismatched wide against a back like Helu and a TE like Jordan Reed and RGIII would have had a defense to pick apart in space.
The problem is, as we saw in 2012 with Kirk Cousins vs. the Browns and yesterday with Kirk Cousins vs. the Falcons, Kyle Shanahan has spread formations in his playbook. Last year, Kyle even let Kirk Cousins run the spread read-option with no defensive box in order to counter Cleveland’s defensive line pressure getting closer and closer in the pocket. Kirk even took off when Cleveland adjusted that pressure to a more interior rush after Kirk gave Alfred Morris the ball on the option and made the Cleveland defense pay. Yesterday, the spread offense was the primary offense. There was no max-protect. There were four- and five-man routes. The plays I said they wouldn’t call (playaction up the middle taking the RB out of the play as a blocker) showed up and resulted twice in the same horrible plays that have plagued Robert Griffin III this season. But Kirk was given an offense to play in that RGIII excelled at in college, and has not seen much of in his time here in Washington.
Mike Shanahan, and Kyle, can point to 2012 and say they effectively adjusted their offense to the strengths of RGIII. The statistics say they are not lying. But what Mike and Kyle Shanahan did not do in 2013 is adjust their offense to the strengths of RGIII as well as to the adjustments of opposing defenses.
As far as what Michael Smith had to say–it’s apparent that Mike Shanahan has not made the best decisions when evaluating his personnel. If you disagree, you can argue that with me on Twitter @Sean_Bishop.