It has always been Mike Shanahan’s assertion that the read-option actually protects the quarterback, rather than put him in harms way. I, personally have agreed with Mike Shanahan. In the passing game, the read-option slows the pass rush, effectively making the defense have to read and react instead of rush upfield right at the quarterback. It’s why the continued insistence that the best way to stop the read-option is to hit the quarterback makes so little sense; if you are overly aggressive (as Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick all proved) in a rush to hit the quarterback, either the quarterback can get a huge play, or the ball gets handed off the back, and you probably get flagged.
In the run game, the read-option protects the quarterback for creating cleaner, more defined rush lanes than you would on a typical scramble. On a scramble, you likely don’t have the same level of protection; in the read option, you get more in the way of offensive linemen, wide receivers and tight ends blocking down field.
Still, that hasn’t stopped people from insisting, despite everything, that the reason Robert Griffin III got hurt last season was because the Redskins ran the read-option. Not to mention the continued speculation that RGIII didn’t like how he was being used, and that he took an abnormal amount of shots running it.
While I don’t expect the Redskins to have their quarterback have 120 rushing attempts next season, I do know that the read-option will always be a wrinkle in this offense, as long as RGIII can run it and as long as defenses still can’t manage to figure it out. But that does beg the question; did running the read-option expose Robert Griffin III to more injury?
My immediate thoughts compiling this video were simple; no. No, running the read-option did not expose RGIII to more injury. As I’ve rewatched the games, some of the biggest, hardest shots RGIII has taken in his career have been blind side shots in the pocket. That’s not to say that he didn’t occasionally get popped running the football. But on the whole, I found that Robert Griffin III was far better about getting down, and getting out of bounds and protecting himself on the read-option runs, than he was on the scrambles.
The times when Robert did get hit, I found it to be a result of Robert’s own hubris rather than the design of the play. Griffin is an incredible athlete, but he, as most athletes do, has to learn to protect himself, read-option or not.
The concussion Robert suffered versus Atlanta is a key example of this. The Redskins are in the 3rd quarter of a 7-7 game on 3rd and goal. Off the snap, right tackle Tyler Polumbus gets blown up off the ball. Chris Chester tries to get over and help, but by that point, Robert has already sensed the pressure and rolls out to his right. Which is fine. But the mistake Robert makes here is not knowing when to let a dead play go.
From the All-22, you can see that as Robert rolls, no one is open. At that point, the ball should’ve been thrown away. Robert has the sideline to get out of bounds, or he has the option to throw it away once he leaves the pocket. Instead, he breaks it upfield. There are three men in white shirts all with their eyes on the quarterback, and again, no one comes open. He makes the decision to get down and out of bounds far too late, getting drilled in the head and having to leave the game.
This is a case of the rookie not taking the game situation into account. The Redskins still took a 3 point lead after this when Billy Cundiff made a short field goal. Mike Shanahan used to tell Jay Cutler “don’t make it happen, let it happen.” This is a case of Griffin trying to make something happen, with there was no play to be made, and it wasn’t a game situation that called for a play to have to be made.
The Baltimore game is another example of Robert Griffin III not taking what the defense gives him.The situation is slightly different, as the Redskins did need a touchdown to tie it up. But, they’re also in four down territory with all three time outs. He didn’t have to cut this ball back inside in this case, especially since the defense essentially gave him the sideline.
RGIII gets pressure off the left side. When he rolls out, he has a lot of green grass towards the sideline. Robert gained 13-yards on this play after cutting up field. It’s hard to believe Griffin wouldn’t have gained at least that if he took the ball up the sideline and used it as his personal protector. He would still put the Redskins in a reasonable down and distance situation, and most importantly he’d be healthy.
It also brings up another nitpick; diving head first. RGIII has insisted that he was trying to get down on this play. Even so, his decision to dive head first instead of slide is a bad one, and a decision Griffin makes too often. Granted, he’s not the best slider in the world (can someone call Bryce Harper to give him some lessons?), but this is another case of not protecting himself. The difference in yards if he slides feet first is likely negligible, and again; he gets the team in a reasonable down and distance and gets to stay in the game.
The same could be said when he re-aggravated his injury in the playoff game versus the Seahawks.
You have to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. When it comes to next year, the big question won’t be “will the Redskins keep running this dangerous read-option”. The read-option isn’t as dangerous as people pretend it is.
The question will be, can RGIII become a smarter football player when it comes to protecting himself. His competitive drive and his belief in his ability is part of what makes him special, but the great quarterbacks learn to contain that belief in themselves and channel it into becoming better all around players. When you need that extra yard, you can go for it. But when you don’t, you have to have the wherewithal to live to see another down.
RGIII is a smart guy. I have no doubt he will learn those lessons, and the team will be all the better for it, now and in the future. The team ran the read option, a designed quarterback run, or triple option 50 times before the bye week; they ran it 20 times after the bye, basically abandoning the triple option after Robert Griffin III asked Kyle and Mike Shanahan to open up the offense. And the bulk of those carries came late versus Philadelphia when the team was running time off the clock, and in the Dallas game. That leaves an additional 50 times that Robert Griffin III scrambled on his own, without it being the called play.
120 carries is a lot for any quarterback, and that number of carries won’t likely be eclipsed again. But the read-option and elements of the triple option will continue to be parts of our offense as long as Robert’s able to run them. And given the fact that RGIII apparently has Wolverine’s healing factor that should be for a while to come. (Ha! Nerd jokes.)
Follow KC on Twitter @kcclyburn.