RG3 can rev up Redskins' running backs, too

Posted July 20, 2012 @ 4:29 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

QB Robert Griffin III already has had a great effect on the Redskins before playing a single game. But now that he is signed, sealed and delivered, Griffin’s on-field effect soon will begin.

We’ve talked about his laser arm. We have discussed his sprinter’s legs. But what has gone overlooked is his effect on the rest of the offense, namely the run game.

The Redskins averaged a very pedestrian 100.9 rushing yards per game (ranked 25th) and 4.0 yards per carry (22nd) in 2011, and it would be surprising if both numbers did not go up, and not just because of Griffin's scrambling and designed-run ability.

One primary reason would be better health at running back. Another would be the presence of Griffin and the threat of him opening things up for the backs.

A former Broncos assistant who spent time on Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan’s staff in Denver (and who requested anonymity because his current team plays the Redskins this season) told PFW this week that Griffin and his unique set of skills will change the dynamic of the Redskins’ run game.

“I am still trying to figure out if the kid (Griffin) is a special quarterback, but you watch, they’ll bootleg and play action off that (outside) zone series and it will mess up some (defensive assignments),” the assistant said. “You have to respect the run, but you also have to honor (Griffin’s) athleticism.”

The stretch or zone running play is a Shanahan staple. He has made some not-so-special runners — outside of Terrell Davis and Clinton Portis — look very good with a system that involved agile, cut-blocking linemen; one-cut runners who hit the hole quickly; and athletic quarterbacks who were a threat outside the pocket, either scrambling or throwing downfield.

“They’ll move it very well, pull a guard or a center, make it look like a run,” the coach said. “This will be after they have run the stretch that way once or twice, (to) get the defense thinking a little. Then they’ll either have the high-low pass play off the bootleg, or they’ll run it naked."

Griffin comes to the pros with the reputation of being an excellent deep thrower, too, and if he can establish connections downfield, it will prevent safeties from edging up closer to the line of scrimmage.

“It will kill teams," the coach said. "Pretty soon you start thinking only about the quarterback; you tell your guys to stay home more, and that’s when the backs will dice you up.”

That’s good news for Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster. None appear to be special runners, but each has qualities to fit this offense and could take advantage of Griffin’s athletic skills. Helu, if he stays healthy, has the most outside burst. Hightower and Royster hit the hole hard and are uncreative but strong inside runners. Their skills, though, might have just gotten a little better with a different quarterback on the field.