RG3 Knee Injury: Mike Shanahan's Style of Offense More to Blame Than Turf

Will OsgoodAnalyst IJanuary 9, 2013

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 30:  Head coach Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins greets a fan prior to their game against the Dallas Cowboys at FedExField on December 30, 2012 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

As first reported by ESPN's Chris Mortensen in the wee hours in between Tuesday and Wednesday, Robert Griffin III suffered a torn ACL and LCL injury in Sunday's 24-14 playoff loss at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks

He had surgery Wednesday morning, and is expected to recover in 6-8 months. The surgery was performed by the most notable surgeon in the country, Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, Alabama.

Some have pointed the finger at the Redskins’ organization—specifically Mike Shanahan—for allegedly giving the young quarterback final say on whether to play.

As Sharon Stoll, a sports ethics professor at the University of Idaho, made mention of in this Washington Post story, “You’d like to think an athlete as intelligent as Robert Griffin III would be able to make that decision. But your humanness prevents you from making that decision.” 

There's an age-old saying in sports, "No one knows your body as well as you do." Stoll goes onto condemn that mindset, "That's why you need a community of medical authorities to step in and say 'you're not [playing]'. The athletes themselves, they can't do it. There's too much emotional tie-in." 

Keep in mind Griffin originally hurt his knee in his sophomore year at Baylor and had surgery on it. Most recently, he hurt the knee in a Week 13 win against Baltimore and missed the next game against Cleveland. Going into the playoff game, he was listed on the injury report as probable. 

Others have tried to make excuses for the turf at FedEx Field. There is no doubt the playing surface on Sunday evening was atrocious. But to make that the reason Robert Griffin III is now facing a challenging rehabilitation process that may or may not allow him to play football in 2013 is nothing short of petty.

Playing surfaces are playing surfaces. To avoid injury on a poor playing surface, a player must rely on the equipment staff to provide him the proper-sized cleat so that he can stick his foot in the ground and get the right traction.

It’s a mere certainty the Redskins’ equipment manager and staff made sure Griffin’s cleats were adequate.

There is another explanation that involves Shanahan. It’s the style of offense.

The Redskins entered the season believed to be the same Shanahan offense we’ve seen for almost two decades—that is a strictly zone running game, mostly from under center with a west coast passing game.

The Redskins did employ that as part of their offense. But the go-to schematical style Mike Shanahan, and his son Kyle, preferred was a pistol-based set. It is the same offense recently retired Chris Ault made famous at the University of Nevada-Reno.

It is a style that is sweeping the college game. Alabama employed it numerous times in the BCS National Championship Game on Monday night. Of course Alabama does not have RG3—a dynamic, take-your-breath-away runner in the open field.

And that’s a good thing. The way the Redskins used the pistol was really as an option-based offense. Griffin would sit back in an abbreviated shotgun formation, turn and read the opposite defense. If the defender played rookie running back Alfred Morris, Griffin would keep the ball and often explode into the secondary with the football.

If the end played Griffin, fellow rookie sensation Morris would get the football and cut through the defense.

In theory, it is a wonderful offense. On the field, that theory transitioned brilliantly.

Until Sunday.

Coming into Sunday’s game, Griffin had played in 15 of the Redskins’ 16 contests. In those 15 games, he ran the ball 120 times for 815 yards. Compare that to his 393 passing attempts.

To borrow a basketball concept and apply it to Griffin, his usage rate as a runner was approximately 23 percent of the teams’ total rushes. And to look at the numbers of Griffin’s total plays in which he was either a runner or passer, 24 percent of those plays were rushes (though not all of them called).

In other words, one out of every four plays Griffin was involved in was a run from Griffin.

To take it one step further, 120 attempts divided 15 games is, of course, eight. Griffin averaged eight carries per game.

For an NFL running back that would be no issue. But Griffin is not a running back, he’s a quarterback. If you were to look at this from a college perspective and included sacks in his rushing attempts, it would be 150—as he was sacked 30 times on the year. That would equal out to 10 attempts per game.

Of those 150 rushing attempts, let’s assume Griffin was hit or tackled by a defender two-thirds of the time, or 100 times. That’s 100 brutal hits coming from much more physically imposing players running full speed at Griffin. And that doesn’t even include non-sack pressures and takedowns.

That’s a ton of pounding for the relatively slight rookie QB to take in his first year in the league.

The saddest part is that it could have been avoided.

Compare his NFL statistics to his college statistics. Interestingly enough, Griffin threw the ball more in 13 games at Baylor than in 15 games as a Redskin.

He attempted 402 passes at Baylor, compared to the 393 he tried in D.C. His rushing attempts were greater at Baylor too, but two factors easily explain that away—first, Baylor employed a high-tempo offense and second, as noted before, college sacks count as runs.

Watching the Baylor version of Griffin on film, you see a player resoundingly confident and comfortable standing in the pocket searching for open receivers. He scrambled only to avoid pressure and give receivers time to get open. Running was a last ditch anomaly for him.

But the Shanahans—eager to win now decided that it wasn’t worth another season of pain and losing to allow Griffin to earn his NFL stripes and make some poor decisions on the field while learning how to become an NFL pocket passer.

The result was what analysts universally deemed an innovative NFL offense that gained the Redskins their first trip to the playoffs since 2007 and only the third for the franchise since the turn of the century.

It was the fourth highest-scoring offense in the league—at 27.2 points per game. And it helped mask the deficiencies of a defense that lost two of its three best players—Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker—within the first two games.

Still, the Redskins’ franchise figures to take a step backward from the perch they seemed to build. It was all fool’s gold. Using an option-based offense had long been considered impossible in the NFL.

We finally were given the opportunity to see a coach give it a shot in 2012. It worked, until its superstar quarterback suffered a frighteningly severe knee injury. Now the Redskins’ future is in greater peril than it was before the 2012 season began.

That is unless the Shanahans take a good hard look in the mirror and remember what has worked for them in the NFL—an under center zone running game with play-action passing and deep shots down the field.

The RG3 coming out of Baylor was a perfect fit for that scheme. For some reason, the genius coach did not understand that. Now, the franchise is behind a year. Griffin will have to earn his stripes all over either in his sophomore campaign—if healthy enough to play—or God forbid in 2014.

If Shanahan is still around in 2015, RG3 might be the best pocket passer in the game. Sadly for Washington fans that could have been the case in 2013.