One of the main reasons the Washington Redskins have slumped from first to last in the NFC East is the regression of their offense. The unit ranked fifth in yards and fourth in points in 2012. It has fallen to ninth in yards and a dismal 21st in points this season.
The struggles of quarterback Robert Griffin III are a big reason why. With Griffin not fully healthy after missing an entire offseason following major knee surgery, defenses have not had to focus on his threat as a runner.
Without that dual-threat dimension from its signal-caller, the Washington offense has become predictable. Opponents know if they can stop running back Alfred Morris on zone-stretch runs and take away deep crossing routes, they have the Redskins beaten.
To improve the offense next season, a fully healthy Griffin must be armed with a couple of key new weapons as well as a philosophy based on variety and speed.
Anatomy of a New System: Scheme Specifics
The priority this offseason has to be making Griffin a better passer. The level of investment made in 2012's second overall pick demands that kind of effort.
That will mean revamping an O-line that has folded in front of him all season. Despite the requirements of their zone-based scheme, the Redskins could use some more physical dominance up front.
Griffin will only get better from the pocket if he is kept clean inside it. But as much as his line needs work, the best way to make Griffin better is to expand his range of weapons.
The two new weapons Griffin needs most are a slot receiver and another "move" tight end. A pint-sized speedster who can win underneath would give Griffin a clutch target and an outlet pass when teams bring the pressure.
The only viable candidate currently on the roster is rookie Nick Williams. But like so many others, Williams has been used only sparingly.
Two of his three catches this season showed the value of a slot specialist. In Week 11 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Griffin targeted Williams to convert on 3rd-and-4.
The diminutive pass-catcher began the play by motioning across the formation.
That created a bunch look of three receivers, with Williams joining Santana Moss and Pierre Garcon. The two veterans cleared out the underneath coverage. Garcon went vertical, while Moss ran an in-breaking slant.
Williams slipped out behind these routes and into the flat. He was wide open to make an easy catch and earn a fresh set of downs.
Even with Kirk Cousins under center in recent weeks, the value of a true slot receiver is obvious. Against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15, Williams bailed out the offense on 3rd-and-3.
While outside receiver Aldrick Robinson took his coverage deep, Williams ran a short pattern just past the sticks.
Again, he was in plenty of space to make the catch and convert.
Notice that both of these plays required only simple throws executed quickly. That is what makes speedy slot receivers such great blitz-beaters. They are quick off the line and tough for covering defenders to track in traffic.
True slot receivers are usually open before the pressure can get home. Griffin, who has been attacked by defenses all season, desperately needs this kind of outlet to aim for.
He could also use another dynamic, "joker" tight end to partner with 2013's third-round pick Jordan Reed. Griffin had developed a promising rapport with the former Florida star before the pair were "shut down."
Reed is sure to be a marked man when he returns next season. Adding another roving playmaker to take advantage of the attention he receives would be a smart move.
It would expand what this offense can do from two-tight end sets. The two-tight end package has become prominent in modern NFL offenses, because of the mismatches the new breed of athletes at the position can create.
Teams with two playmakers at tight end can move them around to create multiple offensive looks to manipulate defenses. They can show balanced or unbalanced lines, as well as split tight ends out to form four- and five-receiver spread sets.
If the Redskins added a player like Wisconsin's Jacob Pedersen alongside Reed, they would have two gifted receiving tight ends to use against bewildered defenses.
Once Griffin is surrounded with the type of targets who make things easier for a quarterback, the sooner he will learn to spread the ball around more and work through his reads.
It then has to be about getting as many of those weapons on the field together as possible. That means more looks, specifically those featuring bunch formations.
Bunch looks, with three and sometimes even four receivers stacked together on one side, have been destroying defenses during the 2013 NFL season.
Having a clutch of receivers run multiple fast-breaking routes has strained coverage schemes to their breaking point. It is common to see defenders losing receivers that are criss-crossing all over the field at speed.
Bunch concepts allow an offense to split coverage apart and give a quarterback more choice. The Redskins have had some success with bunch routes this season. But like everything else about their offense, the concept hasn't been used nearly enough.
As much as more moving parts and different looks will put pressure on defenses, Griffin can crank up the heat even further by going no-huddle more often.
A fast-paced style of play suits Griffin's instinctive skills best. It would also be a major boost to a revamped offensive line.
Plays executed quicker put less pressure on linemen. They are not required to stay on their blocks as long. That should certainly make using the no-huddle appealing to a team that has surrendered 40 sacks this season.
The Redskins have barely used the uptempo attack in 2013. But on the rare occasions they have, Griffin has looked impressive at the controls.
He was certainly that in Week 13 against the New York Giants. Griffin used the no-huddle to lead a pair of quick-strike scoring drives.
It is easy to see why the no-huddle benefits the Redskins' young quarterback. Defenses have less time to change personnel, adjust coverages and set pressures—all the things that confuse struggling signal-callers.
In the no-huddle, the quarterback is the one dictating what a defense can and can't do. He often forces them to stay the same, and predictability is a killer in the NFL.
Philosophy: More Variety Please
A simple but accurate description of the Washington offense in 2013 would be Alfred Morris running the stretch play behind zone-based blocking and Griffin throwing to either Garcon or Reed.
There really isn't much else to it, and that is a problem. While a team may have a workhorse runner and primary receiver, it has become more and more difficult to lean on familiar players in today's league.
Instead, the most potent offenses are built on variety. The New Orleans Saints, who have amassed the fifth most yards in the NFL, include everyone in their offense.
They split carries in the backfield between a clutch of talented runners. When he airs it out, quarterback Drew Brees has a deep array of targets to aim for.
The Broncos have their own three-headed monster in the backfield in the form of Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball.
Opponents can't ignore the running game, even while they are trying everything they know to slow down Manning's aerial assault.
As if they weren't enough, Manning can also unleash ultra-athletic tight end Julius Thomas from anywhere across a formation.
Nobody has more weapons than Manning and the Broncos. It is also no coincidence that nobody has more points.
It is time for the Redskins to cultivate this level of variety. That means making use of all of their weapons.
This season, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has wasted a "move" tight end like Fred Davis and a pass-catching running back like Roy Helu Jr.
Players with these skills should feature heavily in next season's offense. The Redskins can take a tip from the San Diego Chargers on how to expand their repertoire and schemes.
Under first-year head coach Mike McCoy and coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, the Chargers have broadened the scope of their offense.
When previous head coach Norv Turner was in charge, San Diego ran the ball with one featured back, threw deep to the same outside receiver and targeted the same tight end underneath.
Now things are very different. While Antonio Gates is still a roving tight end defenses fear, the Chargers have turned loose another playmaker at the position.
Ladarius Green, a hybrid tight end in a similar physical mold to Gates, has been given more opportunities to impress. Putting Green and Gates on the field at the same time has created numerous big plays, as the Kansas City Chiefs found out in Week 12.
On this play, Gates and Green were aligned in a tight stack in the slot.
Gates ran an out-pattern underneath, while Green went on a deep cross over the middle. Gates took two covering defenders with him, leaving Green singled up against a safety.
The fleet-footed 6'6", 240-pounder was the obvious target for quarterback Philip Rivers. Green took Rivers' pass in stride and easily outran his coverage to complete a 60-yard score.
Simply by putting two players with similar attributes in the same formation, the Chargers caused havoc in the Kansas City defense. They split coverage underneath, giving their quarterback an easy decision and creating a big play.
Imagine what the Redskins might have done this season had Reed and Davis been paired together.
Another way the Chargers have improved their offense, and particularly their quarterback, is by equipping him with an outlet from the backfield.
Tiny terror Danny Woodhead was an ideal signing for Rivers. His ability to scoot between coverage and make a play has made him an invaluable checkdown for the previously gung-ho passer.
When his deep routes are taken away, or the pressure is on, the veteran quarterback now knows he always has Woodhead as a get-out ball.
There is no reason why Helu can't have this kind of value in the Washington offense. It is simply a matter of involving him.
Comparing the numbers of the two is a depressing indictment of the unimaginative play-calling in Washington. While Ryan Mathews has carried the load in the running game, Woodhead has still run the ball 101 times for 411 yards. Compare that to Helu's measly 59 carries for 250 yards.
While Morris should lead the way in the Washington ground game, there is no reason not to mix things up with Helu. It can give defenses a nasty contrast of styles between Morris' brute force and Helu's speed.
The committee approach can make running backs better. Woodhead sharing some of the load and surprising defenses on quick hits has helped Mathews enjoy his best-ever season.
In the passing game, Woodhead has caught 69 passes, making him the second-leading receiver for the Chargers. Helu, meanwhile, has made a mere 29 receptions.
More variety makes a better offense. The Chargers rank 14th in points and sixth in yards and are still in the playoff hunt, all thanks to their versatile attack.
Rivers is a more efficient, effective quarterback because he has been surrounded by better weapons and has greater license to use them. These are all things that are achievable for the Redskins and their quarterback next season. The Washington offense must feature more variety, both in terms of personnel and play-calling, in 2014.
Plays should be executed quicker and designed to include every weapon at Griffin's disposal. Only then will the Redskins light up scoreboards the way they should.
All screen shots courtesy of CBS Sports, Fox Sports, NBC Sports, NFL Network and NFL.com Game Pass.
All statistics via NFL.com.
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