Jason Reid (c) 2014, The Washington Post. WASHINGTON — Jay Gruden and Robert Griffin III are expected to return next season. Although the situation isn’t ideal, perhaps Gruden and Griffin could make it work if they stick to the blueprint for Sunday’s 27-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
In an ongoing attempt to revive Griffin’s career, Washington’s coach continued to tinker with his offense, relying heavily on the running game and deep threat DeSean Jackson. The result? Well, Griffin wasn’t spectacular, but he appeared comfortable in the pocket while helping the team end a losing streak at six games.
The Redskins (4-11) overcame yet another abysmal performance on defense — unlike Gruden and Griffin, it appears play-caller Jim Haslett has little time left with the franchise — in winning the first game Griffin started and finished since last November. For a change, the Gruden-Griffin relationship produced a positive result. Let’s start there.
With Griffin sidelined in a Week 3 loss to the Eagles, Kirk Cousins shined directing Gruden’s offense, which is predicated on timing and rhythm, passing for 427 yards and three touchdowns. Griffin isn’t great at the timing stuff.
To put Griffin in the best position to succeed on Sunday, Gruden committed to the running game. The Redskins had 29 rushes, including 21 by Alfred Morris, and attempted only 23 passes. That was the formula former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan used to help Griffin get into a groove during his magical 2012 rookie year.
Morris had solid game, scoring on a 28-yard run in the first half as part of an 83-yard performance. Morris’s biggest contribution, however, was his effect on Griffin, who often has been rattled in the pocket.
Gruden acknowledged the Redskins were “just trying to get [Griffin] comfortable” early in the game. “Just trying to get him an opportunity to get the ball out of his hands and make good, sound decisions.”
Encouraged by Washington’s early scoring drives, Griffin clearly was confident in his job. It showed on his 51-yard pass to Jackson down the right sideline late in the first. One play later, Morris scored. Griffin also connected with Jackson on a 55-yard completion in the third.
On both deep balls, Jackson might have scored on better throws. Still, Griffin showed significant progress in merely completing the passes.
For Griffin, Gruden has moved the pocket more than for Cousins or Colt McCoy. Gruden won’t call certain passing plays for Griffin. And against the Eagles, Gruden finally developed a good run-pass balance to bolster Griffin’s confidence.
Said Griffin, “We got in a great rhythm early. That helped us throughout the game.”
Despite Gruden’s sound plan and Griffin’s solid play at times, Griffin continued to experience rough moments. Griffin must avoid “catastrophic mistakes,” Gruden says.
In the fourth, Griffin committed one, having a pass intercepted while throwing into double coverage. Nine plays later, Philadelphia capitalized, kicking a short field goal to tie the score at 24.
Griffin finished with 220 yards passing and a so-so 81.8 passer rating. Again, though, that’s progress for a third-year player who often has appeared lost as Gruden has tried to transform him primarily into a pocket passer.
Gruden would prefer to call at least 30 drop-back plays featuring the complex route combinations he enjoys devising. After a painful experience tutoring Griffin, Gruden knows that approach won’t work if Griffin remains the team’s starter. And owner Daniel Snyder plans for Griffin to remain in the role, people in the organization say.
In Washington’s final game against Dallas and next season, Gruden must implement a run-heavy offense to prop up Griffin. For the pass-first former quarterback, he’ll have to remake himself as well as Griffin.
Obviously, the offensive line will be a key factor in determining the direction of the Gruden-Griffin partnership. The Redskins need three new starters along the line. It’s President and General Manager Bruce Allen’s job to find them.
Until Griffin becomes a polished pocket passer, Washington should transform itself into a team built around a strong running game and defense. At least some of the tools to implement half of that strategy are in place.
Again, the Redskins’ defense was torched, giving up 495 yards. The Eagles (9-6) made numerous mistakes – they had 102 yards in penalties and missed two field goals — in a loss that dealt a blow to their playoff hopes.
The Eagles, though, moved the ball way too easily. On a touchdown drive in the second quarter, Philadelphia twice picked up first downs after needing 25 and 16 yards, respectively, on third down. All season, Haslett’s crew often has seemed incapable of covering players running in the middle of the field.
The Redskins need at least five new starters on defense. After one more game, they’ll probably need a new defensive coordinator, too.
It appears Gruden and Griffin will be linked longer. To make the best of it, the head coach and quarterback should continue along the path they walked Sunday. As long as Snyder wants them both, it seems that’s the only way to go.