In preparation for taking on the Redskins and, more specifically, dynamic rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome, Rams coach Jeff Fisher and his staff have gone into the film archives as deep as possible, stopping just short of pulling up old pee wee tapes, though they might do that too if they were available.
“We’ve gone back to Baylor,” Fisher said. “We’ve looked at him in the preseason. The Redskins were smart about what they did during the preseason. They featured one personnel group in each game and kept things very simple. (Redskins Head Coach) Mike’s (Shanahan) one of those guys, he’s really hard to coach against. He’s very successful. He’s going to change things up week to week, so you really don’t know what to expect. You know that he’s going to be creative and you’re going to be forced to adjust.”
The good news for the Rams is that they at least have one actual game of film to watch on Griffin, a luxury that New Orleans didn’t have a week ago. The bad news is that on that film, there wasn’t much in the way of weaknesses to exploit on a day when Griffin was nearly perfect in leading Washington to a surprising road victory against the Saints.
Griffin was so good in his regular season debut that he became the first rookie quarterback in the history of the NFL to earn Offensive Player of the Week honors for his debut performance.
Against the Saints, Griffin was 19-of-26 for 320 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a rating of 139.9 while chipping in another 42 yards on 10 carries on the ground. In the process, he became the only quarterback to throw for 300 or more yards and two or more touchdowns with zero interceptions in a NFL debut.
So, yes, it’s good that the Rams have a game in which the Redskins weren’t vanilla to try to devise ways to slow Griffin down in his second game. But it might be a similar situation to Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson where the young quarterback is so talented that you hope to contain instead of stop all together.
“His debut in the opener as a rookie, statistically, is historic,” Fisher said. “They said you have to go back to 1950 to see that kind of execution. He did a great job. He managed the offense well. He extended plays, made throws and clearly caught the Saints a little bit off guard. We’ve got our hands full, no doubt. He’s an extra dimension.”
Of course, the Redskins are actually a running team by trade and possess talented weapons all over the offense such as running back Alfred Morris, tight end Fred Davis and receiver Pierre Garcon but the catalyst to it all is Griffin, the player the Redskins drafted with the No. 2 overall pick this year after forking over a boatload of high draft choices to the Rams for the chance.
It was no secret the Redskins coveted Griffin and they wasted no time turning in the card back in April. Griffin was thrilled for the opportunity.
“We kind of figured that,” Griffin said. “You never concede anything, so that’s why I told people you never know what can happen in the draft. But once the Redskins traded up, they basically told me and the rest of the nation that they wanted me as their quarterback and it happened to fall that way and I’m proud that it did.”
Since the day Griffin was drafted, the nation’s capital has been awash in RG3 hype. It’s been a long time since the Redskins had a franchise quarterback they could count on for the long haul but there’s no doubt that’s how they viewed Griffin when they drafted him.
Shanahan, who hasn’t worked with a quarterback like Griffin since his days with John Elway in Denver, did extensive study on Griffin in the months leading up to the draft and ultimately determined there was no price too high to pay to add Griffin.
Upon his arrival in Washington, Griffin was met with great hype, hype that Shanahan said the down to Earth rookie has handled with aplomb.
“He’s a very down-to-earth guy and he understands work comes first,” Shanahan said. “Really, it’s been pretty easy because he knows he’s got to do it on the field and he’s got to prepare and that’s his top priority. It comes pretty easy to him.”
Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle, immediately went to work looking for ways to best take advantage of Griffin’s skill set. Blessed with sprinter’s speed and pinpoint accuracy on the deep ball but coming from a relatively rudimentary college spread offense, the question was how fast Griffin could acclimate to a NFL offense.
But as most good coaches do, Shanahan quickly began focusing on ways to make the transition for Griffin even easier by including some basic concepts he ran well at Baylor into the offense.
Long known for his affinity for play action, bootlegs, rollouts and the vertical pass, Shanahan had no problem finding ways to take advantage of Griffin’s combination of skills.
“Not at all, actually,” Griffin said. “The coaches here are doing a good job of putting us all in the best situations to be successful. They’re giving us great game plans to go out and just be successful. Move the ball, stay on the field and rest our defense up. So, the fact that Coach is adding new wrinkles, the whole OTAs and during training camp, for me specifically, shows that they’re willing to adapt to the players that they have.”
Beyond the common ideas that already merged from Shanahan’s offense and Griffin’s ability, the Redskins have also put in plenty of pieces from Baylor’s offense of things that the quarterback did well in Waco and could translate to the NFL.
“Yes, they did,” Fisher said. “They moved to, what they refer to as, the pistol and the option and the read-option and those kinds of things. He did them very well, for obvious reasons. He’s good at it.”
While there are fewer unknowns in dealing with Griffin, there are also some individuals on the Rams that have some familiarity with him.
Last week against Detroit, the Rams were able to bait quarterback Matthew Stafford into some mistakes, including three first half interceptions, one of which cornerback
Although Griffin appeared unflappable against the Saints, Fisher and his staff have ways of confusing things and mixing them up. With talented corners like Finnegan and
Jenkins actually trained with Griffin at Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona in the weeks leading up to the NFL Scouting Combine. The two forged a friendship there and have strong mutual respect for one another.
Griffin’s debut might have surprised some but not Jenkins.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Jenkins said. “I trained with him up until the combine and I saw a lot of great things while training with him and his work ethic. It was no surprise to me.
“First of all, he has great speed. He’s a mobile quarterback with nice arm strength. He can throw the ball anywhere on the field and he just plays within the scheme and uses his play makers as weapons also.”
The onus will fall on the Rams defense to ensure that Griffin’s encore doesn’t match his first. There’s no single key to slowing down a mobile quarterback like Griffin, it’s a total team task from getting pressure by the defensive line, having linebackers making sure tackles in the open field to defensive backs making plays on the ball in the secondary.
“It’s going to be a nice challenge,” Jenkins said. “As a defense we have got to play together, swarm to the ball and just make plays.”