One of the consensus opinions among football experts following the injury to Robert Griffin III’s knee was that the Redskins’ offense would have to change in 2013. Even if RG3 can return to 100 percent health, the argument goes, having him 120 times run out of the read-option formation puts undue risk on the face of the franchise. Apparently offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan does not agree. In speaking with the media on Wednesday, Shanahan defended the Washington offense, believing that the zone-read style actually protects Griffin better than a traditional offense.
“RG3 stayed healthy last year running the zone read,” Kyle Shanahan said. “So I feel pretty good about that. You really hope no one gets hurt. It’s hard to control injuries…When you do the zone read, everyone [on the opposing defense] is accounted for. There’s not many free hitters in it.” When asked about the injuries that Griffin sustained during the season (to his head and knee), Kyle believes they were not due to the spread approach. “Not many big hits happened on that. Usually everyone is blocked for. You know who isn’t blocked. Look at the big hits. Look at what plays they were. The three injuries were pass plays. They weren’t the zone read.”
Shanahan’s defense of the read option is both right and wrong. On the one hand, he is correct that the option neutralizes outside linebacker blitzes, preventing heavy pass rushes that could potential blindside a quarterback. The zone read keeps defenders in set lanes, and creates moments of indecision which can paralyze the defensive line. However, Kyle’s assertion that the injuries to RG3 came from “passing plays” is a bit misleading. Both Griffin’s concussion against the Falcons and the initial knee injury against the Ravens came as the quarterback scrambled down the field. Perhaps neither of these plays were designed runs, but it is not fair to attribute the injuries to traditional passing situations.
As dangerous as RG3 is carrying the football, the Redskins would be crazy to repeat the same offense from a year ago. This does not mean the playbook needs to be thrown out completely or that the zone read should be abandoned. However, the Shanahans will be playing with fire if they insist on rushing Griffin with the same frequency as a season ago. One of the ongoing narratives from the offseason is that the coaching staff is not on the same page as Griffin and do not have his best interests (or health) in mind. Kyle’s statement is tone-deaf to these concerns, expressing rigidity and stubbornness about the effectiveness of his system.
As Mark Maske points out, it’s possible that Shanahan is simply hiding his true intentions for the offense to throw off opposing defenses in the fall. Perhaps this is the case. However, considering the Shanahan’s track record, it is not unreasonable to question their attitude about the genius of their system. It would be naive and reckless to put the same pressure on Griffin following major reconstructive surgery. Hopefully the coaching staff recognizes this. Though Griffin has proven he can do it all, he should not have to.