How Can the Redskins Get Better? First Downs
by Chris Russell
Jun 14, 2014 -- 11:05am

With the Redskins "off-season" about to enter the final phase where players will be off for five weeks and coaches will take several weeks of vacation, it is time to look at some practical ways that the team can improve on both sides of the ball.

We will start with the quarterback position and Robert Griffin III. If the commonly held theory holds true, that any NFL team's success starts and ends with their quarterback, then that's the only natural place to lead off.

I am not smart enough to talk about mechanics. I can notice some things, but I don't get paid to be a expert in quarterback fundamentals so I will leave that for others.

However, I try to apply common sense to my praise and criticism. Certainly, I will apply that theory to this series of posts.  has been doing a lot of in-depth posts on quarterback metrics. Some are easy to explain, some are not as easy. Some are practical, but others are much harder to define.

With that being said - I think an easy way for the REDSKINS and as a result, Robert Griffin III to improve on is to get better on first downs.

That might seem a simple thing to say, but the numbers from last year are startling.

First down success/failure does not guarantee anything but is often brushed off to the side, especially compared to third downs.  I get it, but what you do or don't do on first down often dictates your success or failure and certainly the play call on the most important down of any series. At least that's how I see it.

According to PFF's Steve Palazzolo, in 2013 - Griffin dropped back to pass two-hundred times. He was (95-171), 1,220 yards, 55.6%, three touchdowns, six interceptions) on first down, while being sacked 16 times. He scrambled according to PFF 13 times on first down, while being victimized by nine drops.

Griffin had to throw the ball away eight times. PFF judged his accuracy to be at 65.8% and his quarterback rating according to the league formula was 69.3.

Griffin had an average time to throw calculation of 3.17 seconds and 2.71 seconds on average until he felt pressure. He rolled out 12.5 % of the time. Griffin had a 7.1 yards-per-attempt (YPA) mark on first downs.

ProFootballFocus which has a complicated and by no means gospel grading system, had Griffin III at a MINUS 16.6 on first downs in 2013. That was the worst in the NFL according to their grades, behind Geno Smith, Matt Schaub and Eli Manning.

That's the bad. This is the better.

On 2nd down according to PFF, Griffin III dropped back 165 times to throw while being sacked 11 times with 11 scrambles. Griffin was (95-143), 1,104 yards, 66.4 %, five touchdowns, two interceptions). Redskins receivers were credited with eight drops. Griffin was credited with five throwaways, with his league QBR at 95.4, and a PFF grade of PLUS 3.0, which put him 16th in the NFL.

Griffin had less time to throw on 2nd down than he did on first at 2.83 and less time to pressure at 2.51 compared to 2.71. Griffin's YPA went up (good) from 7.1 to 7.7. His judged accuracy was naturally up from 65.8% to 78.0%.

Ironically, Griffin had the same exact amount of completions (95) on first AND second downs in 2013.

Now here's where it gets better for Griffin above the progress made from first to second down. On third down.

On third down or the "money down" as it is called by some,  Griffin dropped back 154 times. That's  significantly less than on first down and slightly less than on 2nd down. He was (80-133), 857 yards, 60.2 % seven touchdowns, three interceptions). He was sacked ten times and had 11 scrambles.

Most alarming in my eyes and you probably remember this - Redskins receivers had a stunning 17 credited drops on third down. In case you are counting, that would be a credited total of 34 drops by the Redskins on downs one thru three, with exactly half that total on third down.

No doubt, Griffin's completion percentage was much lower than it should have been and overall his completions and yards total was affected. He had an average of 2.88 to throw, with 2.47 to pressure. The average time to pressure was the lowest of all three downs as you would expect, but the positive is that Griffin played his best while under the quickest amount of pressure.  

Griffin only was credited with one throw away, and had 87.2 quarterbacking rating by the league formula, with PFF grading him at a PLUS 9.5, good for 9th in the NFL. As a whole, the Redskins converted on third down 40.4% of the time.

In case you are wondering, PFF graded Bengals Quarterback Andy Dalton as a 0.5 on first down, a 0.6 on second down and a 5.4 on third down under Jay Gruden. Better on first, not as good on second and third in comparison to Griffin III.

Connecting the dots a bit further, the Redskins ranked 11th in third down conversions in 2013 while the Jay Gruden led offense of the Bengals ranked just ahead at 10th (40.89%).

Fourth Down numbers were largely insignificant but Griffin was (4-9) in those situations.

What does this tell us??? Obviously they are different situations for different reasons but one area that I believe the Redskins can utilize and exploit is an area that I think you will see a lot of.

The screen game will be a huge part of this offense as opposed to the Kyle Shanahan called Redskins offense. Make no mistake, the Redskins don't have a Giovanni Bernard, but between Alfred Morris, Roy Helu, Chris Thompson or Lache Seastrunk and Darrel Young - Washington has plenty of weapons. Not to mention the wide receiver screen which was used effectively under the previous system to Pierre Garcon and even tight end screens or "pop" passes to Jordan Reed.

The Redskins have been working extensively on the screen game in OTA sessions that the media can see, both during team drills and individual drills. I detailed some of the unit drill work that new running backs coach Randy Jordan has been developing.

That's the other "connection" to a much better screen game. Jordan was hired from North Carolina, where he coached Gio Bernard in his last season in Chapel Hill. Jay Gruden has a strong comfort with Jordan, and knows that he can help the Redskins become better in this area.

If you are going to pass on first-and-ten 230 times (7th most in NFL) like the Redskins did last year, then you better have a good checkdown/designed screen game that can take pressure off of Griffin and more importantly get him into a rhythm.

The Redskins only had 1,323 yards passing on those first-and-ten opportunities, for an average of 5.75 YPA, which ranked 19th in the NFL according to NFL GSIS.

On the year, Washington ran the ball 224 times on any first down situation in 2013. They passed 251 times on all first down situations in 2013.

The Bengals ran the football 256 times on any first down distance situation in 2013. By comparison, Cincinnati passed the football only 214 times on any first down distance. The Bengals, under Grudens calls, had 1,318 passing yards on first-and-ten which ranked just behind Washington but their average (6.90) was well above the Redskins (5.75).

The bottom line is this. Less throwing, and more efficient throws on first down is always a good idea. That's a very simple way for the Redskins to get a lot better in 2014.

Chris Russell - -

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