... leading the 3-4 Washington Redskins.
Robert Griffin not only leads the NFL with a 70.4 completion percentage, he’s a legitimate – make that a scary – threat as a runner in the option game.
So it will come down to an option quarterback to give LeBeau’s defense its greatest threat since Troy Smith beat them in a meaningless season finale in 2007.
Through the years, option quarterbacks haven’t fared well in the NFL, and they’re rarely even given the chance. Owners don’t pay big money to run their quarterback into the teeth of the biggest, fastest and strongest athletes in the world.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was asked why the Redskins would put Griffin at such risk in their zone read option.
“I’m sure there are some people who would like to hit him,” Tomlin said. “I don’t know how successful they’ve been.”
Not very. Griffin leads the NFL in yards per rush attempt (7.3), and fourth-quarter rushing yards (224) and fourth-quarter yards per attempt (11.8). He has the second-longest run in the NFL this season (76) and he’s second in the NFL in rushing touchdowns (6).
Griffin already has set the franchise record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a season with 468.
So, yes, running the option is risky – if you can catch him.
“I’ve seen him get pummeled,” countered Steelers free safety Ryan Clark. “I saw the play where Mark Barron from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lifted him off his feet. You look at the Cincinnati game he took some big hits. Obviously, the Atlanta game he took big hits. I think he does get hit. He gets hit a lot. He gets hit more than you want a quarterback to get hit. It’s because he’s a tough guy, though. It’s definitely a compliment to him that he’s tough enough to take those hits and continue to play, continue to run.”
In the Redskins’ “East Coast Offense,” Griffin’s first option is to hand off inside to another rookie, 220-pound Alfred Morris, who’s one yard off Arian Foster’s league-leading pace.
Up front are offensive linemen in the Mike Shanahan mold at Denver: They’ll run the zone stretch plays that have given the Steelers fits over the years, and they’ll chop block.
So it’s a Broncos-style run game with a hammer-head back and a sleek and strong 223-pound option quarterback with 4.41 40 speed. It all adds up to make the read option a legitimate NFL offense.
“So many colleges are running it, and the NFL with the wildcat, people have used bits and pieces over the last number of years,” said Shanahan, the third-year Redskins coach. “It’s kind of been a little bit more fun with Robert, because you can run it sometimes or you don’t have to run it, and those guys still have to prepare for it.”
How much extra work did the Steelers put into it?
“Quite a bit,” said Tomlin, “because it was non-existent, of course, five years ago. But it helps that the guys that we’re now working with coming into the league have exposure to it from playing in college. I think familiarity speeds up the process in terms of game-readiness. I think that that aids in the preparation time.”
Tomlin spent the week brushing up on “the rules,” or the assignments, in defending the option. But the Redskins’ quarterback offers more.
Griffin not only leads the NFL in completion percentage, he’s third in pass rating (101.8), first in passer rating against the blitz (152.1), first in yards per pass attempt (8.5), and has thrown only 3 interceptions.
He has a veteran deep threat in Santana Moss (19-290-4) and a couple of big-bodied young receivers in Leonard Hankerson (22-277-1) and Josh Morgan (18-217-0).
Griffin lost his leading receiver, tight end Fred Davis, to an injury last week, but Davis has been replaced by veteran Steelers-killer Chris Cooley, who has 428 career catches.
So, not only is Griffin immensely talented, he’s in a well-coached scheme with talented weapons surrounding him. It’s little wonder the Redskins lead the NFL in rushing and are fifth in both yards and points per game.
“Their head coach is a genius,” said LeBeau. “He is never going to show you the same thing two weeks in a row. He is going to do it differently. He is still going to run the same plays. The formations may be different and the people may be different, but the plays you have to stop are going to be repeating.
“We do have that. I am glad we aren’t playing them in the first game. We have some idea of what they are going to do but we don’t know what they are going to do it from. We have to be on our keys and have everybody on the same page. We have to play hard. We have to do that every week no matter what.”