There’s no doubt that one of the key matchups for Dallas against the Redskins on Thanksgiving is Robert Griffin III versus (insert Cowboys defensive player here). Linebacker Bruce Carter has the speed to potentially contain RGIII and he’ll probably be the guy Rob Ryan calls on to spy the rookie phenom, but defending Griffin will truly be a team effort. Here’s how the Cowboys should do it. . .
Mix up looks.
126.3. That’s RGIII’s passer rating when blitzed
this year. At 9.82 YPA, Griffin is absolutely gashing defenses when they send more than four rushers. If Ryan plans to bring the heat on Griffin play after play, the rookie will eventually beat the blitz.
However, it isn’t like the Cowboys can simply rush three defenders—something they did more often than they blitzed last week. RGIII isn’t Brandon Weeden, and he’ll pick the Cowboys apart if they’re too conservative. If the ‘Boys want to play with two-high safeties, it’s going to be awfully difficult to stop Griffin and the Redskins’ rushing attack. It’s hard to imagine, but the quarterback who is ranked in the top six in completion percentage, passer rating, and net YPA is also ranked in the top 20 in rushing yards among all players.
Change the attack based on game situations.
A massive portion of Griffin’s passing success has come on play-action. Actually, 36.8 percent of RGIII’s dropbacks have been a play-action pass—by far the highest rate in the NFL. Griffin has a ridiculous 115.4 passer rating on those looks, connecting on 68.9 percent of his play-action passes for 11.5 YPA. On all other passes, Griffin has 66.1 percent completion rate and has thrown for only 5.8 YPA—meaning he’s literally half as efficiency on straight dropbacks as compared to play-action.
Since RGIII is so dominant on play-action passes, the Cowboys need to get him in situations in which play-action isn’t useful, i.e. 2nd and 3rd and long. In those situations, it could be advantageous for the ‘Boys to play it safe; if Griffin is about average as a passer on straight dropbacks, don’t give him anything easy. In situations in which the Cowboys anticipate play-action being a possibility, they should probably bring more heat on Griffin. Since he’s beating defenses with play-action at such an efficient rate, a high-variance defensive strategy is the best option against Griffin on early downs when play-action is likely on the way.
Don’t forget that he runs.
If the Cowboys need to choose between stopping running back Alfred Morris and containing RGIII, they should pick the latter. The Redskins’ play-action passing game is so effective because they run read-option so well. When Griffin takes a Shotgun snap and shows a handoff, defenses typically flow toward the running back. If the Cowboys continue to attack RGIII on read-option, it will take the ball out of his hands. More importantly, when the Redskins run play-action instead of read-option, the Cowboys need to not fall for the fake and instead continue to rush Griffin. Ultimately, the Cowboys should make Morris continually beat them before allowing Griffin to dominate with either his legs or arm.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.
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