When the Washington Redskins took quarterback Robert Griffin III as the second overall pick in the NFL Draft, it was announced almost immediately that the incoming rookie was going to be the starter for the 2012 season.
Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan immediately began the tedious task of figuring out how to form their offense around Griffin III’s talents, which, of course, include a big, accurate arm with the ability to stretch the field with his legs.
About seven-and-a-half months later, the Redskins own one of the top offensive attacks in football. Defensive coordinators cringe as they try to prepare their teams for what’s to come.
But the success wasn’t a given simply by drafting Griffin III. The Washington coaching staff also had make sure the 10 other guys on the field knew how to play their parts to add their brand to what’s now a well-oiled machine.
One of those key contributors to the offensive rejuvenation has been third-year tight end Logan Paulsen, who was thrust into the starter role Week 8 after a season-ending injury to Fred Davis Week 7 against the New York Giants. Paulsen prides himself on coming to the park each day around 6:30 a.m. and leaving no earlier than 6 p.m, and this “gym rat” persona has allowed Paulsen to continue his personal goals of becoming a better all-around tight end — not coincidentally, he’s in the midst of a career year in Washington.
Paulsen was a guest yesterday on Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King’s Week 14 NFL Podcast(24:52-43:50), and discussed in great detail exactly how the Redskins’ “East Coast” offense has changed and how his teammates have adjusted — and continue to adjust — each week since Griffin III’s arrival.
Paulsen told King that the introduction of the new packages to the offense was at first mind-blowing.
“I think it’s been a complete culture shock for everybody,” Paulsen said. “I remember when we first put it in, it was kind of like learning to walk again. I guess I’m speaking for myself — you play football for a very long time, through high school, through college, and never been exposed to exposed to anything like this, and I think that’s a majority of the people in our offense. And then all of a sudden, we’re doing all this zone-read stuff and we’re letting guys go and pushing the whole offensive line to different guys than we normally do. It was just completely new, like a completely new learning experience. The receivers, they have vastly different responsibilities now. I think this whole process has just been kind of a gigantic learning experience, and something that I’m glad, personally, that I’ve been exposed do. I think everybody is, because it’s helped our offense so much.”
Talking specifically, the pistol formation has been the Redskins offense’s bread and butter. In the pistol, the quarterback is lined up about four yards behind the center — not the traditional seven yards that the shotgun offense brings. Also in the pistol, the halfback (or whoever else joins the quarterback in the backfield) can line up behind or beside the quarterback.
Paulsen talked to King about the advantages of running the pistol formation, especially with a dynamic quarterback like Griffin III running the offense.
“It allows us to run like a traditional West Coast offense, you know, with our three-step, five-step, seven-step drops, and it allows us to run the football with our eight and nine outside-zone running game, which is something that you can’t really do — or it’s more difficult from a timing standpoint — from the shotgun because of the distance,” Paulsen said. “I just think all of those factors, plus the addition of having Robert being able to run the zone read out of that formation — because you can’t do that from under center; or it’s more difficult from under center. It makes the read more difficult for the quarterback. So I think it just gives us everything that we were doing the past two years, or since I’ve been here, plus all the stuff we have off the zone read: so all the play-pass, all of Robert’s runs, all the running back dives, all the fullback option stuff. So I think it just adds a whole new dimension to the playbook because of the diversity it gives the backfield.”
The zone read Paulsen is referring to is all on the quarterback. Griffin III, for example, will take the snap out of the pistol formation and put the ball in running back Alfred Morris‘ gut. All the while, he’s reading what the backside defender — who is typically left unblocked — does. If the defender makes a move towards the quarterback, then Griffin III will hand the ball off to Morris; if the defender makes a move towards the running back, the Griffin III will keep the ball and take off in the hole that was left by that defender.
A perfect example of this zone-read play occurred in Monday night’s 17-16 win over the New York Giants (see right). On 3rd and 1, the Redskins lined up in the pistol formation with Morris behind Griffin III. Griffin III took the snap and read that uncovered defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was playing run all the way. So the rookie quarterback took off with the ball to his left and, after getting great blocks from his receivers — particularly Leonard Hankerson on the outside — Griffin III was able to gain 46 yards.
The Redskins have also, at times, added other playmakers to the backfield that Griffin III can pitch the ball to after taking off with the ball; or Griffin III can pass out of the read option. All of these options just add to the opposing defense’s misery.
Implementing these changes each week, Paulsen said, has been interesting and challenging, but seeing the hard work pay off this season certainly makes it worthwhile.
“It’s become the norm, rather than, kind of, the exception, as it would’ve been at the beginning of the year,” he said. “It’s something that we’ve just come to expect every week — a new wrinkle to this package. It’s been an awesome development.”
And, of course, one of the masters of the entire process has been Kyle Shanahan, whose patience, according to Paulsen, has been as important as anything else.
“He’s growing the offense,” Paulsen said of Shanahan. “He’s kind of the gardener for this team. He’s done a great job of making sure that we’re ready to go and that we’re in a great position to be successful each week, which is really special.”
Tags: logan paulsen, Peter King, pistol, read option, sports illustrated, washington redskins
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