There have been a lot of questions about the Redskins’ play calling during their first two games, particularly the lack of runs by Robert Griffin III. Both Mike and Kyle Shanahan have said that it has been game situations, not Griffin’s health, that have put the shackles on the quarterback who was so dynamic last year.
Here is Kyle’s explanation:
“I just think it’s been the situation in games. It’s definitely not the plan going into it. I don’t think in any game last year we were ever behind that much. In every game last year it was a pretty close game except for maybe the Pittsburgh game, but from what I remember it was still close late in the third quarter. It wasn’t three scores in the second quarter. When you get into a two-minute type offense at the start of a third quarter, you are not going to run him intentionally. If people aren’t open, then the quarterback scrambles, but people were open in these two games and I think that’s why he’s had pretty good statistics throwing the ball, but you scramble when no one is there and the defense allows you to and it hasn’t been that way.”
Let’s take a look at this year compared to last year and see how this explanation holds up.
Here’s a game-by-game look at the largest deficit they faced in each game last year and the quarter in which they faced it (games won are in bold).
NO 7-3 Q1
STL 31-28 Q4
CIN 38-24 Q4
TB 22-21 Q4
ATL 24-17 Q4
MIN 9-0 Q1
NYG 20-13 Q4
PIT 27-9 Q3
CAR 21-6 Q4
PHI Never trailed
DAL 3-0 Q1
NYG 16-10 Q3
BAL 28-20 Q4
CLE 7-0 Q1
PHI 7-0 Q1
DAL 7-0 Q1
SEA 24-14 Q4
It was somewhat surprising to see that they trailed at some point in every game but one; the only wire-to-wire win was the first game against the Eagles. But the deficits were only more than two scores once, during the game that Shanahan noted, the loss in Pittsburgh. That one was 20-6 at halftime and after a Kai Forbath field goal the Steelers pounded out a drive and scored to make it 27-9 with 5:17 left. That 18-point deficit was their biggest at any point during the season.
The only other times thy got down by two scores were against the Vikings and Bengals. In the Minnesota game they answered three first-quarter field goals by scoring 24 unanswered points. Cincinnati scored touchdowns on two fourth-quarter drives to turn a 24-24 tie into a 38-24 game midway through the final period.
This year it only took until 1:02 was left in the first half of their first game before the Redskins faced a bigger deficit than they faced in all of 2012. That’s when Michael Vick scored to put the Eagles up by 19 at 26-7. A minute and a half into the second half Philly scored again to go up by 26 points.
That stood as the high deficit of the year only until 8:20 remained in the third quarter against the Packers when they fell behind 31-0.
That’s a micro look at the issues. The website Football Perspective has a way of taking the macro view. They have a stat they call the game script. They track each team’s lead or deficit every second of every game and then use that to calculate that teams average margin of lead or deficit during the game (or season).
In 2012, the Redskins’ game script was a plus-1.9. This year the game script against the Eagles was minus-12 and when they played the Packers it was minus-17.9.
So even during their 3-6 start they were more competitive in every game and in most cases much more competitive. It would logically follow, then, that the play calling this year would be vastly different from what it was last year.
It should be noted that we don’t really know if Griffin is healthy enough to run as much as he did last year. For the time being, the way the games have gone has rendered that a moot point.