Which receivers were truly most effective with the ball in their hands last season? We look at the leaders in YAC+ for 2014 and the last nine years.
11 Sep 2012
by Rivers McCown
On Sunday afternoon in the Superdome, Robert Griffin single-handedly proved that he was worth three first-round picks, a second-round pick, and all of Subway's money by leading the Redskins to a 40-32 win over the Saints.
See how silly that sentence looks? I'm sorry, it's just the annual brain fatigue from taking part in Overreaction Sunday. Other things that I thought two days ago included "Reggie Bush actually looks good," "this Packers secondary just isn't that talented," and "I sure hope Cam Newton can throw a ball, because the Panthers aren't running it here." Don't get us wrong, we're big fans of Griffin here, as the Lewin Career Forecast showed, but isn't instant stardom a bit much?
Statistically, the single-game look at VOA that we can offer right now shows that ... well, neither the Saints or the Redskins actually played all that great this weekend. Actually, the Saints "outplayed" the Redskins in the eyes of our system, but lost.
|Dewey Defeats Redskins|
|Team||Total VOA||Off. VOA||Def. VOA||Special Teams VOA|
VOA, of course, isn't something that has a lot of predicative value in a one-game sample size. However, let's look at what differentiated the teams in the system.
The big edge for New Orleans is on special teams. Brandon Banks fumbled one punt and muffed another. He didn't lose either of them. (In fact, the Redskins collected all four of the game's fumbles.) Their net punting numbers are also skewed because of Courtney Roby's touchdown on a blocked Sav Rocca punt. Rocca's punt with 22 seconds left in the game, from the Washington 42, that resulted in only a touchback, also hurt. From your own 42, you really need to be able to drop it in there behind the 20.
A further VOA split of notice: Washington had a -6.9% VOA on runs, and a 70.3% VOA on passes. So, Griffin has already become the first player ever to be worthy of the annual Redskins offseason parade, right? Well, we can explain away some of that difference with the same reason we used to create DYAR: DVOA can underrate workhorse runners. When you run the ball 44 times, odds are that you're pounding the ball to drain the clock, not necessarily trying to call the most effective play. (That being said, the negative VOA comes because the Redskins weren't running well even when compared to other teams running out the clock with late leads.)
How did Griffin actually play? The Shanahans handled him with kid gloves early in the game. The Redskins first drive started with six straight completions, but all six of them were screen passes or quick hitches. The 88-yard touchdown to Pierre Garcon was a fine medium-distance throw under pressure, as New Orleans' defensive end did not buy the play-action fake. But the majority of those yards came after the catch, and the reason they were so easy is because Josh Morgan set a perfect pick on Roman Harper to spring Garcon. That was one of three Griffin throws (one of them was cancelled on penalty) that actually went beyond the line of scrimmage in the first half. Another big play, a 32-yard pass interference penalty drawn by Aldrick Robinson on fourth-and-1 in the third quarter, looked like a poor throw from Griffin under pressure. Harper was caught looking in the backfield, and Robinson had a few steps on him, but the throw came up a little short and Harper was able to catch up and be in good position to defense it.
Between the option reads that Washington was running and the constant play-action to buy Griffin time, it would be easy to just write off his strong statistics as a one-week fluke. It would also be wrong.
The opening play of the second quarter featured the Redskins in a two-back shotgun look, the Saints were in their base 4-3. Griffin operated off play-action. The Saints sent five, and since one of them was a safety, he (Malcolm Jenkins) had a free run at Griffin. Griffin stealthily avoided him, then threw a strike to Fred Davis right in front of Corey White with a second rusher taking a run at him. 26 yards on a play that, by all means, should have been a throwaway, is an example of the kind of Tony Romo-esque playmaking ability that Griffin brings to the table. (I will bring photos for show and tell next time. This week, check out Tanier's graphs!)
That all said, we came into this year projecting the Saints to have the worst defense in the NFL. They didn't disappoint in Week 1. Jabari Greer was inactive, and Johnny Patrick also left the game with a knee injury. That left the Saints using converted safety and 2012 fifth-round pick White at outside corner on 97 percent of the snaps, and forced recent waiver claim Jerome Murphy right into the fire in sub packages. Patrick Robinson, the only corner the Saints actually planned to enter the game with, also continues to be inconsistent at best.
Still, the real issue was that the lack of pass rush from last season wasn't really addressed, and the internal options that New Orleans is banking on improvement from (Cameron Jordan, Martez Wilson) didn't really do much to harass Griffin in the pocket. When New Orleans got pressure on Griffin, it was mostly because their backside end read the play-action and stayed home. (That also partially explains Griffin's insane numbers when pressured.) The run defense was generally fine, especially considering the Saints were dealing with a rookie quarterback running the option. An injury-riddled secondary with a poor pass rush is a combination that can make a lot of quarterbacks look good -- let alone one who actually is good.
On the other side of the ball, the Saints played a typical Saints game, replete with a requisite insane Jimmy Graham touchdown catch. Three factors slowed them a bit: poor field position, a dreadful game from Marques Colston, and the Redskins getting a lot of pressure on Drew Brees. Brees completed some amazing passes anyway, because he is Drew Brees, but Ryan Kerrigan in particular was wreaking havoc on the Saints line. Colston's fumble out of the back of the end zone for a touchback was a killer, and he added a couple of drops as well on his way to catching just 4-of-11 targets.
The overall feeling that I came out of this game with about Griffin, ironically enough, is that it reminded me of one of Andrew Luck's college games. Remember, back during the Luck-Griffin debates, when our friend Greg Cosell mentioned that there was a lot of tape of Griffin making complicated throws and little of that from Luck? Well, Griffin isn't running an Art Briles spread attack anymore. He's running the Shanahan play-action game (albeit with much more shotgun than usual) with a ton of read options and a receiving corps that I will charitably call "unheralded." Whether that was a single-game wrinkle with the traditional wisdom of winning the time of possession battle against a good offense behind it or a season-long strategy is yet to be seen.
Griffin did not have a lot of complicated route combinations to complete. He wasn't often tasked with finding secondary or tertiary reads. He did not play against a particularly talented pass defense. He didn't play mistake-free football, despite the fact that he looked good under pressure.
Still, although the safe bet is on rookie growing pains occurring at some point, Griffin showed enough for the hype to be justified. Sometimes, on Overreaction Sunday, you actually do learn the truth.
27 comments, Last at 11 Sep 2012, 10:12pm by Nick Saikley