When the Giants face the Redskins on Sunday, they’ll get their first shot at second-overall pick Robert Griffin III, who has been taking the NFL by storm over the past few weeks. At first glance, Griffin poses the same risks as Michael Vick and Cam Newton, two quarterbacks the Giants have already faced and, largely, contained.
But while Griffin’s most spectacular highlights may come as a runner, defenses would be foolish to stack up against the threat of the run. Through 6 games, Griffin has arguably been the best passer in the league. Griffin is currently ranked 3rd in the NFL in passer rating, behind two Super Bowl MVPs, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. He also has fewer interceptions than either of them, and the highest completion percentage in the league. Add that to the threat he poses as a running, and he might be the most efficient offensive weapon in the league.
So what can the Giants do to slow him down? The good news is that they have the right personnel. Where teams often get into trouble against running quarterbacks is either by blitzing to create pressure, which he can run past if the blitzer doesn’t hit home, or by putting a spy on him, which takes a man out of coverage and helps the QB to pick apart the secondary. But the Giants are unique in that they are able to create pressure using just their front four, allowing all 7 of the other guys on the defense to focus on locking up potential receivers. Even if they don’t get many sacks – and it’s hard to imagine they will against such an agile QB – making him move around in the pocket without sending extra rushers should be enough.
When they do send extra rushers, the Giants have to do so smartly. Quarterbacks like RGIII are most dangerous when they break the pocket to the side of their throwing hand (in Griffin’s case, his right). When that happens, and he has the opportunity to throw or tuck the football and run, there is virtually no way to stop him. To combat this, the Giants can send extra rushers from Griffin’s right side, ensuring that if he breaks the pocket, he’ll have to do so away from his throwing side, which makes it much more difficult to complete a pass on the run.
The next way to neutralize any rushing quarterback is to play a lot of zone. In a zone defense, the front 7 defenders (at least) face the quarterback and react to his movements, rather than following a particular player. For obvious reasons, having as many eyes on the ball as possible is ideal. The problems that playing zone pose are that a) it’s more difficult to send extra rushers, and b) it’s a less effective defense against the run. But again, the Giants talented front-four will mitigate both of those issues. Obviously, you have to mix in some man-coverage to keep from being too predictable, but playing as much zone as possible will limit Griffin’s effectiveness as a runner.
Neither of these strategies are a total fix and they all both their downsides, but there are only so many ways to attack a player of Griffin’s talents. As it usually is, the onus will be on the Giants’ D-Line to lead the way. Based on their comments this week, it certainly seems as if they understand the challenge. Based on their past success, they’re probably up to it too.