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The Stillers vs. R.G. Tebow III

October 26, 2012 by Palmer Sucks

Stillers vs. Washington Redskins Game Preview

Thanks to a couple of injuries over in Baltimore, the Stillers surprisingly find themselves back in the AFC North hunt. Sunday’s slopfest in Cincy netted a win (Mike “Stonehands” Wallace notwithstanding) thanks to an amazing sequence of plays at the end of the first half. The bruising running of Jon Dwyer didn’t hurt, either – like I’ve said, this is a first-round talent if he can get his head out of the sixth.

Yeah, Woodley caught the fluke pick, but the turnover – and the subsequent TD – was a season-defining switch. Had the Steelers gone into the locker room down 8 or even 11 points, I doubt they win that game – and say goodbye to the 2012 campaign. Look now for the Stillers to head north, and the Bengals south, for the winter.

The more the Ravens have to depend on Flacco, the more I like the Stillers chances. With Baltimore on the bye week, the team has a real chance to close the gap.

The Stillers now face the Washington Redskins, brimming with confidence despite their 3-4 record. The thrill is back in Redskinland thanks to flashy rookie Robert Griffin III, who comes in as hyped as any player in recent memory. Griffin’s stats don’t look like any first year player’s: he’s notched an impressive 101.8 QB rating, with a highly respectable 8.47 YPA. Last week the Redskins were a late fumble away from upsetting the Giants, whose players couldn’t praise him enough after the game.

How far has the RGIII jock-riding gone? Coffee and donuts connoisseur Peter King is already predicting the Redskins will “compete for multiple titles” with their new QB. PTI yakmeister Barry Wilbon has taken things a step further, proclaiming Griffin the MVP of the entire league, after a whopping seven games. (Personally, I found the whole pre-season RGIII commercial blitzkrieg annoying – I mean, at least win a freakin’ game before we see your face all over the TV screen.) Maybe we should call him “Cam Newton II,” instead. It’s gotten that bad.

Unlike the Colts, whose rookie QB struggles with a gutted team starting over from scratch, the Redskins are veteran squad a decent QB away from contending. Only the recent procession of stiffs behind center have prevented them from reaching respectability. Washington boasts stars like Brian Orakpo, and with Griffin standing tall, the Redskins are built to win now. So far, he looks like the man for the job.

Griffin has help not only with personnel, but scheme. Washington has employed the collegiate read-option offense to protect Griffin from having to decipher pro defenses. That, of course, equates to what Denver did last year with Tim Tebow. (The similarities can’t be denied – both Tebow and Griffin are known as runners who’ve excelled in simple offenses; both also have reputations as good citizens who wear their faith on their sleeves. Together these two young God-Squaders have cornered the market on NFL popularity.)

The Redskins’ offense relies on the read-option, in the form of the “Pistol.” The Pistol is similar to the shotgun, except the running back lines up three yards behind the QB. First used by Nevada, the Pistol quickly caught on in college football, and was adopted a couple seasons ago by schools like UCLA. Lately the Ohio U. Bobcats have used it to break into the AP Top 25.

As a guy who watches a lot of MAC football, I’m fairly familiar with this offense. When used in the pros, it takes the pre-snap pressure off the passer, as the QB will read the defensive rush rather than their coverages. For example, in the Pistol the QB will follow the DE’s eyes (much as he would the safety’s in a pro-pass set). If the targeted DE (or LB, depending on the key) appears to be locked on to the QB, the QB can pitch to the back. If the DE appears to be following the back, the QB can pull the ball down and run, or throw an outlet pass. The idea is to give the QB a quick, simple decision, rather than look over a number of defenders downfield.

Football on the Fly

In the pro passing set, reads are made pre-snap. The QB can choose to audible to another play based on what he sees from the defense, but he usually doesn’t. Generally the offense goes with the play that’s called, then executes it. Not so with the Pistol: the QB makes pre-reads too, but most of the decisions are made after the ball’s been snapped. That’s why the zone-blitz scheme can have trouble fooling the Pistol QB – it doesn’t matter how well you’ve disguised pre-snap, the QB’s going to decide what to do only after the defenders start coming. (This comes in handy for protecting inexperienced QBs from sophisticated coverage and blitz packages.)

Last week the Redskins ran a typical play out of the Pistol, having Griffin read the rush and determine where the left DE was keying. In this clever play wrinkle, a bubble-screen to the WR, the running back became the lead blocker for the wide receiver – who wound up going 25+ yards for a touchdown.

Again, it’s a quick-read set where the QB either hands off, or makes a shorter, less risky pass. In the Pistol, the QB reads the rush the way a pro-style passer reads the pass-coverage defenders.



                          LB      LB    LB    DE  DT DT DE

            WR    WR    TE   T  G   C   G  T   TE





The Pistol, in its basic form. The RB lines up three yards behind the QB, who’s four yards behind center – the QB keys left, adapting to the DE’s rush. The QB can hand off, keep it and run, swing the ball out to a running receiver, or throw a quick play-action pass. The Redskins give Griffin plenty of options, and he’ll often “read” to a bootleg – often catching the defense off guard.


Griffin in many ways is a much more dangerous QB out of the read-option than Tebow. For one thing he’s faster; for another he’s a better passer. Dick LeBeau has owned rookie QBs, going 13-1 against them lifetime; but that was back when Troy Polamalu roamed the field, and James Harrison wasn’t a shadow of himself (watching Harrison stay so upright last Sunday Night was almost as painful as what Harrison himself must have felt.)


The Pistol can be tricky, but it also can be stopped. Here are three keys to doing so:

STAY IN YOUR LANE, KEEP CONTAIN: Against the read-option, many defenders over pursue themselves right out of the play. (Remember last January when Harrison got suckered into following Tebow inside instead of keeping the edge sealed?) The defender must “stay home” no matter what. The DE following the ball should stay with the player who has it first – not try to follow the ball back and forth. That way he’ll not only avoid falling for the play fake, he’ll keep from trying to reverse direction (and fall on his ass) if the ball should be handed off to the WR sprinting around from the opposite direction.

KEEP TO THE MIDDLE: Though the ball moves back and forth, in the Pistol most runs tend to go up the middle. Often the defender gets caught trying to reverse direction, and gets blindside-splattered by a trapping guard. If the Stillers allow cracks in their A or B gaps, they’ll get gashed by Griffin or super-rook Alfred Morris, who’s averaging a big fat 4.8 yards per carry.

WATCH THE DEEP BALL: We all remember LeBeau’s assaholic scheme against Tebow, where he sold out against the run and kept nobody back deep to cover. If Washington rolls out Griffin looking deep, cover zero or even a single-high safety won’t cut it. Read-option often means run, but the QB will gladly pass should the secondary abandon coverage responsibilities.




          WR    WR                                                                                 WR




Unlike the Wildcat, which is read-option run out of the 1940s single wing, the Pistol can be executed from the modern pro-pass set. Here’s a look at the formation which Ohio University used to score the clinching TD in its upset win over Penn State. The Bobcats line up 3-wide at the Penn State 6. Quarterback Tyler Tettleton reads the Mike Linebacker – should he drop back into coverage, the QB can go with an up-the-middle keeper (which he’d scored on earlier in the game) or hand off to RB Beau Blankenship. Instead the LB rushes in, whereby the read calls for a fade pass. The result is a TD caught by the left outside WR. Look for this kind of action on Sunday, with Griffin playing the role of Tettleton, and Morris in the role of Blankenship.


The read-option is well suited for the college game, but it shouldn’t work consistently in the pros. The Pistol, however – unlike that other read-option offense, the Wildcat – poses more of a threat at the NFL level, as it can employ, for example, standard 4-wide receiver sets. Both this scheme and Griffin’s superior passing skills (compared to Tebow’s) make the Redskins’ version of the read-option more dangerous to opposing defenses.

However, just like the Wildcat, the Pistol can be risky, because with the QB running so much, he’s set up to get hit – a lot. The Redskins already have seen Griffin have to leave the game after getting his bell rung. And he’ll only be inviting more hits after whining the way he did about the Rams and their “dirty” play. Griffin’s a bit on the skinny side – it remains to be seen how he’ll hold up after 12 or 14 games’ worth of pounding.

Based on Griffin’s stats, the Stillers would be wise to respect the pass. But look beyond the hype, and you’ll see he’s still more a running threat. Game plan to the contrary at your own peril.

Anyway, enjoy the game Sunday. Redskin fans have vowed to fill the stands at Heinz to get revenge for Stiller fans taking over FedEx Field. By maintaining discipline against the Pistol, the Stillers can make sure all these fans go home feeling like a pretty boy in a brand new prison.

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