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Redskins Hog Heaven blog tells you the right way to measure the 2012 Redskins

Robert Griffin IIIEvery Washington Redskins fan hopes to look at August 9, 2012 as the dawn of the Robert Griffin III era. Or, as I like to call it, the live ball era. Griffin 3rd is the brightest draftee light since Heath Schuler Art Monk.

Tomorrow’s exhibition game against the Buffalo Bills will be our first chance to see RG3 in action. I have but two wishes for the outcome.

  • Don’t get hurt. 
  • Please don’t suck; be better than John Beck.

Beck led the injury-riddled (Hightower, Cooley, Moss out) offense to a scoreless loss against the Bills in an effort that the Toronto Argonauts would have beaten.

We will have more on the game tomorrow. Today, I want to share what’s behind Redskins Hog Heaven’s thinking as we analyze the season. No over-hyped measurements of RG3 were harmed in this write-up. Griffin is all about the Redskins future, which is very bright. The 2012 season is all about players already here. 

My bias for management, the front office causes everything

By nature, I am an analytic. Facts make sense of the world. Factoids reveal the underlying pattern of stuff. Obvious answers are usually incomplete ones. At Hog Heaven, we’ve always looked for the underlying patterns to explain why the Redskins don’t win more games.

My long career with the world’s largest computer technology company gave me an affinity for management. I am convinced that championships are won, or lost in the Redskins’ case, by offseason decisions made by the front office.

Washington’s road to its next Super Bowl began the day Mr. Snyder hired Bruce Allen as general manager. Joe Gibbs was often his own worst enemy when he acted as GM. (Coach Gibbs was most successful when Bobby Beathard and Charlie Casserly were around.)

The Mike Shanahan – Bruce Allen partnership have had more hits than misses. Their misses have been spectacular, but they set the team on the road to 2013 contention. The destiny of the 2012 Redskins is already cast.

Three is a magic number in football. This is the third season of the Shanahan era, thus the third season of offensive zone blocking and the defensive 3-4 alignment with players suited for Shanahan’s vision. We should see evidence of a better match of scheme to players (and vice-versa) and better synergy of strength over weakness. Shanahan is the only Snyder-era coach to get a third season. Year 2012 is our first true look at the direction of the ShanaSkins.

Read the game the right way 

Most fans (not RHH readers, of course) do not watch the game properly. About.com has the best write-up on how to watch a football game like a coach.  Their opening line is to keep your eye off the ball. Most fans do otherwise.

It’s more entertaining to follow the ball from the quarterback to whoever last touches it. Have at it if you watch football for fun. But, that’s not enough for thinking fans to understand why plays worked or not.

Football is the most team-oriented of sports. The game is more than the interplay of the parts (players). Success depends on the interplay of the components – the lines, the receiving corps, and the secondary. Quarterback is the only position where the component is the player himself. Over-focus on the quarterback can lead to the wrong fix. Replacing Jason Campbell with an aging quarterback that would deliver Campbell-like performance did not, and never was going to, fix anything in 2010.

The RHH way of thinking about this:

  • The offensive line is responsible for 51 percent of the success or failure of any play.
  • The quarterback accounts for 26 percent of the success, and
  • whoever gets the ball accounts for the last for the last 23 percent of the result.

The quarterback is the single most important player on the offense, but he is barely half as important as the O-line. Quarterbacks do not complete their own passes, nor follow blocks for the rusher.  Well, RG3 might do a bit of that, but the ‘Skins won’t win a title if Griffin is the only playmaker in the offense.

Football Outsider's Almanac 2012However this season goes, the order of accountability for offense is the line, the quarterback, then everyone else, coaching included, in that order. All the football components have to mesh in a way unique for team sports.

Football Outsiders has a variation on this theme. They say rushing is more dependent on the O-line, but pass protection is more dependent on the quarterback himself. QB mobility explains why RG3 is here and why John Beck is gone. Griffin insists he is not a running quarterback, but Shanahan says he will run him. Per Football Outsiders, the O-line is more critical to RG3’s and the Redskins’ rushing success than passing success. It sounds odd, but the Eagles averaged 5.0 yards per rush with LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick as the team’s top two rushers. Five rushing yards per attempt would say good things about the Redskins line.

In the passing era, try to run the ball even if it doesn’t seem to work

Cold, Hard Football Facts had a seminal piece on whether “establishing the run” has anything to do with winning championship. I like to re-read that 2007 post, The Great (Troll) War, as a personal tune-up for the season.

It is a worthwhile, but lengthy read. You should go read it. We’ll be here when you get back.

For those with no time, or who cannot find the link, the punch lines are these:

  • Passing is more important than rushing to build a lead. Yards per pass attempt is the single most important measure of passing efficiency. The benchmark is 7.0 YPPA. Under 7.0 is bad. Over is good.
  • Rushing attempts per game is the second most important winning indicator. Between 1966 and 2006, CHFF found that 70 percent of the top 50 teams with the highest average number of rush attempts made the playoffs, and nine won the Super Bowl.

Take note, CHFF speaks of pass attempts as more linked to winning than average per rush, or total rushing yards. Rushing attempts are the mark of balanced offenses that play with a lead to kill the game clock.

The New York Giants pass to run ratio in their 2007 Super Bowl season was 54:46. They had 15 rushing touchdowns. They violated this principle in 2011 when their pass-rush ratio was 59:41. Injuries on the line and an uncharacteristic fall-off to 3.5 rushing yards per attempt forced New York to rely on Eli more than Tom Coughlin wanted deep down. The Giants offset that with 17 rushing touchdowns.

The 2011 Redskins had more rushing yards and higher yards per attempt than the Giants, but fewer attempts (40% of offensive plays). They scored a mere eight touchdowns. The team needed more scores in the ground. Four yards per attempt was a good enough O-line performance for the coaches to call more running plays, especially with a turnover maching at quarterback. 

The Eagles had an effective pass to run balance of 55:45, and they were efficient on their pass attempts with 7.0 Real Passing Yards per Attempt as CHFF measures it, and they averaged 5.1 rushing yards per attempt. Michael Vicks’ early carelessness with the ball along with DeSean Jackson’s season-long snit hurt the effort. Ominously, the Iggles closed 2011 strong. They are the NFC gorilla in the room.

Sorry, Pocket Hercules, you are wonderful, but your heroics alone cannot do enough to help your team make the Super Bowl. The Jaguars must invest salary elsewhere. Dads, tell your sons to be a 21st-Century linebacker instead of running back. It will pay better.

Ricky Cruz and Hakeem Nicks6-7-8-9-10-11

The top two receivers on a team must be wide receivers. This mnemonic is Hog Heaven’s way to benchmark the performance of the top two wide receivers.

  • An effective No. 2 receiver should have 60 catches for 7 TDs and 800 yards.
  • An effective No. 1 receiver should have 90 catches for 10 TDs and 1100+ yards.
  • Or any combination thereof.

Proof point: Hakeem Nicks had 76 catches for 1,192 yards and 7 TDs and Victor Cruz has 82 catches for 1,536 for 9 TDs for the Super Bowl Giants. TE Jake Ballard was the third-ranked receiver with 38 receptions and 4 TDs.

If you are on a super team with a super quarterback like Drew Brees or Tom Brady, you can make something of tight ends like Jimmy Graham or Rod Gronkowski, who Paul Bessire at predictionmachine.com rates the two best tight ends in the game right now. The Redskins are not a super team. If TE Fred Davis is one of Washington’s top two receivers, than somebody is falling down on the job.

Teams cannot win titles if they have one playmaking wide receiver. 

The Petitbon Rule

Former Redskins defensive coordinator and 2011 Redskins Ring of Fame inductee Rchie Petitbon said (paraphrased) that he only cared about two stats for defense:

  • Turnovers
  • Third-down stops

Washington ranked near the NFC cellar with 21 takeaways in 2011. It did not help that Washington ranked near the top with 35 give-aways. That lethal combination must stop. The best-of-breed performance for the NFC was San Francisco, who had a very good defense, and Green Bay, whose defense is not nearly so well regarded. Both teams forced 38 turnovers. New England’s defense was laughable, but they led the AFC with 34 turnovers.

We want to see the Redskins front seven get sacks, QB hits, pass pressure and all that, but we most want to see two turnovers per game.

Washington was middle of the pack defending third-down stops with 77 made of 206 attempts.  It fits Paul Bessire’s description of them as a perfectly average team.

Washington is not so far behind the Eagles who were best (13th-ranked) in the beast in this category. But, average makes it difficult to project 2012 performance. Football Outsiders says defenses that are strong on first and second downs, but weak on third down, tend to improve the following season. Defenses that are weak on first or second down, but strong on third down, tend to decline the following year.

That could be bad for the 49ers, Packers and Patriots, but I don’t know what it means for the Redskins. It bears watching.