The clock has struck midnight for NFL offensive coordinators and not a minute too soon for the health of the current crop of young quarterbacks in the NFL.
Every few years a trendy innovation comes along on offense in the league and we all declare the game changed forever. Meanwhile, the "blackshirts" on the other side of the ball take their lumps for a couple months, then hole up in a small room with gobs of game film, exiting only when they have a solution to solve the rampage of yards and points. The Veer, the Run and Shoot, the Wildcat and now the Zone Read - Rest in Peace.
These gimmicks sooner or later always succumb to one of the pillars of NFL football: A quarterback has to throw the ball or better yet, get rid of the ball to survive and succeed long term. I'm not saying mobility in general is a bad thing or having the ability to avoid the rush or scramble for a first down is a negative. It's still a very desirable commodity for an NFL quarterback, Terrelle Pryor has proven that. Additionally, it's not going to stop with the NFL's feeding ground of college football programs, realizing the most athletic player should be under center. However, our initial reaction to high-powered zone-read offenses with darting quarterbacks in the pistol formation requiring NFL operators to add another digit to the scoreboard now seems premature just over a year later. There will be elements which will remain long-term but not the offense as a whole.
Former Raiders Head Coach John Gruden joined me and the Voice of the Raiders Greg Papa on our radio show The Wheelhouse this week on the Raiders flagship radio station 95.7 The Game and told us he didn't think you could win the Super Bowl with a quarterback running this offense.
"I think the hits and the contact takes its toll on these quarterbacks. I don't know if Terrelle Pryor can carry the ball 11 times a game and be a factor throwing the ball in pro football," Gruden said.
Look at the 2013 numbers in the first three weeks of the season for some of 2012's top young running quarterbacks:
2012 Rushing Stats
2013 Rushing Stats
Robert Griffin III
120-815 6.8 7 TDs
15-62 4.1 0 TDs
Regular Season: 63-415 6.6 5 TDs (46.1 YPG)
Playoffs: 25-264 10.6 3 TDs
26-140-5.4 0 TDs
127-741 5.8 8 TDs
16-98 6.1 1 TD
94-489 5.2 4 TDs
17-54 3.2 0 TDs
Through a total of 10 games played combined, these "next generation" quarterbacks have one touchdown rushing. They all are down significantly in total yards rushing per game, rushing yards per attempt and are running less.
Why you ask? Defenses have adjusted and how they have adjusted is forcing teams to rethink how often they want their most prized possession running unprotected through a forest of bigger, faster and stronger tackling machines of destruction.
This weekend the Raiders will face Robert Griffin III. Griffin was one of the brightest shooting stars in the NFL until 350-pound wrecking ball Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens finished an RGIII run by landing on him, crushing his knee. Weeks later Griffin's knee was injured again in a playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks. It's questionable in NFL circles whether he should be playing nine months after reconstructive ACL knee surgery. What is also in question is whether he'll regain the dual-threat form that made him the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012.
Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor is questionable this weekend after suffering a concussion late in Monday night's loss to the Broncos.
The rallying cry amongst NFL defenses this season is simple when it comes to quarterbacks who want to make their living with their feet and not their arm: Hit 'em often and hit 'em hard.
Never in the history of the league has there been such a gray area in regards to when a quarterback is a quarterback and therefore protected by a certain set of rules and when a quarterback is considered a runner or fair game treated like any other skill player on offense. The Baltimore Ravens executed a future blue print in the Super Bowl last season on what to do with a zone-read signal caller and it has carried into this season. Hit the nucleus of the offense in the mouth on every play. In 2012, defenses sat back on their heels and waited to react. This season defenses are taught to crash down on the quarterback and hit him whether he gives the ball off or not. It creates a situation where the quarterback gets worn down in a game weekly and as the season wears on the hits have a cumulative effect. The consequence risks more injury in the late weeks of the season as the collisions pile up, as was the case with Griffin's knee injury.
In college the cost of the quarterback position is a scholarship. If a signal caller gets hurt running, you have over one hundred of those and a QB depth chart could be six deep. Plus the player was only going to start a few years regardless of health, next man up. Pro teams guarantee the marquee position in the league multimillions of dollars and the best players at the premium position are obviously hard to find. So NFL teams have to ask themselves a business question: "Is it worth it to expose my franchise quarterback to further risk of injury by running him more than I have to?"
The answer through time clearly is "no." Griffin is sliding more and getting out of bounds. Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton rarely keep the ball when they do run the zone-read plays. They now choose to scramble out of the pocket when nothing is available down field to pick up first downs before stepping out of bounds or avoiding a hit. Russell Wilson has yet to keep the ball on a zone read play in 2013.
It will be intriguing to see how Pryor reacts to his first NFL concussion when he returns. Will the Raiders pull back on designed runs or at the very least demand he slide or get out of bounds more often as the Redskins have with Griffin?
We will be treated to a good football game this weekend between two of the NFL's most storied franchises, the Washington Redskins at the Oakland Raiders - a rematch of Super Bowl XVIII. Yet the future of both franchises under center either may not be able to play Sunday in Pryor's case, or may not be 100 percent in Griffin's case, due to defenses adjusting to the trend.
FOUR DOWNS: KEYS TO BEATING THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS
1. IF FLYNN PLAYS: With Terrelle Pryor questionable to play Sunday after he suffered a concussion in Monday's loss at Denver, Matt Flynn could conceivably play. Flynn is more of a traditional drop back, pocket passer. The Redskins are 30th in the NFL in touchdown passes allowed (8), 31st in yards allowed passing per game (333), and last in QB rating against (120.1). The Raiders should be able to crank the passing game up vs. Washington if Flynn is forced into action. In two career starts, he averages 365.5 yards passing per game with nine touchdowns and two interceptions.
- BIG PLAYS: A "big play" in the NFL on offense is considered anything 15+ yards rushing and 25+ yards passing. The Redskins defense leads the NFL in big plays allowed with 30 and gives up the second most yards per play at 6.87. These plays led to the Detroit Lions racking up 270 of their 441 total yards last week on just 10 plays. The Redskins also lead the NFL in missed tackles which opens the door for big plays. The Raiders are in the top five in the NFL in big rushing plays with 11 and overall are in the top 10 in the NFL in big plays with 15, including a Pryor to Denarius Moore 73-yard touchdown versus the Broncos Monday night.
3. ZERO: As in 98 passing attempts against Oakland, zero interceptions for the Raiders this season. Oakland is one of only two teams in the NFL with this distinction, the Steelers are the other. Robert Griffin III has thrown at least one interception in each game this season and his four interceptions are tied for fourth most in the NFL. Not only has Griffin thrown four interceptions, but he has also fumbled three times in 15 rushing attempts. It would be nice for any Raiders player to grab a pick, but it would be really good to see rookie corner DJ Hayden could grab one to regain some confidence after a long night in Denver.
- A KEY DOWN, A KEY ZONE: One down is always key. One place on the field is always crucial. First the key down. The Raiders are 12th in the NFL in offensive third down efficiency at 41%. Defensively they yield 50%, which is last in the NFL on the money down. The Redskins are 24th offensively in the NFL in third down efficiency at 32.4% and yield a 39.5% success rate defensively which is 18th. The crucial place on the field, the Red Zone. The good news for the Raiders is they get inside the opponent's 20 yard-line an average of 3.7 times per game, which is 7th in the NFL. However, the Raiders score a touchdown only 45% of the time when they get there, which is 24th. Washington scores six points 62.5% of the time which is 12th, but only visit the red zone 2.7 times per game which is tied for 24th. The key to the game could come down to who is most efficient on one down and in one place.
ONE FOR THE ROAD:
In the Raiders 38-9 Super Bowl XVIII victory over the Redskins in 1984, they became the first team in Super Bowl history to score touchdowns on offense, (Cliff Branch, Marcus Allen twice), defense (Jack Squirek) and special teams (Derrick Jensen).