Ex-Redskins safety Ryan Clark divulged what really shouldn’t be a surprising game plan: The Steelers wanted to hit quarterback Robert Griffin III.
“Our goal was to be physical with him at any opportunity we had, and I think it affected his play,” Clark told ESPN on Thursday.
Based on Griffin’s stats it appears Pittsburgh’s plan worked. Griffin threw for 177 yards and carried the ball six times for eight yards. They also drilled Griffin downfield when he attempted to catch a pass from receiver Joshua Morgan (that shouldn’t have been thrown).
“We were focused on being physical with him,” Clark said. “When they ran the read-option, he was the guy we were focused on. [We] had James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley on him at every chance and every opportunity that we got, just so he knew every play, he was gonna be hit.”
Is Clark’s claim legit?
The Steelers did shut down Griffin’s ability to run — but he only carried it once in the zone read. He ran once on a draw and twice on sneaks; he also had two kneel downs and a fumbled exchange in which he was credited for no yards. And the Steelers hit him seven times on other plays — five times after a pass, once on a sack and once after a handoff. Know who hit Griffin just as much? New Orleans. Both teams hit Griffin a total of 11 times during their game. No team hit him more than Cincinnati (25 times) and yet he threw for 221 yards and ran for 74 (with a touchdown in each category). St. Louis hit him a combined 14 times (on keepers, scrambles or in the pocket) and yet he threw for 206 yards and ran for 82.
In fact, the Redskins only ran Alfred Morris on the zone read three times vs. Pittsburgh (for a total of 16yards). So, for the game, Washington ran the zone read four times with Griffin keeping it once. There was one time in which Griffin should have kept the ball; had a lot of room around the right side with blockers. But the Steelers’ defense was tough for many to penetrate and the discipline shown by their outside linebackers was the real culprit (and it’s why Dallas, for example, struggled. The Cowboys were, to ay the least, undisciplined). It’s tough to run this offense vs. a disciplined 3-4 front because of the athleticism on the edge.
Another culprit were the dropped passes (11 or 12, depending on your tally; not every drop ruined a series, but it was still a lot). The Redskins had more plays available to be made.
So just hitting Griffin wasn’t, or isn’t the answer — though it does take a toll over the course of a season; having a good defense doing it, however, makes a difference.