The Washington Redskins have found their next head coach, and it's a pretty familiar name: J. Gruden. No, not Jon Gruden, but J. Gruden. Yes, Jay Gruden. I can only imagine that Daniel Snyder gathered his front office folks together and said, "We did it! We hired the Super Bowl-winning J. Gruden!"
While those front office folks mumbled and grumbled under their breath that "I don't want to be the one that tells him."
"Yeah, but I was the one that had to tell him about Robert Griffin's knee!"
No, it's not Jon, the former head coach of the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the same person that many say led both the Raiders and Bucs to the 2002 Super Bowl. But how different is Jay from his brother Jon, both as a person and as a coach, specifically his offensive philosophies? I don't have the slightest idea about the former, but we can try to figure that out the latter. After all, Jay is a Super Bowl-winning coach. He just wasn't the head coach.
Jay was an offensive assistant on the 2002 Bucs, his first job in the NFL. He retained that position until 2008 while simultaneously acting as head coach of the Orlando Predators in the Arena Football League for five of those seasons. After Jon and his staff were fired following the 2008 season, Jay spent two seasons with the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League, including one season under head coach Jim Haslett.
Haslett is the current defensive coordinator of the Redskins, and the connections don't end there. Defensive backs coach Raheem Morris worked with Jay in Tampa Bay, and tight ends coach Sean McVay was an offensive assistant -- same as Jay -- on the 2008 Bucs. Now McVay has been promoted to offensive coordinator.
There appear to be a lot of connections in Washington to Gruden and the staff, and for that reason it should be slightly easier to figure out what sort of team, and specifically what sort of offense, the Redskins will be running in 2014. And there is one key piece that the entire offense runs around, of course.
Since the 2012 offense was basically curtailed to suit the extraordinary and unique skills that Griffin possessed, and with high levels of success (4th in the NFL in scoring), you wouldn't think things are going to change that much. However, that knee injury to Griffin slowed him down considerably in the running game, forced him to throw it more, and derailed the zone read offense that thrived the year before.
So, how are Gruden and McVay going to fix that? That's assuming it's possible at all.
By hiring his good friend McVay to run the offense, Gruden allows himself to run the offense as well while also retaining pretty much every bit of information that was gathered internally over the past two seasons. Even though McVay was "only" the tight ends coach, he's going to have a better idea of what works for Griffin, what doesn't, what receivers and tight ends work well in certain situations, which ones don't, and possibly a bit of what's needed going forward.
What skill players do they have?
Washington struggled to find an offensive weapon for Griffin in 2012 outside of running back Alfred Morris, and wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who was basically injured for half the season. The tight ends were led by Fred Davis, who had 24 catches for 325 yards in seven games, but then tore his Achilles and missed the rest of the season. His return in 2013 was not productive, gaining just 70 yards in 10 games.
However, the 2013 emergence of rookie Jordan Reed caught a lot of attention, as he gained 499 yards on 45 catches in nine games. He suffered a concussion, and again the tight end position was hampered by injury.
Davis is now a free agent free to sign with any team, as are receivers Santana Moss and Aldrick Robinson. One would expect that Garcon remains the top option (113 catches for 1,346 yards in 2013) and that Reed -- almost certainly a favorite of McVay's -- has a good chance to gain close to 1,000 yards in this offense over a full season. The Redskins would also stand to gain considerable cap room by releasing Josh Morgan (214 yards in 2013, projected to save over $6 million in cap space if cut) and it stands to reason that Washington will be one team at the front of the line for any receiver prospects or free agents.
But Gruden is no stranger to an offense that intends to feature one receiver and a tight end heavily. The Cincinnati Bengals were the only team to draft a tight end in the first round of the 2013 draft (Tyler Eifert, 21st overall), even though they already had Jermaine Gresham on the roster. In Cincy, A.J. Green still flourished in 2013, others emerged, and Andy Dalton set franchise records for passing yards and touchdowns in a single season.
What can he do for Griffin?
Those "fat cats" in Washington
Since being hired as offensive coordinator for the Bengals, Cincinnati went from 22nd in scoring to 18th in 2011, then to 12th in 2012, and all the way up to sixth last season. Head coach Marvin Lewis didn't just hire Gruden and say, "Well, now I've done enough to fix the offense!" Rather, he continued to foster an environment that would score more points, by spending significant capital on that side of the ball.
The first order of business was drafting Green and Dalton with their first two picks of the 2011 draft. The next year, they signed running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and despite taking Green the year before, picked two more receivers in the 2012 draft: Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. In 2013, it was Eifert and then with their next pick, running back Giovani Bernard. They also worked on improving the interior of the offensive line, taking guards Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler in the 2011 and 2012 drafts, respectively.
The philosophy would appear to be that you determine which positions are most important, and then you stock the hell out of them.
The Bengals saw the culmination of that (so far) in 2013, with Dalton setting those franchise records, Green catching 98 passes for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns, Jones gaining 712 yards and catch 10 touchdowns and Bernard gaining over 1,200 total yards as a rookie. Additionally, Sanu, Eifert, and Gresham gained over 1,200 yards combined in the passing offense.
How does that compare to the way the Redskins are currently constructed? There are some similarities, though clearly this offense leans a lot more heavily on the quarterback position than Cincinnati has recently. Nonetheless, it was Dalton that took all of the blame for another playoff loss.
Washington has a heavily-featured lead back in the form of Morris and virtually all of the carries, with the exceptions of those that went to Griffin, go to Morris. However, the Redskins also have a receiving threat in the backfield that goes by the name of Roy Helu. He was the guy that most fantasy managers thought would become the go-to option in 2012. That didn't happen, but Helu still caught 31 passes for 251 yards last season.
Could Helu be featured in a Gio Bernard-type role next season? It would stand to reason that Gruden wants to spread the ball out more than Mike Shanahan did, but he still needs to find the personnel.
Garcon may not be as talented as Green, as few receivers in the league are, but he can be just about as productive. But is there a Marvin Jones, a Mohamed Sanu, and a Jermaine Gresham?
Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul could be candidates to gain more playing time at the tight end position next season behind Reed, but would it be surprising to see the TE Coach turned offensive coordinator draft another tight end this year? More importantly than that, there isn't a single proven receiver currently projected to be on this roster next season besides Garcon.
What does that mean for Griffin?
Drops and Robert's sons
In 2012, it seemed like Shanahan and his offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan knew that they had traded up to draft one of the best talents of the modern era. However, they proceeded with caution with Griffin as a passer. The point was to utilize the best of Griffin's game and curtail that to the professional level, while limiting anything that could expose the rookie not just to danger (because clearly that did not work out) but to mistakes.
As a rookie, Griffin attempted just 393 passes in 15 games. However, he completed over 65 percent of those for 8.1 yards per attempt (highest mark in the NFL) and threw only five interceptions. As a passer, Griffin was contained, efficient, and dangerous.
As a runner, he wasn't contained, he was just dangerous. Griffin ran for 815 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, and the zone read option offense allowed more than just the quarterback to thrive. The rookie sixth round pick Alfred Morris rushed for over 1,600 yards himself. However, it's interesting to look at Griffin's rookie season in two halves.
Over the first seven games of the year, before anyone knew what to really expect of Griffin and the Redskins, he completed over 70 percent of his passes for nearly 8.5 yards per attempt, 228 yards per game. He also rushed for 66.8 yards per game with six touchdowns.
Over his final eight games, Griffin completed just over 60 percent of his passes for 7.8 yards per attempt, and just under 200 yards per game. He also rushed for 43.3 yards per game and one touchdown. The biggest gain from the first half to the second half came in the form of his passing touchdowns and interceptions: Seven touchdowns and three interceptions in the first seven games, compared to 13 touchdowns and two interceptions over the final eight.
However, it's not uncommon at all for players to be different from one half to the next. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson made a similar transformation, in part due to copying the zone read option offense from one Washington to the next.
But after Griffin tore up his knee against Seattle in the playoffs, it seemed all hope was lost. Then all of a sudden hope was found again when it was announced he would still be ready for Week 1. And now again, it seems hope is wandering in the woods with the white walkers.
Shanahan didn't just get away with containing Griffin as a passer, but together they blossomed into something wonderful. However, when they tried to contain him as a runner in 2013, it all fell down.
He completed 60 percent of his passes this season for seven yards per attempt, 16 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and a passer rating of just 82.2. He rushed for only 489 yards and no touchdowns, meaning that he's only scored one touchdown on the ground in his last 23 games.
So what can Gruden do to turn things around quickly in 2014?
The first answer is simple: The Redskins need talent. The bad news is twofold. The franchise needs to make a heavy investment on the defensive side of the ball (Washington allowed 8.0 yards per pass attempt last season, one of the worst marks in the league), and they don't have a first round pick because of the original trade for Griffin nearly two years ago.
Instead of being able to use the pick on Jadeveon Clowney, or someone else, or trading down and selecting Sammy Watkins or some other receiver, Washington isn't scheduled to pick until the top of the second round. It wouldn't be surprising to see them select a receiver there (or to trade down and gain extra picks) and it wouldn't be surprising to see them take two receivers.
They should also be active on the open free agent market. It remains to be seen if they'll be looking for the top-end talent at the position, such as Anquan Boldin, James Jones, Jeremy Maclin, Hakeem Nicks, Eric Decker and Golden Tate. A big receiver like Boldin could do wonders in the intermediate passing game, as could a possession receiver like Decker.
This will be key to a more balanced offense, like the one Gruden had in Cincinnati. If they release Morgan, the Redskins could have close to $25 million in cap space this offseason and will be able to compete for the services of any player. Whether the main focus is on defense, offense, or both, it's improbable that Gruden won't invest heavily in rebuilding the offense to enhance and complement the skills of his greatest asset.
Garcon and Reed should continue to thrive in Gruden and McVay's offense next season. It wouldn't be surprising to see an increase in Griffin's pass attempts, yards per pass attempts, passing touchdowns, and possibly keeping in the range of 10-15 interceptions per season. He really hasn't been a huge threat to score on the ground since the first half of the 2012 season, so there wouldn't necessarily be anything other than room for improvement in that area.
They'll need to give him more weapons to work with, first and foremost, to get Griffin back on the right track. Hiring Gruden appears to be the second step (firing Shanahan being the first) in doing that.
And it's all about who you know.