David Murphy: Checking out on Griffin, Redskins

Posted: October 26, 2012

WHEN ALL IS said and done, Brett Favre's accomplishments as a linguist are unlikely to overshadow his accomplishments as an NFL quarterback. Or, for that matter, as a still-life photographer. Nevertheless, the future Hall of Famer did introduce an important phrase into our lexicon when, many years ago, he derided the conservative style of play favored by some signal-callers as "Checkdown Charlie" football.

The term was important for a number of reasons: First, because it occurred in a conference call with Philadelphia reporters; second, because it was interpreted as subtle dig at Donovan McNabb; third, because it would later provide me with a jumping off point for our weekly discussion about trickle-up economics. (You might refer to it as "gambling.") So away we jump.

You won't hear many people refer to Robert Griffin III as "Checkdown Charlie," mostly because they are too busy unfolding the body parts he has just turned into human origami. But the rookie sensation does share something in common with more conventional checkdown chuckers such as Brandon Weeden, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Christian Ponder; their passes tend not to travel great distances.

All four of those quarterbacks, Griffin included, rank in the top five in the NFL in the percentage of their passing yards that have come after the catch. Ponder, for example, enters Week 8 with 1,492 passing yards. But according to Pro Football Focus, only 601 of those were yards in air, which counts only the distance the pass actually traveled. The other 891 yards came on the run after the catch. So 60 percent of Ponder's passing yards were actually yards after catch gained by the receiver.

Now, let's focus on Griffin. Heading into Week 8, he leads all NFL quarterbacks with an average of 8.47 yards per passing attempt. But that includes all of his yards that came via the receiver after the catch. If we look only at Griffin's YIA, he averages 3.97 yards per attempt, which ranks 19th in that category.

In a vacuum, that number does not have much meaning. Yards are yards, whether they come through the air or after the catch. But the Redskins are not playing in a vacuum this week. They are playing in Pittsburgh, and that changes things a bit. While the Steelers might not be a great football team this season, they are smart and fundamentally sound, two characteristics that a defense must possess to contain Griffin's unique abilities. Through six games, Pittsburgh has missed only 24 tackles. The Eagles, for comparison's sake, have missed 40.

Logic suggests that solid tackling is the best way to limit an offense that relies heavily on yards after catch. Limiting Griffin's running ability is another issue. But every team that faces the rookie has the advantage of another week of game video on him and the horizontal passing game that his coach has employed this season.

The Steelers also have the notoriously slow turf of Heinz Field.

Factor in the loss of Griffin's favorite target in Fred Davis, who will miss the rest of the season with an injured left Achilles' tendon, and you start to understand why Vegas had the Steelers as a 5.5-point favorite.

While most of the betting public is in the throes of Griffin mania, I'm taking the Pittsburgh passing game against a porous Redskins defense and hoping against the late cover.

Inside the lines

The public is all over the underdogs this week, perhaps because they have covered a ridiculous 62.3 percent of all games this season. I'm a firm believer in regression to the mean. Things were a lot more even last week with the favorites at 6-6-1 against the spread.

The public is favoring the Saints (+6), but the public is vastly underestimating the ineptitude of the New Orleans defense, which is why I am comfortable rolling with Peyton Manning.

As for the Bears, I despise 7.5-point lines, but the combination of the Panthers offense and the Chicago defense makes me slightly less wary about a late cover. The Browns cost me a cover with a missed extra point last week, but they will win one of these games, and it might as well be at home while getting 2.5 points against a Chargers team that continues to be overvalued.

Betting Big Red

The Falcons have been quietly unimpressive the last 3 weeks, beating Carolina by two points, Washington by a touchdown, and the Raiders by three.

Talentwise, these two teams are not all that different from the teams involved in that epic 35-31 Falcons win in Atlanta in September 2011. But the change at defensive coordinator presents a huge unknown. So leave it alone.

Contact David Murphy at dmurphy@phillynews.com.

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