Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was talking about facing Washington rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and the Redskins’ zone-read offense.
Hardy was describing responsibilities and reads and keeping Griffin contained when he rolls down the line of scrimmage with the option of giving the ball to the running back or keeping it himself and darting around the edge.
Then Hardy stopped himself. He was making things too difficult.
“I want to retract the statement of, ‘We’ve got to contain him.’ We’ve got to attack him. I think that’s going to be his downfall,” Hardy said Wednesday. “He’s young. If you’re going to give him a chance to make plays, he’s going to make plays. If you sit back on your heels, he’s going to attack you because that’s all his instincts. That’s all he’s got.
“If you put him on the ground, you hit him in the face, I feel like he’s going to go into his shell a little bit and he’ll have to think about it. He’s a quarterback. That’s what they do.”
Griffin has been put on the ground a few times – he was knocked out of a game against Atlanta on Oct. 7 on a hit by linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. But Griffin returned the following week with his most complete game in a 38-26 win over Minnesota.
Griffin completed 17-of-22 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for a career-high 138 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor and the No. 2 overall pick in the April draft, became the first rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era to rush for 100 yards and two touchdowns in a game.
He also joined Michael Vick as the only quarterbacks since 1970 to rush for at least 130 yards and two scores in a game.
The man known as RG3 does not scare easily.
“I just watched film today, and that guy looked good. He looked real good,” Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson said. “He looked fast, athletic. We’ve just got to get after him.”
The Panthers’ defensive line combined for six sacks in the first half last week in a 23-22 loss at Chicago – three by Hardy, two by Johnson (each of which caused a Jay Cutler fumble) and one by defensive tackle Dwan Edwards.
But the zone read is designed to slow down a defense’s pass rush, and get linemen thinking and reading, instead of reacting.
“That’s when you get hit,” Hardy said. “If we attack and do our jobs, he’ll sit down fast. You’ve got to accept that we’re going to get gashed (at times). It’s football. I don’t know if you’ve seen a perfect game, even with a goose egg. I’ve never seen one.”
Said Johnson: “It kind of does (slow the rush). But at the same time, they don’t want you to penetrate. They want you to read the zone. Penetration stops that. But people get it mixed up because they want to read and get their eyes on (Griffin) and not be disciplined.”
The Panthers’ Cam Newton-led offense has incorporated the zone read for the past season and a half, although they went to a more traditional rushing attack last week against the Bears. The defensive players have gone against the zone read at training camp practices in Spartanburg, although coaches and players downplayed that familiarity as an advantage.
“You could ask them the same question,” coach Ron Rivera said. “I don’t know if it necessarily gives you an advantage because you may understand what they’re doing, but the look is different because their personnel is different.
“Their quarterback is a little different too. He’s a top-end speed guy. He’s a straight-line, go-fast (player) where our guy is kind of a slasher, a little bit different. I don’t think you can get that same look. That’s the hard part.”
Armanti Edwards, the former Appalachian State quarterback, has tried to give the defense that look this week by playing the role of Griffin this week for the Panthers’ scout team in running situations.
But Hardy said there’s no one quite like Griffin.
“He’s fast,” Hardy said. “I personally haven’t played anyone like him. I can’t recall right now.”
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