Discipline is extremely important in the game of football, but it is even more important against teams with very athletic and mobile quarterbacks, that the defense play with extreme discipline. Over-pursuing by the defense is just as bad as giving up the edge to a fast runner.
One reason running quarterbacks can get so much yardage after they escape the initial pass-rush, is because the other defensive players that are dropping into coverage generally have their back turned to the ball-carrier and are playing the receiver. If the quarterback can get past the initial rush, they often have ten yards before a deep defender playing zone coverage can run up and make the play.
That’s key to stopping the former Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III. Keeping as many eyes as possible on Griffin is very important. You can’t simply rush four, have two safeties playing deep halves of the field, and man-to-man coverage underneath and expect to stop Griffin. So without any doubt, you will see a safety and a linebacker play a shallow zone. Not only does that prevent the pass by clogging up passing lanes, but it acts as a type of natural spy on the quarterback– both players are going to have their eyes pretty much locked in on Griffin, so if he scrambles, they will be able to counter easily.
I just mentioned how the underneath zones will have to work double duty to play the pass but also stop the run, and I have no doubt that Sean Weatherspoon, Stephen Nicholas, and Thomas DeCoud/William Moore can perform those roles when assigned to that duty. But the defensive line has something that it must do that may be even more important, and it has nothing to do from a statistical standpoint.
The defensive ends must set the edge and play contain. A lot of what Washington does with RGIII is use his mobility to get him outside the pocket, and then allow him to throw on the run or from a spot outside the pocket. You could describe it as moving the pocket to another spot. But the defensive ends of Atlanta have to prevent Washington from doing what they want. John Abraham is an outstanding pass-rushing defensive end, but if he over-pursues in trying to sack RGIII, the play could end in disaster. Abraham can go all out and rush if he is absolutely certain he can drag Griffin to the turf. If he isn’t positive he can do that, he must set the edge, and give the quarterback nowhere to escape. The same thing goes for Ray Edwards, who isn’t super productive, but excells at setting the edge. By slowly collapsing the pocket and allowing the defensive tackles to do most of the pass-rushing, it allows the Falcons to prevent the big play, and gives the secondary the opportunity to make plays on the ball in a limited window of time.
The third key is secondary play. Whatever the Falcons do in coverage is going to be extremely important. Remember how the Falcons disguised their coverage against Peyton Manning by showing one type of coverage pre-snap (Cover 3), and dropping into another coverage (Cover 4)? Well if that worked well against Manning, that is certainly going to work against the rookie Griffin. He is a tremendous talent and is mentally ahead of where most rookies would be at this point in their career. But let’s be honest, coverage disguises will be a huge tool to beat Griffin. If the Falcons are able to create a turnover or two off the confusion it may create, it would make all the difference in the world towards the Falcons winning the game.
One quick not on Griffin: he’s not your typical rookie quarterback. He’s much more mature and developed than your traditional rookie of the last couple years, and certainly more so than rookie QBs of yore. He also is not your typical mobile/athletic quarterback. Cam Newton is athletic, can run, and can really throw the ball, but is limited as far as making his progressions in the passing game and his decision making in general. RGIII is very good at reading his progressions, has great footwork in the pocket, and doesn’t telegraph his throws as much. But he also doesn’t present a problem as a power-runner the way Newton does. While similar in their athleticism, they are two very different quarterbacks. I think Griffin presents a unique and complicated challenge whose style of play is only similar to Michael Vick in the NFL. Rookie quarterback or not, the Falcons defense will have their hands completely full with defending Robert Griffin III.