- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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LANDOVER, Md. -- Robert Griffin III took off on the zone-read option, taking the outside for a simple reason. The Detroit Lions weren’t worried about his legs. They knew Griffin would run more; they just didn’t care. If he was going to beat them, it would have to be with his arm.
Griffin could not do it. He’s making mistakes that he didn’t make as a rookie, forcing passes after bad decisions. He’s not able to change games with his arm or his legs.
But if observers think this is just a Griffin problem, they’re mistaken. The Redskins' 0-3 start, after a 27-20 loss to the Lions, continues to reveal numerous issues. They can’t tackle. They turn the ball over. Their special teams, or at least the return game, has done nothing to help.
They have a defense that, through three games, has allowed the most yards in NFL history (1,464), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
This is not about Griffin getting his rhythm back, though it would help. He continues to show signs, but anytime he throws 50 times in a game that was within a touchdown in the fourth quarter is too many. That's not Washington's game at all. And this is not about him getting his legs back, which would also help; he did run the ball six times -- twice off the zone-read option for 37 yards. But he didn't really hurt Detroit with his legs. It’s about a team-wide failure to play at a level high enough to offset the inability of Griffin to be the same dynamic player he was last season.
If only this were as simple as: Griffin gets going, Redskins get going. Yes, they are so much better when he’s himself. They can’t rely on him being that guy for the time being. The longer this season unfolds, the more you realize the depth of the impact of Griffin’s offseason. His knee recovered, but his game remains a work in progress. That’s to be expected. And to improve as a pocket passer, which is what Griffin says he wants to be -- and what opposing teams definitely want him to be right now as well -- you need to do more than just study film, especially when you come from a passing system at Baylor that is nowhere near what an NFL team would use.
But Griffin was hurt last season, and the Redskins found a way to win two games upon his return -- and one without him. They also led a playoff game by two touchdowns when he was even more impaired. Yet now they can’t beat two teams at home that won a combined eight games last season?
The thing is, even if Griffin turns his season around, the Redskins have more work to do to fulfill any of the preseason expectations, some of which were built on the belief that when Griffin returned he would be the same.
The timing and the rhythm between the receivers is still off at times. Griffin’s reads aren’t always the same as what the receivers read on a route. On one route, for example, Pierre Garcon ran a deep in, but Griffin’s throw was nearly 10 yards short. And when you can’t make the same plays with your legs, those issues become pronounced. Then, when you do make a play, throwing a 57-yarder for an apparent touchdown, the receiver fails to complete the play. Aldrick Robinson said his hand always remained under the ball. No matter; it looked loose and the referee overruled a touchdown, and that was that.
But, again, Griffin’s rust -- or whatever you want to call it -- doesn’t explain everything. The defense was bad during Washington's 3-6 start a season ago, but it's historically bad right now. How is this possible? The Redskins miss too many tackles and can’t stop teams when they need to. They stopped the run for the most part, but their inability to tackle continues to turn short passes into long gains.
Everyone keeps waiting for Griffin to return to being Griffin, but the Redskins held the ball for 31 minutes, 12 seconds and ran eight more plays than Detroit. This wasn’t a case of the defense being on the field too long. It was a case of the defense failing to do its job. It allowed drives of 65 and 71 yards for points in the fourth quarter.
But, as usual, it returns to Griffin. And he’s making mistakes that he didn’t seem to make a season ago. He made a bad decision on his first interception.
“You make the play, it’s [perceived as] a great play,” Griffin said. “You don’t make the play, it’s a bad play. It was a bad play.”
No, it was a bad play all the way around because the target wasn’t open, and the smart play was to throw it out of bounds. Later, he lost a fumble because he dived instead of slid. That’s a rookie-type mistake. It was smart to get down; it was the wrong way to do it -- or just hold onto the ball. It doesn’t matter whether or not you think, as he said, it’s a “sucky rule.” It’s the rule; if you go head first, it’s not the same as going feet first.
This is new for Griffin, this lack of success and media scrutiny. Every player goes through it at some point. In the long run, it will probably help him. He’ll come around. Will the team?
“We’ve got 13 games left; a lot can be done in 13 games,” Redskins tackle Trent Williams said.
That’s the problem: A lot must be done. It’s not just the quarterback.