RG III has more to learn

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
8:30
AM ET

When you’re a quarterback whose relationship with both the head coach and his offensive coordinator (and son) has been picked apart and questioned, you need to be careful about what you say. That was my reaction after Robert Griffin III talked Sunday night in Philadelphia. It just leads to more issues that a 3-7 team does not need.

That also was, to some degree, Santana Moss’ reaction. But it wasn’t just about the relationship between Griffin and Mike and Kyle Shanahan. It was the need for him to use two words -- me and I -- when things go wrong. As they did on the final play of the Redskins' 24-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, when Griffin, backpedaling with a rusher coming at him, tried to launch a pass out of the end zone, but underthrew it. The pass was picked off, stifling the Redskins' comeback bid.

Last week, Griffin’s leadership was called into question, albeit by someone who has not been around the Redskins much at all: Hall of Famer Darrell Green. Players, knowing they could not get into a public spat with a guy like Green, responded privately with incredulity. Everyone I talked to privately about this raved about Griffin’s leadership.

[+] EnlargeMike Shanahan and Robert Griffin III
Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesThe relationship between Mike Shanahan and Robert Griffin III remains under the microscope.
But one part of his responsibility is accepting full blame. The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins wrote on that topic. Yes, Griffin needs to learn this. I don’t know if it’s an unwillingness to do so, or a desire to give a full explanation of a play, which is what he did Sunday night. He talked about how no one was open; he talked about how a guy was coming straight at him. Both things were true. It just took a long time for him to say, “It was something I shouldn’t do.” To many, that phrase got lost in the shuffle -- that’s not necessarily Griffin’s problem, by the way. Sometimes it’s a matter of reading the entire quote. Still, it should have been the only thing he said about this play.

Not every position must deal with the complexity of each play. A receiver runs a route and catches the ball or he doesn’t. A quarterback deals with more factors on every play. Griffin tries to give a full explanation; sometimes, especially after the pass he made Sunday, only one thing is needed: “My bad; that was a dumb decision and I’ll learn.” And move on.

Griffin’s honesty, at least in how he sees things, is welcomed (by people whose job it is to accurately depict what’s going on, be it a play or his thoughts on another matter).

But Moss sees it more simply.

Moss, on 106.7 The Fan’s LaVar and Dukes show, said, “As a leader, you understand that if you’re involved in the situation, whether you’re the receiver, the quarterback, the guys making the tackle, whoever, regardless of the outcome, good or bad, you have to at some point, stand up and say 'me' or 'I.'"

That’s fine. Griffin did say "I," but again, it was buried. He has to understand how his words will be dissected, especially if they appear to be a shot at the coaches. Griffin never directly said the Eagles knew what plays were coming; but he did say, “When it came to the passing game, a lot of times they were tit for tat. They were where they needed to be; they were taking away routes we were trying to run. That’s disheartening, but we have to make sure we come up with something to counteract that.”

Later in his Sunday news conference, Griffin said the Redskins' offense had not become predictable. But that would be lost because his first statement, about coming up with something to counteract it, is the siren. Desired or not, it goes back to coaching. And his relationship with those coaches remains a big topic. The problem is, it’s not the first time Griffin has said something that leads to everyone reading between the lines when it comes to the coaches. (Another thing lost in the shuffle: What if Griffin is right? But given the history here, it's better said in private.)

Also from Moss: “And just to finish up, man, I just get tired of, and just to be honest with you, I get tired of stuff that people allow to be taken to stretch longer than what there really is.”

When Griffin says things like this, then the head coach responds by saying things as he did Monday, pointing out Griffin’s growing pains. Later, in his weekly Monday interview with CSN Washington, Shanahan said the final play wasn’t communicated properly. He didn’t say by whom, but it’s unlikely he means by his play-calling son. Griffin's comments, followed by Shanahan's, followed by Moss', makes this a four-day story because it will be revisited Wednesday.

Both Griffin and the coaches want to win. There doesn’t seem to be reason, yet, to believe they can’t win together. They don’t need to exchange Christmas cards; they need to win games.

But this still comes across as a relationship in which both sides jockey for positioning. Shanahan is the coach and team president, so he has power; Griffin is the face and future of the franchise, so that gives him some as well. It’s not the first time a coach and quarterback have wrestled for power and it’s not the first time -- far, far from it -- the two sides aren’t bosom buddies; but it’s not always played out with this much parsing of words and phrases. Griffin also is dealing with true adversity -- with people questioning his performance and future -- for the first time in his football career. The honeymoon period in Washington, with the fans as well, is over. It can lead to missteps, though behind closed doors, players still talk about how he works and his approach. That matters a ton, and in the end, players want to see how you respond to adversity.

Some things are better left unsaid, or at least said in meeting rooms. When you’re 3-7 and coaching jobs and reputations are on the line, there are places you don’t need to go.

John Keim

ESPN Washington Redskins reporter

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