ASHBURN, Va. – They don’t have a relationship, yet they remain linked – because of their style of play; because of their inconsistencies.
When the Washington Redskins play the San Francisco 49ers Monday night, the quarterbacks, who say they don’t know one another, will command attention. The question is: Which quarterbacks will we see? The dynamic elements of Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick? Or the passing-game struggles of both?
Not that everyone would call either quarterback a struggling on. And both have some good reasons: Griffin missed the offseason because of knee surgery, setting his development back; Kaepernick lost his best receiver, Michael Crabtree, to injury.
“We don’t feel Colin Kaepernick is struggling. I think he’s playing very good football. And watching RGIII on tape, I feel the same way about him,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “They’ve been a very productive offense. They put points on the board. They move the football and score points against everybody that they play. I guess I don’t agree with the premise of the question.”
Both, however, remain works in progress if nothing else. Both remain capable of games that produce one highlight after another. Both remain capable of head-scratching days as well. Last week, for example, Griffin completed 17 of 35 passes for 264 yards, two touchdowns and a bad decision that resulted in a game-ending interception.
Griffin has had three games where he’s completed 50 percent or less of his passes. He’s on pace for 22 touchdown passes, only two more than he threw in 15 games as a rookie. This, despite throwing a lot more this season: Griffin has attempted only 21 fewer passes than he made last season. The extra passes have resulted in more bad plays: Griffin has thrown 10 interceptions, five more than 2012.
“Robert has done a lot of good things this year, too,” Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “We’re turning the ball over a lot more, but he has definitely been asked to do a lot more – he’s had to do a lot more. He’s seen a lot more different looks than he saw last year, and I think that’s part of the process.”
Griffin still is learning how to read coverages faster and throw with more trust and anticipation. He’s done that at times – he made three excellent throws using those qualities versus Minnesota, for example. But at times if he’s slower to go through his progressions, it forces him to throw with less-than-ideal mechanics. Other times his protection does not afford him much time – or results in him throwing with hands in his face. On a missed throw to Santana Moss in the fourth quarter Sunday, for example, a defender had a hand in his face forcing an adjusted throw.
He also took a sack/fumble at the 5-yard line because he held the ball too long, rather than throwing to tight end Jordan Reed in a one-on-one matchup at the goal line.
And Griffin also sometimes hesitates on throws, allowing windows to close. It’s all part of what coach Mike Shanahan calls his growing pains.
“If that’s what he feels then I’m glad that he feels that way and this offseason we’ll get a lot more reps, a lot more time to be with the team, and just get out there and be a cohesive unit,” Griffin said. “That’s the biggest thing and that might be the growing pains that we’re going through. Like I said, the bottom line is you’ve got to look in the mirror, and for me I just need to be more consistent and play a lot better for us to win football games.”
Like Griffin, Kaepernick’s numbers are inconsistent. He’s had four games of 50 percent completion or less; he has thrown only 11 touchdowns to seven interceptions and his passer rating is 81.8. However, the Redskins coaches – and many others -- say part of the problem has been his receiving corps, which is still missing Crabtree.
But keep in mind: Three of Kaepernick’s four worst games occurred against defenses currently ranked in the top four in total yards and top five in passing yards allowed. The Redskins rank 28th in total yards and 32nd against the pass. Griffin hasn’t faced a defense that’s currently ranked in the top 16.
“I haven’t seen anything that’s changed based off what I’ve seen from last year to this year,” Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said of Kaepernick. “He’s a great athlete. He’s got great speed. He’s got a big-time arm. He does a great job with their zone-read. I think he’s running the offense as well as he can. I think he’s doing a nice job.”
Kaepernick is in his third year, but only second year as a starter (he has 17 career regular-season starts to Griffin’s 24). Both came off hot play last season, leading to big hopes for both – even with the receiver injuries for Kaepernick and with Griffin coming off knee surgery.
“With expectations, you want that. You want guys to expect you to succeed – to be great – and for us there was a lot of expectations coming into this season and we just haven’t lived up to them and that’s unfortunate,” Griffin said. “You can either look at adversity and say, ‘Look, I’ll let you beat me and we’ll be down and out and we’ll quit on the rest of the season,’ or you can buckle up, stare adversity in the face and let it know that you won’t be beaten. That’s the way I approach it.”