GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Robert Griffin III said the right things, pointing out how he has to be better. He said he’ll be the hard-ass if that’s what others on the team want and that he’ll run when the opportunity presents itself. That’s great.
But it does start with him, and, until he gets his game going -- until he’s the dynamic threat they traded multiple draft choices for; the one who made defenses cringe because he could beat them multiple ways -- the Redskins will struggle to find theirs.
Whatever the reason, defenses are playing the zone-read option differently or the Redskins are falling behind too fast, Griffin and the team just aren’t right.
The defensive struggles aren’t a lot different than what they encountered during the first nine games a season ago, when the team stumbled to a 3-6 record. The secondary was criticized when teams moved the ball and scored on them. It cost them some games, but it didn’t cost them a season because of the offense. The Redskins had something to rely on thanks to Griffin and a running game led by Alfred Morris. They made big plays. They made defenses afraid. They kept their own defense off the field and often gave them a lead to work with.
Griffin said he could be more stern with teammates. He said that’s exactly what one teammate wanted him to be.
“Not necessarily change who I am, but if they want me to be hard on them, I’ll be hard on them,” Griffin said. “I’m just not an [a--h---]. I believe in positive reinforcement. If something happens, I know he’ll make up for it the next time he has that chance. If they want me to do that, I’m fine with doing that. If that’s what we need to get over this hump to move forward and start winning games, then I’m definitely going to do it.”
But that isn’t the problem. Griffin is a good leader. He needs to be a playmaker, not an hard-ass. Through two games, most of his big plays have occurred when the Redskins trailed by double digits. Griffin had 177 of his 320 passing yards after the score was 31-0. This isn't about numbers in a blowout. It's about early in the game.
“If we’re not starting fast, it’s my fault,” Griffin said. “I’m not afraid to sit here and say, ‘Put that on my shoulders.’ I’ll take that. We didn’t start fast because of me.”
Defenses don’t fear his legs right now. Through two games, they’ve sent five or more rushers on 42 percent of his drop-backs compared to 21 percent last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. If you want to become a drop-back passer then you need to prove yourself in the pocket. Thus far, Griffin has completed 52.5 percent of his passes in those situations (67.5 percent last season) and is averaging only 5.9 yards per pass attempt.
As for his legs, Griffin has run the ball nine times this season, including six on scrambles. Of the three nonscramble runs? One was a botched handoff Sunday, and another was a kneel down. The third was the fumbled pitch to Morris in the end zone against Philadelphia; Griffin received credit for a run and fumble. In other words: His legs haven’t been a part of the offense.
Is this a trend? Everyone keeps saying it’s because of game situations, that it remains a part of the offense. Griffin said defensive ends and safeties are playing them differently, taking away any chance for him to keep the ball on a zone-read option.
“Everyone’s going to the lack of QB runs,” he said. “If teams will give us the QB runs then we’ll take it. If they’re not giving it to us then we can’t just run those plays.”
He’s right about that. But if that’s the case, then his passing needs to improve. You’re now seeing the results of his not just missing preseason games, but all the spring workouts.
“I think he’s really doing a good job,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “For not having [organized team activities] and then coming back in the thick of things, you know it’s going to take time for everybody to get on the same page and timing to get where we want to get.”
It’s unfair to expect Griffin to perform miracles in his first two games back all things considered. He’s just not at that point. He’s not consistently leading receivers on his throws, which prevents more yards after the catch. He’ll show flashes of the guy he was and could be with his arm -- witness the touchdown pass to Santana Moss in the corner of the end zone. And this is not just a call for him to run the ball. There’s more to his game than his legs, as we saw last season, but they need to be a part of his game for this offense to click. Griffin doesn’t have to run a lot; he needs to be a threat.
When he is, everyone benefits. It was amazing, at times, how much he improved the play of those around him in 2012. Is it his fault the defense has played poorly? No. He can’t tackle or rush the passer or defend.
But the one thing Griffin provided last season more than anything was hope. Right now, the Redskins hope he comes around real soon. They need him now more than ever.