Washington Redskins: Andrew Luck

RG III a top-10 fantasy QB

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
Robert Griffin III should be a top-10 quarterback this season -- at least according to ESPN.com’s fantasy ratings. The Redskins, of course, hope that’s not just, well, a fantasy.

They’re clearly counting on not only Griffin reverting to form but also on him getting a big bump from receiver DeSean Jackson (and just better overall targets, with the addition of Andre Roberts).

The rankings placed Griffin seventh, with the first six being Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck.

Here’s their rationale:

“From a fantasy perspective, RG III actually had his share of highlights last season. He had six games of 19 or more points, after eight 19-point games during his breakout rookie season. Still, some of the underlying indicators last year weren't great. He was the NFL's 31st-ranked QB on passes thrown 10 yards downfield, registering only 9.7 yards per vertical pass attempt. It helps that he'll be throwing to DeSean Jackson, who had more vertical yards (905) than Redskins receivers Pierre Garcon and Aldrick Robinson combined (813). Look for Griffin's on-field numbers to catch up with his fantasy numbers, but he's not in the elite tier at this point.”

My take: The struggles in downfield passing wasn’t a surprise and stemmed from a variety of reasons, starting with his own inaccuracy (aided by inconsistent mechanics). The line did not always allow him time to make certain throws; receivers did not always win routes. Add it up, and it led to him being ranked 31st in this area.

But in 2012, Griffin was second overall in this category, trailing only Colin Kaepernick (but when it came to quarterbacks who made at least 100 such passes, Griffin was tops). Griffin completed 74 of 127 passes of this distance with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. One note: His attempts were the 26th most in the league.

However, the overall point is that he was much better in this area as a rookie than he was a year ago. The Redskins did an excellent job of fooling defenses in the back seven, creating more gaps for him to find. Last season teams blitzed him more, with a greater variety, as well. At times his throws were off; other times he did not look comfortable in the pocket. Certain routes were covered better. There was rarely a good rhythm to the passing game, a function of multiple issues. But certainly Griffin’s lack of offseason and, therefore, development did not help.

Really, forget what this means to Griffin from a fantasy perspective, if he improves in this area, it will go a long way toward the offense being dangerous. With the new talent at receiver, and with a full offseason, Griffin can re-establish himself just by being more accurate on these throws.
A mega-contract shouldn’t be on his mind right now. Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has other things to worry about: improving in the pocket, returning to the path he was on pre-knee injury, winning games.

Yet, after San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick signed his contract Wednesday -- receiving $61 million guaranteed, though the breakdown of the contract is favorable to the Niners making that guaranteed amount a bit dubious -- it’s fair to wonder what the other young quarterbacks might receive next spring. That is, if teams decide to give them a new contract rather than just extend their rookie deals by one year, which they can do with first-round picks such as Griffin and Andrew Luck. Russell Wilson? As a third-round pick he'll get a new deal.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Richard LipskiRobert Griffin III has a lot to prove coming off a subpar season.
For Griffin, though, the path is less clear than it is with the others. Wilson won a Super Bowl, though Seattle’s defense was the star. But he’s also a good quarterback. Luck steadily improved and led his team to the playoffs his first two years.

It’s not a huge leap of faith to say Griffin will return to the path many expected him to be on pre-knee injury. He’s had a good offseason; he’s a year removed from surgery and ditched the knee brace and he no longer has friction with the head coach or offensive coordinator. Toss in the fact that Griffin has more explosive talent around him and it’s less of a stretch. He’s still a maturing player in many ways, but his drive is impressive. It would be silly to write him off after last season.

But he’s already had two ACL surgeries on his right knee and he still has to prove he can beat a team consistently with his arm. The read option is a nice change-up, but the long-term money is earned in the pocket. Yes, he’s also coming off a subpar second season. In fairness, the lack of an offseason hurt him considerably. The mistake made by many (myself included) was in thinking last August that it wouldn’t have the impact it did. I can tell you that while certain people were bad-mouthing Griffin behind the scenes late in the season, questioning his ability to improve in certain areas, those same people said not a word about these same things, say, in August. Not a word.

The Redskins don’t have to do anything with Griffin’s contract for a couple of years if they prefer. They could extend the deal next offseason (that’s what Carolina did with Cam Newton; he’ll receive $14.87 million this season) and then worry about the next contract after the 2016 season. By then they’ll have a great idea of where Griffin is headed.

It’s tough to compare Griffin to Kaepernick because the circumstances are different. The latter is 17-6 as a starter and 3-1 on the road in the postseason, having played in a Super Bowl. Kaepernick has a much better defense around him -- the Niners were a good team before he started a game. But he was hurt last year by not having good receivers. Griffin took a team that had finished in last place three straight years to an NFC East title. There were other factors, but he was a primary one, injecting a massive dose of hope.

Their stats are comparable. Griffin tops him in several areas, but Kaepernick has a better passer rating. In 29 starts, Kaepernick has completed 59.8 percent of his passes for 5,046 yards, 31 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a 93.8 rating. In 28 starts, Griffin has completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 6,403 yards, 36 touchdowns and 17 interceptions for a 91.5 rating.

At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Kaepernick is built for a long career. The concern some had about Griffin coming out of college is that, at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, he might not be durable. It's still up for debate. Both players are not finished products. Some of the knocks on Griffin -- the need to better anticipate throws, failing to throw to a player who appeared open -- are things I saw from Kaepernick and Wilson at times during the past season and postseason. It just didn’t hurt them as much because their teams could still win without them having great games. (Kaepernick, by the way, has three touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 1-3 record vs. Seattle).

Kaepernick did excel against the blitz this past season, something Griffin did not do after doing just that as a rookie.

But Kaepernick earned his money. The next wave of quarterbacks will soon be in position to get theirs. Whether Griffin gets that sort of cash is up to him, of course. Play well and the franchise that gave up a lot to get him will pay a lot to keep him around.

The Redskins have time to make a decision. But Griffin needs to lay a strong case for himself this fall.

Andrew Luck tops Alfred Morris

May, 16, 2014
May 16
Redskins running back Alfred Morris made a hard push -- using a funny commercial and his underdog status. He still didn’t come close to beating out Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck.

Morris was eliminated from the competition to be on the "Madden NFL 15" cover, losing out to Luck in a fan vote. Luck received 76 percent of the vote against Morris. Yes, it was broken down by seeding as Luck was a two and Morris a seven.

Morris was all-in when it came to trying to defeat Luck, knowing that a former sixth-round running back was considered a heavy underdog against the top pick in the 2012 draft -- and a player who has led his team to consecutive playoff berths.

On Tuesday, Morris said, “He has to go down … I grew up playing the game and to be in the game is like, wow, mind-blowing. Now to have an opportunity to be on the cover is like, mind explodes.”

He’ll now have to settle for a possible third-straight 1,000-yard season.

Luck will now face Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy in the next round. And my days as a writer about a video game are now over -- for this year anyway.

The popularity of a quarterback is tough to overcome, something Alfred Morris knows. He also knows he entered the NFL as a sixth-round pick and ran through linebackers en route to a record-breaking rookie season.

So taking on Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck? No worries here.

“Nothing against Andrew Luck, but he has to go down,” Morris said.

This is what the sporting world has come down to: Athletes competing to advance in a competition to be on the next cover of "Madden 15." And Morris is taking on Luck. There's even seedings. Morris is a 7-seed; Luck is a 2-seed. There are two brackets and 16 players vying for the top spot. This is life after the draft and before minicamps.

Yes, Morris absolutely wants to be on the cover.

“I grew up playing the game and to be in the game is like, wow, mind-blowing,” he said. “Now to have an opportunity to be on the cover is like, mind explodes.”

No, he’s not worried about the curse. There’s a history of players getting hurt or having disappointing seasons – or both – after landing on the cover. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson broke the so-called curse last season with 84 receptions and 12 touchdowns.

“No, no, no, no curse,” Morris said by phone from Bristol, Connecticut, where he was making the rounds at ESPN. “I always thought the curse was a coincidence. Calvin broke the curse. If anything I should want to be on the cover.”

It’s yet another heady moment for a guy who, two years ago at this time, was an unknown sixth-round pick who drove an old Mazda. He then helped lead the Redskins to the playoffs with a club-record 1,613 yards rushing as a rookie. His home-run swing after touchdowns became a fan favorite.

And now he’s making commercials to land on the cover of "Madden." By the way, the commercial is quite funny. Morris told an "interviewer" that he should be on the cover because he’s never late. They cut to a shot of him rewinding a clock in a workout room 10 minutes. He says he’s a great role model; cut to a shot of him watching a game with a young kid and then yelling after a big play, “Don’t cry to me, cry to your mama!” Another one: He says he’s financially responsible; cut to him getting something to eat, looking for $4.50 in his wallet, finding nothing and then sprinting away with his sandwich.

“I loved it,” Morris said.

For a guy who doesn’t always want the spotlight, he’s comfortable in this role.

“I’m not an attention seeker, but I accept certain things that come with [success],” Morris said. “It’s an opportunity to be on the cover. Who wouldn’t want to do that?”

Now he just hopes fans vote for him rather than Luck.

“A quarterback has more [of a] following than a running back,” Morris said. “But I still like my chances. I’ve always been an underdog.”

Random thoughts: Redskins' schedule

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
Taking another look at the Redskins' schedule and how it should help the Redskins' defense, among other thoughts:
  1. It’s hard to imagine Seattle taking a big step back and probably not San Francisco or Indianapolis. The Colts play in a bad division and the 49ers have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. So let’s assume, barring injury, that all three teams remain among the best.
  2. Beyond that, however, is there a team you can say, for sure right now, will be a playoff team. Philadelphia? I would think so. But its defense still has holes and while the offense should be explosive, does anyone trust Nick Foles just yet? Is it that hard to see the Eagles taking a step back?
  3. The point is, it’s hard to tell from one year to the next who will do what. For proof: The Redskins in 2012; the Redskins in 2013.
  4. Remember how tough that opener looked in 2012 at New Orleans? The Redskins scored 40 points in a win; the Saints struggled for weeks and clearly weren’t the same team without suspended coach Sean Payton. Or this stretch later in the season: Philly; at Dallas on Thanksgiving; Giants; Ravens. The Eagles ended up being horrible and the Redskins won all four. This stretch was why Washington couldn’t get off to a slow start. Well ...
  5. This is why I don't pick records based on who I think they'll beat, but more by what sort of team are they. I was, uh, a bit off last season picking 10-6. Then again, who wasn't off?
  6. And last season, anyone with the Redskins on their schedule had to worry a little bit. Reality? Not so much. The Eagles were supposed to be bad; they weren’t. Atlanta was supposed to be a Super Bowl contender. Uh, wrong. Dallas was supposed to be mediocre and Oakland was bad. OK, some of it was right.
  7. Point is, it’s hard to know all the trouble spots with this schedule. Will Arizona be good again (10-6, but missed the playoffs)? I like what Tampa Bay has done, but who will play quarterback? The same question can be asked of Houston, Minnesota, Tennessee and Jacksonville.
  8. The absence of elite quarterbacks, compared to last season, will help the Redskins. But a lot also depends on Foles’ growth and which Eli Manning shows up: Elite and Future Hall of Famer or Overrated Manning Who Throws Interceptions.
  9. Last season, a few teams had quarterback questions, but not like this season. Philadelphia had Michael Vick and though he’s now gone, when the season opened he was clearly the starter. Oakland had questions about its quarterback and Minnesota’s was shaky. But that was it. The other teams had firm starters.
  10. In fact, Washington played eight games in 2013 against quarterbacks who ended up in the top 10 in passer rating – and 11 games against the top 15.
  11. This season? They have seven games against quarterbacks who finished in the top 15. Of course, one who did not? The Colts’ Andrew Luck. But the point is, there’s a big difference in the level of quarterbacks they’re facing. It makes a difference. The Redskins’ defense has plenty of work to do, but facing fewer high-quality quarterbacks will make their task a little easier.
  12. Four of their first nine games are against teams with serious quarterback questions. If the defense does not improve, it’s an even bigger failure than 2013. And they’ll be out of excuses. Of course, the Redskins face six of the top-10 defenses from 2013 (but also six teams who ended up in the bottom five, with two games against both Dallas and Philadelphia). Jacksonville finished low in the standings, but could be improved and be a pesky opponent.
  13. For selfish reasons I’m not a fan, at all, of the Monday night game against Seattle followed by a trip to Arizona. Through a reporter’s eyes: I get home from a Monday night game around 4 a.m., and never quite catch up on sleep. I love Arizona, but a West Coast game means a red-eye flight coming back. I know, you don’t care and you shouldn’t. But now you know – and I still wouldn’t trade this gig for anything.
  14. But even for players that’s a tough one. The Monday night games take a little more out of you and then having to fly four hours a few days later can take a toll.
    It’ll help the Redskins to have a Thursday night game before facing Seattle. But it’s not as if the Seahawks’ defense is all that tricky; they do some things to fool teams, but mostly what they do is execute at a fast pace. They also will play physical with receivers; that’s what works best against Washington’s DeSean Jackson. I love watching this defense. There's also that Richard Sherman-DeAngelo Hall angle plus the Robert Griffin III-Russell Wilson storyline.
  15. The bye week after nine games isn’t bad at all. A midseason break. It worked two years ago for Washington, of course. Regardless of when the bye is, coaches will put a positive spin on the timing. This year the bye breaks up a stretch of four road games out of five.
  16. It’ll now be fun to see what Houston does with that first pick. The Redskins could be facing either Jadeveon Clowney or Johnny Manziel in their home opener.
    It’s always fun when they play Dallas in the season finale, especially if anything is on the line. But it’s not like the Cowboys ever go into that last game needing anything, right?
    And it’s always fun covering a Redskins-Cowboys game on Monday night. But one question the beat reporters face after such a game in Dallas: Do you go to the hotel for an hour’s nap or go right to the airport? The return flights are a bit early. Not a complaint; just reality. Like I said, there’s no other job I’d want.
  17. One more: Here's a good look from Sports Illustrated's Peter King at how the schedules are made.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: The Washington Redskins have a chance to get off to a good start with winnable games in the first two weeks before starting a potentially difficult stretch. They need to generate momentum in those first two games or another tough season could await. The final seven games after the bye week will be interesting as well. Tampa Bay could be a surprise team and that's followed by road trips against NFC heavy weight San Francisco and AFC contender Indianapolis. That means we'll go from a Colin Kaepernick vs. Robert Griffin III storyline to one about Andrew Luck vs. Griffin. And Griffin is not a fan of talking about such matchups. But at least the Redskins get to finish with consecutive home games. And the fact that they play all their prime-time games in the first eight weeks followed by six 1 p.m. games in the final eight weeks suggests the NFL isn't confident a hot start will equal a strong finish. Then again, they can always flex. But most teams coming off a 3-13 season do not get so many prime-time matchups. Griffin's potential re-emergence and an offense that could be high-scoring will make for entertaining viewing.

Complaint department: One thing that jumps out right away is playing Seattle on a Monday night followed by a West coast trip to Arizona. The Monday night games always take a little more out of players, as does a long trip. They also have four road trips in five games (with a bye mixed in), starting with a Monday night game in Dallas. And if you want to stretch it further, it's five road games out of seven. The brutal part is playing at San Francisco and then at Indianapolis. But the other road games are winnable. However, those two home games in that stretch, against Tampa Bay and St. Louis, could be tricky. Those teams might be better than people think.

Early success a key: Despite the complaint department, there's a lot to like about this schedule for Washington, starting with the opening two weeks and the closing two weeks. A chance for a good start and a strong finish. And that's especially true in the division. Washington did not win a game in the NFC East a year ago, but the Redskins have two divisional games in the first four weeks and then finish the year with three straight. Washington can not only get off to a good start overall, but also re-establish itself in the NFC East. And if they need to make up ground late, they should have that ability. While Philadelphia will enter the season as the divisional favorite, it's still hard to say how big the gap is between the Eagles and everyone else. Last season the Eagles rode a good start to a division title. The Redskins will have a chance for that good start. They must take advantage.

Strength of schedule: 17th, .490 | Vegas over/under : 7

Redskins Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Thursday, Sept. 25, NY Giants, 8:25 p.m.
Week 5: Monday, Oct. 6, Seattle, 8:30 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Monday, Oct. 27, at Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 20, Philadelphia, 4:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Dallas, 1 p.m.
With the NFL schedule (times and dates) being released Wednesday night, here's a refresher course on what we already know about their 2014 games:
  • Home opponents: Dallas, the New York Giants, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Tennessee.
  • Road opponents: Dallas, the New York Giants, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Arizona, Houston, Indianapolis and Minnesota.
  • The Redskins play two games against a team that finished with a top-10 offense in terms of total yards (Philadelphia) and five games against teams that finished in the bottom five (Giants, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Houston). All of those teams finished in the bottom five in points per game as well. They play three games against teams that finished in the top 10 in points per game (Philadelphia, Dallas and Seattle).
  • They’ll get to play in the 49ers’ new stadium (Yea! The old one was horrible) in Santa Clara (Boo! It's 38 miles from my favorite city in the country. But I’ll still be staying in San Francisco, so don’t worry your pretty little heads.) and also play in a college stadium at Minnesota. The Metrodome is done -- thank goodness -- so the Vikings will play at the University of Minnesota’s stadium this season. It’s outdoors; I hope this game is early in the year. The NFL had to work around restrictions placed on the Vikings’ schedule by the university.
  • DeSean Jackson can’t wait to face the Eagles twice and obviously will get that opportunity for the next few years. Will one be in prime time? Tough to see how it won’t.
  • Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck will meet in a real game for the first time. Griffin had the more dynamic rookie season; Luck was better in the second year. Given Griffin’s knee injury, there’s more uncertainty surrounding his future than Luck’s. But we’ll have a much stronger feel for Griffin’s future, perhaps, by the time they meet in the regular season (unless it’s the first game). A year ago this would have been a lock for prime time. Now? Still might be.
  • Trent Williams versus Colts linebacker Robert Mathis? Fun matchup.
  • Four other free-agent pickups will face their former teams: Jason Hatcher (Dallas), Andre Roberts (Arizona), Darryl Sharpton (Houston) and Mike McGlynn (Indianapolis). A backup lineman (most likely) facing his former team? Shivers. But the other three are expected to play key roles, so facing their former team will be interesting. And, yes, the Arizona matchup will be Lorenzo Alexander’s first game against his former team.
  • The Redskins will play two home games against teams that made the postseason in 2013: Philadelphia and Seattle. They’ll play three games on the road against playoff teams: Philadelphia, San Francisco and Indianapolis.
  • The Redskins have the 17th-toughest strength of schedule as their opponents had a .490 winning percentage in 2013. Of course, we saw last season how much things can change for a team in one year. Keep in mind: Detroit entered last season with the NFL’s second-hardest schedule, based on 2012 records. It ended up that the Lions played the fourth easiest schedule, based on 2013 finishes.
  • For those wondering why the Redskins’ schedule isn’t easier after a 3-13 year, remember, 14 of their opponents were pre-determined (it's been this way for a while). The only two games based on their finish? Minnesota and Tampa Bay.
  • The Colts have the easiest schedule (.430). Why? Look at the other teams in their division: Tennessee (7-9), Jacksonville (4-12) and Houston (2-14). And they have two pre-determined games against Washington (3-13) and Cleveland (4-12). So half of their games are against teams that finished a combined 40 games under .500.
  • Oakland has the toughest schedule (.578), which, of course is due to the fact it plays in the AFC West where the other three teams made the playoffs.
On the fourth day, it's time to take a look at the Redskins' offensive line and whether it's a spot that's been fixed. I took a look at safety, the pass rush and receiver earlier this week.

What they’ve done: Signed G Shawn Lauvao, G/C Mike McGlynn, released C Will Montgomery, moved Kory Lichtensteiger from LG to C.

Projected starters: LT Trent Williams, LG Lauvao, C Lichtensteiger, RG Chris Chester, RT Tyler Polumbus.

Problem solved: Can’t say that yet. The potential is there, but so are the questions. While there are things to like about Lauvao, he was inconsistent in Cleveland. And, while I’ve long thought Lichtensteiger was best suited for center, we still don’t know how he’ll fare. Keep in mind, too, that it could take time for them to mesh. McGlynn was part of a bad line in Indianapolis; he was better at center than guard. Washington looked at a potential new right tackle in Donald Penn, but did not sign him. The interior struggled more than anywhere last season and that, at least, was addressed. But Chester did not have a good season and, as of now, will return.

What needs to happen: Lauvao needs to become a consistent starter. In watching his games at Cleveland, a couple things jump out. One, he does play with some attitude. Lauvao stuck with pass plays longer than most, so when the quarterback extended a play he stayed with his man. Too often that wasn’t always the case here last season. Lauvao liked the hard shove at the end of a block, almost a punctuation point, and always looked for someone to hit. He also probably led the Browns in helping ball carriers off the ground. Lauvao has longer arms, which always helps. But he sometimes would get too upright and defenders would get into his chest too fast. Lauvao seemed to move well, which should make him a good fit in the outside zone game (as Cleveland coaches felt he would be). He will provide more power at left guard than Lichtensteiger could at 280-285 pounds.

Work also needs to be done at center and right guard. Lichtensteiger’s quickness and smarts should help at center, but he still needs to add 10-15 pounds and show that he can handle snapping and blocking in the pistol. It’s a tough transition for some. And it’s not like blocking out of regular shotgun formation because that’s usually a pass set or draw. You’re not firing off the ball as you need to in pistol. Finally, the right guard spot needs more consistency. If it’s not Chester, then one of the young guards needs to finally show they’re worthy. That means Josh LeRibeus needs a strong offseason; he’s off to a good start by weighing only 317 pounds but now he must sustain and improve his play. Can you trust he’ll be that disciplined each offseason? No, there’s proof to the contrary (college, 2013). Adam Gettis continues to get stronger and that will help. He improved as a run-blocker. Maurice Hurt? I like the other two better, but we’ll see where Hurt is at after losing 2013 to a knee injury. It’s not as if they’re playing behind Pro Bowlers so it will speak volumes if all are backups again. Here’s how it should work: A team drafts players, develops them and when there’s a need one becomes a starter, saving the team from either having to spend for a free agent or to keep a player around at a higher cap figure. That’s not how it’s worked here – yet. Still time. But it's tough to know where these players are at (except for the coaches) because they haven't played substantially since last preseason.

Address in the draft: Yes. The Redskins clearly are not satisfied with Polumbus at right tackle. It’s why they courted Penn and it’s why they’ve held some private pre-draft workouts with, among others, Morgan Moses. That’s smart; the Redskins absolutely need to see if they can upgrade here. Polumbus’ play definitely improved in 2013 and he was clearly not the cause of the offensive issues. Could he have played better? Of course. But to think they’ll suddenly take off as an offense with a new right tackle is silly. If they can’t succeed with the weapons they have added offensively – and with a quarterback once selected No. 2 overall -- then they have far bigger issues than right tackle. Having said all that, if there’s a right tackle they like at No. 34, they should take him. If they added a young athletic talent it would give them quite the bookends. But just remember it will take time for that player to learn. Is Tom Compton in the mix? I think we’ll find out more after the draft, based on what the Redskins do – or don’t do.

The last word: As was evident in 2013, the line struggled in one-on-one pass-rush matchups. It was not a strength. And too often quarterback Robert Griffin III couldn't step into throws because of a tight pocket. But, while giving the quarterback time is a key, no quarterback will ever have all the time he wants. You still have to make plays. The Colts had a horrible line last season, yet still made the playoffs and Andrew Luck still threw 23 touchdowns to only nine interceptions. Russell Wilson was sacked 44 times; he had an excellent season. Heck, two years ago Griffin played behind the same line he did in 2013 and the offense flourished – his impact had a tremendous trickle-down effect. But the reality is, last year he needed more help – both because of physical limitations and where he was at as a pocket passer, facing different coverages and looks and having no offseason to improve -- and certain areas of the line were exposed. He will always need more time than some quarterbacks just because of his ability to extend plays, which is a great asset. (Wilson uses this as well.) It also needs to be pointed out that the run game was productive with this group the past two years; there are other factors involved in that success, just as pass-protection issues are not just the fault of the front five. The line needs to improve, but it'll need help, too, whether from the scheme, game situations or Griffin's growth as a quarterback.

Former GM not high on RG III

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
Former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo echoed what others have said about Robert Griffin III this past season: he wasn’t good enough and he needs to make changes to his game.

Which is why Angelo gave him a low grade and placed him 21st among NFL quarterbacks. Angelo also rated him as a 6.9 on his nine-point scale.

For Angelo (writing on the scouting website Sidelineview.com), falling between a 6.5-6.9 means a quarterback “has strong traits, but hasn’t done it. Lack of experience, injuries, missing intangible may be the reason for his erratic play. Still a work in progress. He can move up or down.”

That about sums up Griffin after his second NFL season. Here’s what Angelo wrote on Griffin:
“Talented, but yet to define himself as an NFL quarterback. He won’t have a successful career by working outside the pocket. No one at his position did or will. Too many games and too many hits keep QB’s from having a career based on their feet, rather than their pocket accuracy.”

Right below Griffin: St. Louis’ Sam Bradford, a former top pick in the NFL draft (and a guy former Redskins coach Mike Shanahan loved). New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning was only rated a 7.0; Dallas' Tony Romo (7.9) and Philadelphia's Nick Foles (8.0) were the tops in the NFC East.

Angelo was not high on backup Kirk Cousins, giving him a 5.4 grade. On Angelo’s scale, that means a quarterback is a “band-aid, can get you through a game. Not a starter. He lacks the arm strength or needed accuracy. May also be missing something intangible, i.e. toughness, instincts etc. Cannot win with him, regardless of supporting cast or coaching.”

And here’s what he wrote about Cousins:
“Smart, hard working and well liked and respected. Lacks the arm talent to start and become a guy you can win with.”

Safe to say if Angelo were still employed in the NFL, he would not be among the teams willing to give up a high draft pick for Cousins.

Angelo listed seven quarterbacks as elite this past season (in order): Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck. Here’s the rest of the article.

RG III's sales took a hit

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III's popularity took a definite hit this past season -- but he remains a popular player. Griffin, despite a subpar season and some critical stories, ranked fourth on NFL Players Inc.’s Top 25 player sales list.

Of course, that represents a fall after what his jersey did during his rookie season when it set records for sales at NFLShop.com since the league started tracking such matters in 2006 -- and there was no doubt about his popularity then. Last year, ESPN reported that sales of Redskins merchandise increased 250 percent on fanatics.com, owed largely to Griffin's presence.

But, according to NFLShop.com, Griffin ranked fifth in jersey sales from April 1 to Sept. 30 this past year. But he dropped out of the top 10 when their next rankings came out earlier this month (though he's fifth on their website for most-searched jersey). The numbers mirror his struggles on the playing field this past season.

And for those keeping score on how he compares to Andrew Luck, the player selected above him, the Colts quarterback ranks 10th on the NFLPI list, though I'm sure he's eased his, uh, pain by dwelling more on consecutive playoff appearances and not jersey sales. But Griffin does trail other young quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.

Regardless, here's the list of the top 25 players based on overall sales of all licensed products from online and traditional retail outlets from September to November 2013 that was released Thursday:

1. Russell Wilson, Seahawks
2. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers
3. Peyton Manning, Broncos
4. Robert Griffin III, Redskins
5. Tom Brady, Patriots
6. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
7. J.J. Watt, Texans
8. Drew Brees, Saints
9. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
10. Andrew Luck, Colts
11. Richard Sherman, Seahawks
12. Clay Matthews, Packers
13. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
14. Wes Welker, Broncos
15. Victor Cruz, Giants
16. Eli Manning, Giants
17. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins
18. Calvin Johnson, Lions
19. Dez Bryant, Cowboys
20. Jason Witten, Cowboys
21. Troy Polamalu, Steelers
22. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
23. Patrick Willis, 49ers
24. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
25. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

NFLN survey/franchise player: Redskins

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
Peyton Manning had a phenomenal season -- and the same can obviously be said about his career. So it’s no surprise that NFL players tabbed him as the one player they’d want to build a team around.

I don’t have a problem with that because of Manning’s excellence. But I am surprised that New England’s Tom Brady received 21 fewer votes than Manning and 15 less than Andrew Luck. Brady’s stats aren’t eye-popping, but considering the situation at tight end and receiver in New England, what he did was quite impressive. He threw to a cast of no names and has them one win from the Super Bowl.

With Manning, you get not just a coach on the field, but also on the practice field and in the meeting rooms. It’s been that way for a long time. Manning makes many players look better. Brady helps many players win. Given what Manning did this season, it’s hard to go away from him. But there shouldn’t be a big gap between he and Brady.

Also, if I were taking a quarterback with more than five years left, I’d take Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. A young quarterback? It’s hard to go against Luck, bad playoff interceptions and all. My reason? Durability to go along with immense talent.

I’m also surprised that Calvin Johnson received 37 votes. There’s no doubt he’s one of the top players in the game, but if you have your choice of any player to build around it has to be a quarterback. And Johnson received 26 more votes than Drew Brees.

Redskins angle: The only Redskins player to receive a vote? Running back Alfred Morris, who received one. A year ago at this time, even with Robert Griffin III’s knee injury, he would have received a decent amount of votes. Griffin was at the top of the new age quarterback: the multi-dimensional threat capable of leading a more dynamic attack.

The Redskins’ offense went from inconsistent and turnover prone in 2011 to one of the most feared a year later and it was largely because of Griffin. So, naturally, many would have wanted to build around him. Now? He lags behind other young quarterbacks. In addition to Luck, Seattle’s Russell Wilson (five) and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick (one) received votes.

Morris is not a player I would build around, much as I like him. Not as The Guy to build around if I had my pick, that is. He offers the ability to have a strong running game, but to build around I’d like him to be more of an all-around threat or more explosive. That said, with Griffin and Morris, the Redskins still have a chance to build something offensively.

Quick Takes: Redskins coaching situation

December, 16, 2013
  • I know there are reports that head coach Mike Shanahan might return, but it still seems hard to fathom. I know the reports said Shanahan wants to return and I’ve also heard that owner Dan Snyder still likes Shanahan. And it’s never easy for an owner to pay out approximately $15 million to a staff that he must fire and then shell out just about as much for a new one.
  • Shanahan
    Under one scenario, Shanahan would tell Snyder that he needs to let him do it his way. Shanahan already has complete control, though it does not sound as if the coaches were all in on the Donovan McNabb trade (which means someone else above them was). Now stories are coming out that Shanahan felt they gave up too much or perhaps that he wasn’t all in on Robert Griffin III.
  • At the time, we only heard that Griffin was the guy Shanahan, and the Redskins, really wanted -- even ahead of Andrew Luck (or, at the least, it didn’t matter). Whether that's true or not, only they know. But the point is, the narrative has changed. Also, nobody mentioned the severe cost of the trade a year ago at this time.
  • For Shanahan to return, he’ll need to clean house on the coordinators. Obviously he would not fire his son, Kyle Shanahan, as offensive coordinator. So this means Kyle would find a job elsewhere. But, and this is sort of important, if I'm Snyder the one question I ask is this: You put this staff together, why should I believe the next one will do better things?
  • And then Snyder would have to give Mike Shanahan an extension. I can't see Shanahan wanting to coach as a lame duck, not with a quarterback in RG III that he perceives as having too much power. Whether that’s true or not, it’s the perception of the head coach, so he’d want to make sure everyone knew his authority. Coaching in the last year of his contract would undermine that desire. There’s no doubt he’d also want Snyder to not have a chummy relationship with Griffin.
  • Griffin
    As Louis Riddick said Friday, it’s Snyder’s right to have a relationship with his players. He just can’t take it too far or it does hurt the coach. I’ll say it again: the other side would say that the relationship just isn’t that close. But perception becomes reality.
  • You can’t justify a contract extension after this season. If you do give one, hold off on sending out those 2014 season ticket renewal packages until after a couple free agents are signed.
  • Even if all that happens and Shanahan returns ("So you’re saying there’s a chance,"), then you’ll still get a lot of this throughout 2014: "How is the relationship between Griffin and Shanahan?" Do you want that hanging over your franchise’s head again? A lot of damage needs to be repaired. This is not about a quarterback disliking his coach; it’s deeper.
  • By the way, if Shanahan somehow stays and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is out (which seems likely), then if I’m a new coordinator I’d say: I need to hire my own staff. The best defenses I’ve seen in Washington have come when the head coach hired a coordinator and let him do his job.
  • Add it all up and it would be hard to see all of this coming together. My hunch remains that a new coach will be here in 2014. It doesn't make a lot of sense for this to continue.
  • Kyle Shanahan continues to be caught in the middle of this mess, with two stories that came out Sunday (from NFL Network and CBS Sports). Shanahan said via text Sunday night that the NFL Network report was "100 percent not true." He said he wants to finish what this staff started.
  • I also know that I’d heard some of the same charges (without as much detail) a year ago that Jason LaCanfora wrote about in his story regarding favoritism paid to Shanahan by his father. The hard part for Kyle is that, because his father is the coach, if anything goes in favor of the coordinator, then the motivation will be questioned. Again, it’s all about perception.
  • I don’t doubt for a minute that Kyle would like to coach elsewhere and separate from his father in an effort to again make his own name. Kyle has never liked when people refer to the father and son as the "Shanahans." He wanted to coach with his dad, but if he really wants to become a head coach, it's time to break away from his dad and work for a coach with no strong ties to his past.
  • A year ago Kyle Shanahan was a name to watch for future head coaching positions -- especially with another strong season. I had been told before last offseason by a couple of league sources that they didn't think he was ready to be a head coach, but he was moving in that direction. Now Shanahan will have to go off on his own to prove that he is a good coordinator. Yes, he has his faults, but I do think he's a good coordinator.
  • I’m not alone in that thinking. One defensive coach, whom I greatly respect and who has faced the Redskins, called Kyle Shanahan an "above average coordinator ... I think he would be outstanding with the right head coach." He also said one of Shanahan's weaknesses is play-calling in critical situations.

Robert Griffin III off to a good start

December, 12, 2013
Robert Griffin III AP Photo/Nick WassNow that Robert Griffin III has been benched for the rest of 2013, all eyes are on how he responds to the situation.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Mike Shanahan said it during his press conference, but for a different reason. In a couple years Robert Griffin III will look back on Shanahan's decision to bench him for the remainder of the season and view it differently than he does now, as something he's glad happened.

Maybe he’s right. Maybe Griffin will see it that way, especially if he accomplishes what he wants to in the offseason. I was in favor of Griffin playing the final three games because of the need for him to get as many reps as possible.

I also know, from watching and rewatching the games, that Griffin left a lot of plays on the field and if Shanahan’s desire was to see someone else -- not as a guy for the future, but for now -- then you could justify a move. You’d see Griffin make strides like he did against the New York Giants, then you’d see a game like Kansas City in which he once again stared down receivers, showed inconsistent mechanics and was inaccurate. Three of the past four games weren’t good ones. He’s also not the only young quarterback enduring these growing pains -- Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck endured a four-game stretch in which he tossed two touchdowns to five interceptions.

(Note: No, it was not all Griffin’s fault because the line failed to pick up blitzes, whether from missed assignments or blown calls. And the receivers don’t always get open. But for Griffin to improve he’ll have to recognize his part. I think he does.)

Nonetheless, the way Griffin handles this situation will also help him in the long run, if he does it right. If anyone thinks he’s entitled, then here’s his chance to show up each day, work hard and be supportive during a difficult time. An entitled player will behave a certain way, pouting or bad-mouthing a decision. If anyone thinks he’s not a leader, then here’s Griffin's chance to show that he's about the team and not the “RGIII Show.” Don’t be divisive. My strong guess is that Griffin understands this; he’s about projecting images and he’ll have to know teammates are watching to see what he does next.

His news conference was an excellent start (as the Washington Post’s Jason Reid also wrote). Griffin was deflated, dispirited and a whole lot of other words. But he said all the right things. Actions speak louder than words, of course, but this was a good way to start. During practice, while performing individual work, he didn’t look any different than usual.

There has to be a big part of him that also thinks, “Three more games.” The state of his relationship with Shanahan (and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan), has been oft-stated. Griffin’s smart; he knows what will likely happen after the season. If it does, then Griffin will be freed to move forward without certain headaches (not blaming one side, but it’s the state of the relationship). Of course if it doesn’t happen, which would be surprising at this point (but it’s Washington, anything can happen), then a lot must be repaired. Last year everyone wondered how Griffin would recover from his injury. Now it'll be about recovering from this season.

Say what you want about Griffin and paint him however you’d like, but even when Griffin doesn’t like what he’s being asked to do, he still does it. This situation is the same way. That’s why he won’t be doing a Bruce Smith and running to the owner to complain. Griffin said he hasn’t talked to Dan Snyder.

“No, I haven’t and that’s a whole other deal but I haven’t talked to him -- never talk to him about that kind of stuff. It’s Mike’s decision. He’s the head coach,” Griffin said.

But, again, actions are more important. If Griffin is smart, he’ll keep a low profile about this situation and just work. We don’t need any leaks from his “camp” which needs to maintain the same low profile. Everyone’s watching; take the high road. For teammates it starts in the meeting rooms and practice.

“I think that’s just a state of mind and that’s why I’ll do everything I can after practice to continue to get reps, continue to work on technique, work on everything that goes into being a quarterback,” Griffin said. “Part of being a quarterback is helping your team and that’s what I have to do in this instance. Anyway that I can I have to try to help this team win and I will.”

He’ll just have to do it in street clothes during a game. Ultimately he’ll be judged by his on-field performance and that’s where Griffin must focus in the offseason, which he will. But opinions can be formed, or cemented, during a time like this. It’s a chance for him to establish what he’s really about. Those little sayings are fine when you’re on top, do you adhere to them when you’re not?

Teammates will be watching. He says he feels their support.

“Just talking to the guys I do believe I have that sentiment from the guys and that’s big for me,” Griffin said. “As a player, as a quarterback you want to make sure that the guys in that locker room have your back and I think they do.”

Regardless of who’s coaching, all eyes will again be on Griffin to see how he recovers from this season, this experience. His first step was a good one.

Eli Manning relates to RG III struggles

November, 28, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- A young quarterback getting picked apart in a large market; it's a familiar tale for New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Which means he can relate to what Robert Griffin III is enduring.

It's not just Griffin, as some other young quarterbacks have struggled as well, notably San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick. And Colts quarterback Andrew Luck's numbers the past three games haven't been good, either (two touchdowns, four interceptions).

But Griffin has been more under siege, partly because he entered with a higher profile and was more public, even filming a documentary on his rehab from knee surgery. It's partly because of the issues with his knee. It's also because of the relationship with his coach, which leads to the dissection of many of his quotes. Opposing players opine on whether Griffin should even be playing.

Also, Griffin plays in a major media market like Manning (who, of course, is in the biggest).

"People expect immediate success and expect things to happen quickly," Manning said, "especially if you get off to a great start it's kind of assumed things will be just as good if not better and better and better.

"Sometimes it's not that easy. It's not always what you're doing, but the things around you and circumstances change and sometimes you catch great breaks and sometimes you don't catch many. That's football. It's never easy."

Like Manning, Griffin entered the NFL with a bang. Manning's family made it known that he did not want to play in San Diego, which picked ahead of New York in the 2004 draft. His last name also gave him a certain profile. Griffin was the Heisman Trophy winner and already had endorsements.

That meant both were under pressure to deliver right away. Griffin did, helping the Redskins to an NFC East title with a golden rookie year. Manning started only seven games as a rookie and threw six touchdowns to nine interceptions. He improved to 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his second year. But it took him until 2009 before he finished with a passer rating above 90. He's also now won two Super Bowls.

"You have ups and downs and you've got to fight through the tough times and make sure I keep doing the right things and my preparation is good and I try to make the right decisions," Manning said. "But you're trying to compete and always trying to win."

Griffin knows where some of the problems stem: the Redskins' 3-8 record.

"Anytime you lose, there's going to be criticism," Griffin said. "We understand that. The hardest part of all is probably the fact that we know we're not what our record says we are."

Griffin has had to alter his game in his second season, something the other quarterbacks haven't had to do as much. He's lost some of his explosiveness, which was a factor in games a year ago and forced defenses to play him differently. Now he's trying to improve as a pocket passer, and that's led to natural growing pains.

Griffin's offense at Baylor and the defenses they faced are vastly different than what he's seen in the NFL as a passer. That's why missing the offseason likely set him back, as the coaches have pointed out in recent weeks.

"An offseason definitely helps," Griffin said. "But I don't use those excuses and I won't use that excuse -- that's for me personally. As far as the coaches are concerned, if that's how they feel then I can't combat that."

Nor can he always combat the topics that surround him, whether it's about how many times his offensive linemen help him up or his dad being in the locker room. Every story with Griffin becomes a big one.

"It's unfortunate we're not up here talking football a lot of the time," Griffin said. "Some will say it comes with the spotlight."

RG III: I can't take those amount of hits

November, 14, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- Robert Griffin III knows he’s going to take a lot of hits. He also knows he can avoid at least some of them. As he continues to play the way he did in 2012, willing to run and not avoid contact in certain situations, the hits will add up.

Not that Griffin is already wondering how these hits will affect him long term or whether they will shorten his career. (Or, perhaps, he’s just not publicly wondering).

“I don’t think about it,” he said. “I think a lot of people do. It comes down to, you’ve got to take it week to week and not worry about the years down the road when it comes to those hits. You have the future in mind, but you’re still competitive on that day.”

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky"You dont want to be hit that much. A lot of great quarterbacks dont get hit that much," Robert Griffin III said.
That doesn’t mean he wants the amount of hits he had against Minnesota (18). Denver pounded him as well three weeks ago. Lest anyone think this is just because he runs, just know that a storyline in Indianapolis this season -- as it was a year ago -- was the number of hits on quarterback Andrew Luck. But he’s bigger than Griffin and hasn’t had two ACL surgeries.

“Bottom line, I can’t take those amount of hits,” Griffin said. “You don’t want to be hit that much. A lot of great quarterbacks don’t get hit that much. It’s not just me, it’s a lot of things that go into that. We just have to get better.”

He’s right; it’s not always on him, of course. Last week, the Minnesota Vikings applied quick pressure up the middle, mostly through center Will Montgomery and guard Chris Chester. There are times receivers aren’t winning one-on-one routes enough. But there are times Griffin can help himself. Against Denver, for example, there were times in the pocket that he held the ball for three seconds (though, again that was sometimes caused by receivers not getting open; other times it's a need to get rid of the ball quicker).

And against the Vikings, Griffin said there were two hits in particular he could have handled better. He was crunched at the goal line by four defenders while attempting to score. Running back Roy Helu was wide open in the right flat and could have made a similar dash, but Griffin took off and didn’t see him. Griffin said he could have avoided this hit by sliding, but he was trying to score.

“If I’m put in that situation again, then yeah maybe I will slide,” Griffin said. “I think if I hadn’t slipped, I probably would have gotten in. Once I did slip it was probably best to get down and avoid that hit.”

On the final drive, Griffin kept the ball around the right side off the zone read and cut upfield where two defenders hit him. Griffin pointed this out as another example of a hit he could have avoided by sliding.

“I have to do a better job of that, making sure it doesn’t happen and taking it upon myself to get down earlier,” he said. “I got two good shots in the game I could have avoided ... The other hits I did avoid. I’m OK at doing that, getting down and getting out of the way. [But] I’ve got to do a better job of that. It will come. And then we just have to protect.”

Yes, they do, especially when they have to abandon their play-action game, which gives the line a little more time to block thanks to the hesitation it causes.

"We have to improve there and make sure we keep our quarterback upright,” Griffin said. “It takes all of us. Yeah, I’ve been hit a bunch [recently] and everyone knows it, but you have to move on and make each game a new game and not worry what happened before.”