Washington Redskins: Drew Brees

RG III a top-10 fantasy QB

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
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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:

Griffin
“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.
Last week I broke down the Redskins' salary cap by position and how it compared to the rest of the NFL. This is one more extension of that so you can see how the Redskins' top cap hit compares to the five biggest cap hits at each position. For the most part, the Redskins have more bargains offensively in part because they've found younger contributors through the draft or they landed players such as DeSean Jackson after they'd been cut, thereby lowering their price. The Redskins have only one player who will count among the top five at their position in 2014 -- left tackle Trent Williams.

Quarterback

NFL's top five cap hits

Eli Manning, New York Giants, $20,400,000

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh, $18,895,000

Jay Cutler, Chicago, $18,500,000

Drew Brees, New Orleans, $18,400,000

Sam Bradford, St. Louis, $17,610,000

Redskins top cap hit

Griffin
Robert Griffin III $5,759,754 (19th overall)

Summing it up: St. Louis is paying the price for a since-changed system when it comes to rookie contracts -- and the Redskins clearly have benefited. There’s little chance anyone would think Bradford is worth as much as his 2014 cap number. Manning has regressed the past two seasons, for whatever reason, and needed ankle surgery this offseason. Roethlisberger is excellent and Brees remains a top-five quarterback. But Cutler is an example of a guy who is being paid because of the position he plays. He's been a good quarterback, but it's tough to say he's been great. He's definitely not a top-five guy. The Redskins have Griffin at a lower cost the next two seasons and then, if he plays as they hope, his number will skyrocket.

Receiver

NFL's top five cap hits

Mike Wallace, Miami, $17,250,000

Andre Johnson, Houston, $15,644,583

Percy Harvin, Seattle, $13,400,000

Calvin Johnson, Detroit, $13,058,000

Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay, $12,432,000

Redskins top cap hit

Garcon
Garcon
Pierre Garcon $9,700,000 (seventh overall)

Summing it up: The top two at this position certainly didn't outperform Garcon, who led the NFL with 113 catches. Garcon only caught five touchdown passes, but that matches what Wallace and Andre Johnson did as well. Harvin played just 19 snaps all season. Calvin Johnson caught 84 passes, but 12 went for touchdowns and he averaged 17.8 yards per catch. Jackson caught 78 passes, seven for scores, and averaged 15.7 yards per catch. The Redskins received good value from their top earner at this spot. They have even more invested here now after adding DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts. The former will be a major bargain compared to the rest of this group if he puts up numbers similar to last year (82 catches, nine touchdowns, 1,332 yards. But keep in mind in his first five years Jackson averaged 54.8 catches, 4.6 touchdowns and 957 yards per season).

Running back

NFL's top five cap hits

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota, $14,400,000

LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia, $9,700,000

Ray Rice, Baltimore, $8,750,000

Arian Foster, Houston, $8,300,000

Matt Forte, Chicago, $7,900,000

Redskins top cap hit

Helu
Roy Helu $1,548,563 (38th overall)

Summing it up: Peterson and McCoy are two of the most dangerous offensive players in the NFL and are difference-makers. But what's also clear is why teams don't like to shell out huge money for running backs. Washington’s Alfred Morris, who is 93rd on the list of running backs when it comes to 2014 cap figures ($600,775), was as productive running the ball as Peterson. Morris ran for 1,275 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards a carry. Peterson rushed for 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 4.5 yards per rush. Rice ran for 660 yards in 15 games, averaging 3.1 yards on 214 carries. Foster only played in eight games. Forte is an excellent all-around back and was productive. But the Redskins are fortunate they won’t have to shell out more money here for two more years.

Offensive line

NFL's top five cap hits

LT Joe Thomas, Cleveland, $12,300,000

LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets, $11,698,666

LT Russell Okung, Seattle, $11,240,000

G Jahri Evans, New Orleans, $11,000,000

LT Trent Williams, Washington, $10,980,393

Redskins top cap hit

Britt
Williams
Williams

Summing it up: Williams is one of the games best tackles so for him to be in this group makes absolute sense. He could be more consistent and avoid the occasional clunker game, but overall Williams has proven himself and earned two Pro Bowl trips. I'd have a hard time paying a guard as much as Evans, but at least he's an elite player with five consecutive All-Pro nods (in addition to five straight Pro Bowl berths). Okung, drafted one spot after Williams in 2010, has missed 19 games in his career and made one Pro Bowl team. Williams has played in every game the past two seasons. Because of his athleticism, the Redskins can use him differently than other teams use their tackles. And he can escape problems because of it as well (and because of his longer arms).

Tight end

NFL's top five cap hits

Jason Witten, Dallas, $8,412,000

Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville, $8,250,000

Greg Olsen, Carolina, $7,800,000

Antonio Gates, San Diego, $7,362,500

Vernon Davis, San Francisco, $7,342,916

Redskins top cap hit

Paulsen
Logan Paulsen $2,236,666 (21st overall)

Summing it up: Yet another position where the Redskins have a bargain for a few more seasons. This isn’t about how Paulsen stacks up, but really about Jordan Reed. If he can stay healthy, this will be the company he keeps statistically. I love watching Davis because of the matchup headaches he causes based on his athleticism. It’s the same with Reed. Marcedes Lewis has had a nice eight-year career and is an excellent blocker, but No. 2 on this list? He has 25 career touchdown catches, but 10 came in one season. The others are proven pass threats. Of course, this list will change once Jimmy Graham's situation is settled with New Orleans.
The Redskins will host two players Thursday: safety Ryan Clark and linebacker/defensive lineman Anthony Spencer. But the interesting part of the day, or the next several, could be another player they’re targeting: running back Darren Sproles.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday morning that the Redskins are among the teams interested in trading for the New Orleans running back. Apparently, the thinking now is that it would take a mid- to late-round draft pick.

Sproles would certainly add a good weapon for the Redskins. Though his production went down last season, he remains someone who can help an offense. Sproles can be lined up in many spots, creating mismatches. Also, even last season, there were times defenders would cheat toward him – taking two defenders. And that would leave a bigger window for quarterback Drew Brees to find another target. Sproles would give Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III an excellent option on checkdowns.

The drawback: Sproles turns 31 in June. He also has a hefty base salary for a part-time player; according to ESPN Stats & Info his base is $3.4 million with a $100,000 workout bonus and a Pro Bowl bonus of $100,000. (Note: An earlier version said it was listed as $2.4 million; but that was listed incorrectly in the system. It's definitely $3.4 million). Overthecap.com also has Sproles at a base of $3.4 million with a $100,000 workout bonus. The Redskins have all their picks in rounds two through seven.

But if they somehow did add Sproles, the Redskins' biggest acquisitions thus far would have come on offense. They’ve also signed receiver Andre Roberts and guard Shawn Lauvao. Meanwhile, a defense that struggled has received no help through the first two days of free agency. The Redskins hosted corner Corey Graham, but he signed a four-year deal with Buffalo. They also hosted defensive lineman Antonio Smith, but he left without a contract and now is scheduled to visit Tennessee and then Oakland.

Even some of the Redskins’ offensive players are waiting for them to add more help on defense.

They are hosting Clark, who played safety here from 2004-05, and Spencer, the former Cowboys linebacker/end, on Thursday. But Clark has drawn interest from many teams. His agent, Joel Turner, said numerous teams called about him during the legal tampering period. The Redskins did not call until early Wednesday morning – after losing out on safety Mike Mitchell, a player they had wanted for a while, the previous day.

But Turner said Clark’s interest in the Redskins is legitimate: “We’re not playing games. We’re coming down because we’re interested and they’re interested.”

Clark, who will turn 35 before the season, tweeted late Wednesday night:

If signed, he would give the Redskins a strong veteran leader in the secondary and someone to mentor their group of young safeties: Phillip Thomas, Bacarri Rambo, Trenton Robinson and Jose Gumbs. They could always draft a safety, too, though it’s a difficult spot for a rookie to play.

Clark obviously is not a long-term solution, but the hope would be that after a year someone else might be ready – or they can pursue this position again.

As for Spencer, he was an excellent linebacker with Dallas in its 3-4 front. The Cowboys moved him to end last season when they switched to a 4-3. But Spencer played just one game last season after having microfracture surgery on his knee. At 30, Spencer would be a guy who needs to prove he’s still healthy and can play. He would not be guaranteed help. The Redskins need guaranteed help.

Five thoughts: Darren Sproles

March, 10, 2014
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With running back Darren Sproles done in New Orleans (his release has not yet hit the transactions wire), it led to another round of "should the Redskins pursue" questions via Twitter. So, should they go after Sproles? Well, I have a few thoughts. As always.

[+] EnlargeDarren Sproles
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesRunning back Darren Sproles had 71 receptions for 604 yards last season, his eighth in the NFL.
1. Yes, I would be interested in signing Sproles if I were the Washington Redskins. But you need to know exactly what you’re getting. Do not expect the Sproles from 2011, when he set an NFL record with 2,696 all-purpose yards for the Saints and was one of the most dynamic players in the NFL. That is not who he was last season. In 2013, Sproles had 1,273 all-purpose yards. He also will not necessarily solve the issues at returner. In five of the past six years he’s averaged 8.0 yards or less on punt returns. Last season he averaged 21.3 yards on 12 kick returns (though he has a 25.3 career average and was at 26.8 in 2012). He’s a limited role guy, so you can’t pay a lot for him. My guess is the Redskins knew he would be getting released just by analyzing other teams' cap numbers; I haven’t heard his name mentioned, so perhaps they made up their minds already. He's 30, and I wouldn't trust a move on anything other than a smaller deal. You just don't give a good chunk to players over 30. Not good business.

2. That said, it doesn't take long to figure out he can still play. Just for kicks (well, for research, too), I watched some of his games last season. Sproles remains an effective back, able to make defenders miss in the open field with a hard juke or quick shake. He sets up blockers well in the open field because he can show inside, then quickly cut outside.

3. Also, and this is big: In two of the three games I watched, I saw the opposing defense (Miami, Philadephia) send two defenders his way on a route several times. And that left gaps in the defense that benefited, for example, tight end Jimmy Graham. It gave quarterback Drew Brees enough of a window to exploit, and it occurred simply because Sproles was sent to the flat. Also, Brees scrambled up the middle on occasion because linebackers vacated areas to double Sproles. They couldn't do that with a quarterback such as Robert Griffin III, who obviously looks to run more. Again, I'm not saying Sproles is the best and they must sign him. But am I interested because he could help them? Absolutely -- and for the right price, he's a good weapon. Sproles is a matchup headache capable of running good routes from multiple spots.

4. Yes, Jay Gruden had Giovani Bernard in Cincinnati as a big weapon. Sproles could fill that role here. But keep in mind that Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's lack of arm strength -- especially compared to Griffin's -- almost required that the Bengals have a guy like Bernard, someone Dalton could easily dump the ball to. Sproles would be a good check-down guy for Griffin, but if they sign another receiver, the plan is to get the ball downfield more. That is likely the plan, anyway; I know the coaches think Jordan Reed will be an excellent target on deeper throws. That would lessen the desire for a guy like Sproles, though Sproles would still be a weapon. It’s not as if Brees was just a check-down guy.

5. If the Redskins somehow pursued Sproles -- and I don’t know that they will -- it should not mean the end of Roy Helu. As a running back, Sproles works best in a spread formation when he can hit gaps up the middle against, say, a five-man box. If something happened to starting running back Alfred Morris, I would not want Sproles as the full-time guy. Nor would the Redskins. The Saints were able to incorporate three backs into their offense, and I think the Redskins could as well. Sproles would replace a guy like Chris Thompson.

Expert's take: The leftovers (Part 2)

February, 24, 2014
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After a week-long series, in which Louis Riddick provided analysis of various Redskins situations -- from the retention of Jim Haslett to whether or not the Redskins should re-sign Brian Orakpo -- there's still more in leftover form. This time Riddick, a former NFL player, scout and executive who is now part of ESPN's NFL Insiders, opines on a variety of topics. Earlier Monday, I did the same with former NFL scout, and current ESPN NFL scout, Matt Williamson. You can read his leftover takes here.

Here's Riddick on:

Jay Gruden:“It’ll be interesting to see how he is able to distill confidence in that team. What stood out to me in his press conference was how he wanted guys to be confident and wanted guys to believe they could be winners, that they deserved to be winners and he wanted them to believe he would make them into winners. The mindset he takes as far as the approach he takes toward changing that mindset is very important. It seems like he understands that and is aware of that. I like that. How much do the people at the management level allow him to run the team the way he sees fit and not undermine him knowingly or unknowingly and being conscious of that and allow him to establish his hold on the team and locker room will determine [that success].

“I don’t know much about his individual leadership style and how he interacts with players, but allowing him to do it his way will be important, very important. One thing I do know based on what he says is that he understands the place needs to feel good about themselves. There weren’t many reasons to feel good about themselves in the recent past. The psychology of the game is huge for me. Not enough attention is paid to it, not enough time and resources are committed to it. The teams doing it, you’re seeing results mainly with a Super Bowl championship. I believe in it wholeheartedly and other teams led by coaches from the same mold as Pete Carroll are trying to do the same thing. …I like that from what I’ve heard [from Gruden].”

Gruden’s offense: “His offense is fine. The one thing I’m interested to see is what profile he wants along the line. Cincinnati’s line is a big gap power blocking line. They don’t have anyone there that fits that profile other than Trent Williams. Will Gruden become a guy who’s more finesse zone blocking? They can’t trade out all four guys. Or will he say we need to massively overhaul this so I can get the run game I want here? The passing game, obviously they like to push the ball down the field and like to take shots off play action. Do they have a guy other than Pierre to get downfield?”

Copying Seattle’s defensive philosophy: “The whole concept of timing disruption at the line, ball skills down the field and rush the passer with ferocity have been mainstays of the NFL for years. It’s never gone away. It’s just not as sexy to talk about as it is throwing for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns and lighting up the scoreboard as we’ve seen Peyton Manning and Drew Brees do. It’s funny how it always comes back to you better play the style of defense Seattle plays, the style of defense the Ravens and Steelers have played historically. You better be able to rush the passer and tackle well and disrupt the ball and disrupt the offense at the line. You always need that. The Star Wars numbers are nice, but defense still wins, physicality still wins. You better make sure you have enough of that.

“Seattle doesn’t try to be that complex. They try to be simple enough -- not to make it elementary and easy to pick apart, but simple enough to where they’re supremely confident in what they’re doing and break down what you’re trying to do to them. They knew what was coming in the Super Bowl. All the rhetoric about Peyton able to do so many things with personnel variations and formations and there’s no way to handle all of this… They can only do so many things too. There are certain concepts tried and true from a route tree and run game perspective. There’s been so much emphasis on offense in recent years that people lost respect for what great defense is all about.”

In case you missed it

Here's what Williamson and Riddick had to say on Redskins' free agency, plus links to the other four articles in the series.

LaFleur: Griffin will play faster

February, 15, 2014
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Matt LaFleur knew what he wanted Robert Griffin III to focus on in the offseason. LaFleur, of course, won't get the chance to work with him anymore. But he still knows what the Redskins quarterback must do. It's nothing magical, either.

Griffin
"His sole focus will be on football so he won't have to worry about a his knee,” said LaFleur, fired as the Redskins quarterbacks coach after the season and now in the same position with Notre Dame. "He'll get to focus on the position. It will pay dividends for him.”

As LaFleur said in a piece earlier in the week, the biggest jump a quarterback often makes is from his first to second year. Griffin's jump was slowed because he spent all of last offseason rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee.

But this offseason Griffin needs to improve his play in the pocket, from footwork to making faster decisions. LaFleur said what will help Griffin is getting a stronger feel for knowing plays inside and out -- and knowing how to attack certain coverages. He faced a greater variety of looks in 2013 as defenses didn't fear his legs as much as in his rookie season. Not having to wear a brace could/should help Griffin, too.

"There's a strength and weakness to every play,” LaFleur said. "Plays are designed to attack certain coverages and schemes. If you know that inside and out, what each play is and why we're running this play and you don't have to think about it when you're at the line and you just react, you're going to be light years ahead of where you were.

"You watch the great quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees and Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers. They all play so fast but it's under control because they know what the defense is presenting to them before it happens. It allows them to anticipate things a little quicker and that makes all the difference in the world. If you're a little off and you're late, it's the difference between a completion and an incompletion.”

And that's where Griffin must take his game. During his rookie season, then-coach Mike Shanahan would say that in several years Griffin would look back on his first couple of seasons and realize how much he didn't know. Griffin still was learning to throw with anticipation at an NFL level. As LaFleur said about his running, ”He's a world-class athlete. It's just knowing when to escape and when to check the ball down.”

And knowing the game in greater detail -- Griffin already is working on his game-- will speed his decision-making.

"He has a better understanding, having two years in the league,” LaFleur said. "He'll have a much better understanding of what defenses are trying to do to him and he'll be able to recognize and play the position faster.

"That will allow him to be better in the pocket, just recognition so there's no hesitation to progress from your No. 2 to No. 3 [target]. If you watch most quarterbacks in the league if you take more than two hitches there's a good chance you'll be sacked. By recognizing things it allows you to get to your fourth or fifth read on your second hitch and get the ball out of your hand. Like all quarterbacks the more experience you get the better you're going to be.”

Former GM not high on RG III

February, 11, 2014
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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.

Griffin
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.

Cousins
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.

NFLN survey/Super Bowl QB: Redskins

January, 29, 2014
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If you’re going to pick one quarterback to lead a game-winning drive with two minutes left in the Super Bowl, Tom Brady is a good one to have. He’d be my choice, considering that, you know, he’s done it twice already. Not surprisingly, Brady was the choice of the players as well.

The problem this year, though, is that I would not trust the talent around Brady to make it work. Which is why Denver’s Peyton Manning was second on the list; not only is Manning a great quarterback but he also has terrific talent. That combination is why I’d take Manning this year in that role. But if I could pick one guy and pair him with whomever? It’s Brady.

Of course, Eli Manning has done it twice as well -- against Brady’s Patriots. And, better yet for the Giants, he left Brady only 29 seconds in their first Super Bowl meeting and 57 seconds and no time outs in the second. Of course, Brady led a touchdown drive before Manning’s first heroics and if Wes Welker hadn’t dropped a pass would have led a scoring drive in the second meeting.

I wouldn’t pick Eli Manning ahead of Brady or his brother, but I’ll take a guy who’s done it and I’m surprised a little bit at where he rated. Then again, with him it depends on the year whether he's a guy you'd want in that spot or not. He only received nine votes, which trailed No. 5 Ben Roethlisberger by 11. Roethlisberger had his own magic two-minute drive to win one. It’s hard to argue with No. 3 (Aaron Rodgers) and No. 4 (Drew Brees). And I know they haven’t done it in a Super Bowl. I’m quite sure they’re capable.

Still, of this group nothing tops for me Brady’s first season as a starter. The Patriots got the ball back at their own 17, in a tie game and with no time outs and 1:30 to play. Conventional wisdom says to get to overtime. But the Patriots were aggressive and Brady drove them 53 yards in eight plays, with a 23-yard pass to Troy Brown. A year later it was easier: the Pats started at their own 40 with three timeouts and 1:04 left. Both ended in Adam Vinatieri field goals and Super Bowl titles. I’ll take it.

Redskins angle: There really isn’t one because quarterback Robert Griffin III did not receive a vote. Nor should he at this point. Griffin showed poise as a rookie in these situations and helped himself by being able to run or extend plays. Defenses forced him to be patient by typically sitting back in cover-2 zones. The Redskins were not in many situations to win or tie games in the final minutes in Griffin’s 13 starts this past season. He could have helped himself in some of the situations that did arise, but that was more in finishing drives than getting them going. Will experience help? When you start leading game-winning drives on a consistent basis, you reach a different level of quarterback. Here's how the Redskins fared in those spots under Griffin this year:

Against Detroit, they took over at their own 20 with 38 seconds left and no timeouts trailing by seven. They moved the ball 31 yards before a failed Hail Mary pass ended the game.

Against Chicago, they drove 75 yards in 12 plays, starting with 3:57 remaining and scoring on a three-yard Griffin pass to tight end Jordan Reed with 45 seconds left in a 45-41 win.

Then came two low points. A nice drive against Minnesota -- 14 plays, 76 yards in the final 3:36 – ended with three incompletions from the Vikings’ 4-yard line in a 34-27 loss. That preceded another disastrous finish as the Redskins moved from their own 4 to the Philadelphia 18 in a 24-16 game. But Griffin was intercepted when he tried to throw the ball out of the end zone while backpedaling.

Two games later, Griffin drove the Redskins from their own 20 with 2:32 remaining to the New York Giants’ 49-yard line. But on fourth down receiver Pierre Garcon had the ball stripped from him to end the threat.

Jay Gruden wants RG III to be himself

January, 22, 2014
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Jay Gruden tailored his offense in Cincinnati to his quarterback. He’s going to do the same in Washington. That means the Redskins’ offense will have a different look than the Bengals. It also means Robert Griffin III’s legs will continue to be a major weapon.

Gruden made it clear the day he was hired that he liked the zone read-option, so obviously he wants Griffin to use his legs. And Gruden's agent, Bob LaMonte, stressed after Gruden was hired that a big reason for his excitement was Griffin’s ability to be dynamic. That doesn’t mean just throwing the ball. So there wasn’t much doubt how Gruden would want to use Griffin. Just in case, though, he went a little further in a story for Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
John McDonnell/The Washington Post/Getty ImagesRedskins fans can expect to see Robert Griffin III on the move in Jay Gruden's offense.
“I worked with Andy Dalton for three years in Cincinnati, and built a foundation of concepts and protections that I think worked well with him,” Gruden told MMQB. “With Robert, we’ll obviously use his skill set differently. When it comes to the quarterback position, my job is to make him comfortable and productive. I’m not going to try to turn RG3 into Andy Dalton or Drew Brees. He isn’t them. They’re not him. I would be foolish to try to turn RG3 into a pocket passer. It would be foolish. The way he is as a runner, we have to take advantage of that. He strikes fear into defensive coordinators when he runs outside. I’m going to let him be himself.”

Griffin needs to be himself, but at times that conflicted with what the Redskins needed. Or with what he truly wanted to be, which was a pocket passer who could extend plays. That’s what the Redskins really need, for Griffin to extend and then make big plays downfield. Like he did as a rookie against the New York Giants on fourth down. Putting fear into defensive coordinators does not mean he has to scramble and run the ball. Rather, it's that ability to extend plays that scares anyone.

Griffin does need to develop as a pocket passer, but to limit him there at this point would be wrong. He has to grow more into that role, and the Redskins would love for that to happen. They always pointed to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers as a guy whose game they would like him to emulate; he extends plays with his legs. Yes, when you do that there are more risks for hits. But when you can’t, that risk is there in the pocket. And when you’re in the red zone, the ability to extend a play is crucial. Look how many big plays were made by San Francisco and Seattle because of the quarterback's mobility.

And for Griffin to become a better pocket passer, he has work to do, developing more consistent fundamentals and progressing through reads a little faster. That's natural for a young quarterback who did not need to worry about either aspect in college. The problems weren’t all on him last year, but this is how he can help. A good offseason of work will help, as, perhaps, will greater trust in what he’s being told and by whom.

Griffin does not have to become Peyton Manning or Brees to win and be successful. Griffin won being himself as a rookie. He also was hurt twice being himself (the concussion and knee injury both occurred on scrambles). Defenses played him without as much fear this season, especially early in the year when he first returned from his knee surgery. They knew he couldn’t hurt them with his legs like he did in 2012.

Another year removed from surgery and, perhaps, without the brace, Griffin can get back to that point. But he can help himself in little ways, by keeping his eyes downfield as he runs, allowing potential big plays to develop; it’s what Seattle’s Russell Wilson has done in the playoffs. Wilson is still improving as a quarterback, and there are things he does that Griffin did this season as well -- missing open guys, throwing behind receivers on slants. It gets overshadowed because of the team Seattle built around him, allowing the Seahawks to still win. But Wilson is more focused on extending plays rather than taking off and running, and he can deliver strong passes from the pocket when necessary (as can Griffin).

I’m quite sure Gruden understands the risks of a quarterback who runs too much. Heck, in college and when he played professionally, Gruden was a quarterback who ran too much. His brother, Jon, hates the zone-read because he says it will shorten careers. It makes sense that the two have discussed this topic. So it’s safe to say Gruden wants Griffin to develop as a passer and get to a point where he doesn’t have to rely on his legs. Griffin wants that as well.

But it’s good that Gruden will focus on what Griffin does best, rather than force him into a style that doesn’t suit him. They just need to find the right balance.

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