Washington Redskins: Peyton Manning

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.

Redskins mailbag: Part 1

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
In Part 1 of this week's mailbag, the topics addressed: Robert Griffin III's accuracy, the kicker battle, differences between Jay Gruden and other first-year coaches I've covered and more. Enjoy. John Keim: Underrated? Maybe underpublicized is a better word for now. But that's because, in part, it involves kickers and there's not a whole lot to write about until camp begins. You can record their accuracy in practice - and we will, trust me -- but it's the games that matter (unless you're Shayne Graham and look horrible in practice, too). I think that's when it will become a bigger deal. Yes, a rookie kicker is a gamble. But Kai Forbath had never attemped a kick in an NFL game until signing with the Redskins in the 2012 season. Keim: Concerned? Not sure I'd go that far. I don't think he's going to turn into a Peyton Manning pinpoint accuracy guy (have said this before, but one general manager I spoke to before the '12 draft was worried about Griffin's intermediate accuracy). Griffin can succeed without being that sort of quarterback because of his ability to extend plays. He also can be a big-play quarterback with his ability to throw deep (which was not a strength last year, but was in 2012). But I think the concern would be if the Redskins want him to become just a pocket passer. They said that's not the case, and though that's what they did this spring, part of that was done because he needs to develop in this area. He will miss some throws, as he did his rookie year (he left a lot of yards on the table that season, too; some by not throwing the ball). But if he hits the deep ball with regularity and if the offense creates good running lanes after the catch, it will offset any accuracy issues. Keim: I've been around two other first-year coaches in Norv Turner and Jim Zorn (Steve Spurrier at least had been a college head coach). Gruden is a better communicator than both Turner and Zorn. Like those two, he's a nice guy who would make a terrific neighbor. But Gruden might have a better feel for being a head coach, though it's hard to compare considering he hasn't coached a game yet. Zorn was just a bit goofy and always seemed overmatched as a head coach. At 6-2, I remember him talking about getting players back healthy for the playoffs. Whoops. Turner had a terrific offensive mind but he also was insecure and often blamed others for losses or bad plays. I don't see Gruden being an excuse-maker; have not heard the same things about his offensive mind as I did about Turner's. Gruden surrounded himself with solid coaches. He seems to coach with less of an ego and that's to his benefit and I think that separates him. One knock on Gruden was his lack of organization; I think the other two were better in this regard. Still, when coaches think they have it all figured out, it can lead to, oh, three last-place finishes in four years. I don't know that any of the three first-year coaches I've covered are great disciplinarians. Definitely not the first two; we'll find that out about Gruden. Keim: Sure. It's not as if the defense that season was great; what they did was cause turnovers (and they did improve in most areas in the second half). And if the offense is scoring well, then it probably means they've cut down on turnovers, which will greatly help the defense. Also, if the offense isn't always playing from behind, then the defense could have better pass-rush opportunities. They bolstered the rush this offseason (they hope), so that should play into their hands. By the way, they had suspect inside linebackers last season, too. It was not a strength. The big difference has to be the pass rush. Otherwise, they will be in trouble and be forced to rely on an explosive offense and causing turnovers. Keim: He'll have to hope the Redskins keep six corners, because that appears to be his only chance (barring injuries to others). And then it depends on how Richard Crawford looks in his recovery from the knee injury. Crawford's chances would be better if he shows he can still be effective as a punt returner, but the Redskins might just opt for Andre Roberts in that role. That would improve Minnifield's chances. He showed last summer that he could help in press coverage, but struggled in a variety of other looks. He's feisty, and my over/under on camp fights involving him is three. As for practice squad eligibility, yes, he still has some. Keim: Hmmm, tough one for the offensive side and it depends on if they keep nine or 10. If they keep nine, I'd expect the backups to be Mike McGlynn, Morgan Moses, Spencer Long and Josh LeRibeus. But if there's 10, or if one of those four win a starting job, I could see Tom Compton making the roster as well. Defensively, if everyone is healthy and assuming the starters are Chris Baker, Barry Cofield and Jason Hatcher (and that's subject to debate), then the backups should be Jarvis Jenkins, Stephen Bowen and Kedric Golston. If Bowen is healthy, the Redskins could opt for him at right end and save Hatcher more for rush situations. I think this group is fluid because of health situations.

Among my thoughts Tuesday morning:
  • Logos and endorsement deals don’t do a whole lot for me, one way or another. It’s part of the game and it’s built on popularity more than achievements. Robert Griffin III entered the NFL as a popular player, based off his play and his Heisman. His rookie year certainly helped. Last season did not. But I learned long ago that there’s more to endorsement deals than just on-field success; it’s why Brady Quinn had his own deals, too. Brady Quinn. The 22nd pick when he came out. So I shrug my shoulders and move on.
  • Griffin remains popular and certainly any company that signed him to a contract is banking on the fact that last year will be an aberration. By the way, the Redskins tapped into that popularity and his charisma when trying to lure free agents. Same concept: Griffin as the pitch man. He was a major figure in the recruitment of free agents. The Redskins, too, are banking on Griffin’s return to prominence.
  • Here's what Jay Gruden said on the logo to SiriusXM NFL Radio: “He works out more than anybody I’ve ever seen. If I ever felt like that was an issue, or if he was spending more time trying to create logos than he was working out and getting himself ready to play, then there’d be an issue. But there’s no issue in my mind. I think nowadays, these quarterbacks and these players in general, they have people do a lot of work for them. They have these mangers, these agents and these commercial people working for them, and they’re doing all the work. I don’t think Robert’s doing any. He’s just signing off on it. Adidas is doing all the logo things for him. So if it’s extra money for him, have at it. As far as dedication and his desire to win and his work ethic, that is not to be questioned. He’s unlike anybody I’ve ever seen as far as that’s concerned.”
  • By the way, the personal logo idea was set in motion long ago, before even last season. My guess: It was in motion when he signed his initial deal (along with a target period).
  • I know some want Griffin to just have a quiet offseason but he signed a contract with companies and that means he has to fulfill his end of the deal. That means more offseason work. Eventually, if he doesn’t produce on the field as he did in his rookie year, these deals will go away or won’t be renewed.
  • Also, Griffin’s name will get mentioned quite a bit anyway even if he never opened his mouth or showed his face in the offseason. He’ll still be the topic of many stories because of his first two seasons and having a new coach and more weapons, etc. He’s a story regardless because the interest in him is high and the position he plays is rather important.
  • What I’m anxious to see is how he’s progressed as a passer. How much difference has his offseason made thus far? Maybe he’ll never be a great pocket passer like some other quarterbacks, but it’s natural to think he’ll be much better than in 2013 if he has a good offseason.
  • Just think: In the past two months, heck even in the last month, he’s already put in more time on improving than he could all of last offseason. And there are three-and-a-half months remaining before training camp.
  • Yeah, no knee brace will help, too. So will the fact that mentally he’s a year removed from the injury and the questions about his knee will decrease dramatically. He’s human; even if you try your hardest to block it all out there still has to be some internal wonder about the knee.
  • Switching gears: ESPN 980’s Chris Russell tweeted that guard Josh LeRibeus told him he weighed 317 pounds. If that’s the case, then LeRibeus is taking this offseason a hundred times more serious than in 2013. I’ll say this: He had better do so. This is not the coach who drafted him. If LeRibeus took a different approach, they could easily cut him and move on.
  • What would worry me if I’m Gruden: LeRibeus has a pattern of going up and down with his weight. Can you trust him from one year to the next? He’s the sort of guy they’ll need to constantly apply pressure on in the form of competition. LeRibeus faces a lot of it this summer.
  • The word out of Denver is that the Broncos were happy to sign center Will Montgomery. He’ll be in more of a power-based scheme. All they want from him is to make sure his initial punch is a strong one and I think Montgomery can handle that. It’s probably best for Montgomery to play in such a system and with a quarterback who unloads the ball as fast as Peyton Manning. No quarterback does it faster.
  • Montgomery struggled last season after a solid 2012 (which followed a mediocre 2011). The Redskins had thought about replacing him at other times, but he had a good run with his hometown team.

Quick recap: Redskins weekend

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
Before we move forward, time to look back just a little bit on players who have drawn the Washington Redskins' interest:
  • Donald Penn's visit will continue at Redskins Park on Monday. The Redskins have reportedly been in contact with his agent for several days. The former Tampa Bay left tackle, released last week after the Bucs signed Anthony Collins, also has visited Oakland. I have not heard if he has other visits planned.
  • Center Will Montgomery, released late last week, is visiting Denver on Monday. Montgomery was a seventh-round pick by Carolina in 2006 -- when current Broncos coach John Fox was the Panthers' coach. No quarterback releases the ball faster than Denver's Peyton Manning; that would help Montgomery (or any lineman). So while Montgomery struggled here last year, he would be helped being with Manning because every linemen is helped being with him.
  • Linebacker Rob Jackson will visit Oakland. The Redskins have had brief contact with his representatives and they will monitor his situation, but they have not shown a great deal of interest in retaining him.
  • Corners Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner, who were scheduled to visit Friday but did not, both signed with other teams. Browner landed with New England. Thurmond signed with the New York Giants. So the Redskins will be reminded twice a year whether they made the right move getting Tracy Porter instead of Thurmond to play in the slot.
  • Safety Ryan Clark has not yet signed anywhere. The Redskins remain in touch with him and his agent, Joel Turner, said not to cross him off the list yet.
  • Linebacker Anthony Spencer, who visited Thursday, remains unsigned. He will visit with the Giants on Monday and his former team, Dallas, also remains interested in him.
  • I have not heard a lot about other safeties the Redskins might be interested in, but I know there's a chance Brandon Meriweather returns. I don't think they view the remaining safeties as better than Meriweather.
The Redskins will entertain defensive end Antonio Smith and corner Corey Graham, both of whom can fill specific needs. Smith told the Houston Chronicle that he’ll also visit Tennessee, St. Louis and Oakland. He also said, “My heart’s with [the Texans], but they haven’t made me an offer, so I’m going to take these visits,” Smith said.
  • Smith would fill a pass-rushing void among the defensive linemen. He’s listed at 6-foot-4, 289 pounds -- a little small for a typical 3-4 end (Stephen Bowen and Jarvis Jenkins both weigh around 315 pounds). But Smith started every game but one in his six-year Texans career (in addition to missing one game after being suspended for swinging his helmet at Richie Incognito).
  • Smith has played in both a 3-4 and 4-3 front and would be an excellent pass-rusher in a nickel package for the Redskins. He has 41.5 career sacks, but 18 in the past three years.
  • The Redskins need someone who can apply pressure from the defensive front, easing the burden on linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.
  • Graham is an excellent special teams player -- he was a Pro Bowler in 2011. Graham was Baltimore’s nickelback this past season. In the 2012 playoffs, he intercepted Denver quarterback Peyton Manning twice.
  • Graham, who has good size at 6-foot, 196 pounds, played five seasons for Chicago before signing with Baltimore in 2012. He’s made 23 career starts.
  • You don’t need me to do an analysis of the Santana Moss signing because, well, he’s played here since 2005. You know who he is, what he’s done and what he can do. I don’t know that Moss will definitely be on the roster in 2014, but he at least will get a chance to prove he belongs. He’s a true pro and that always helps.

Expert's take: The leftovers (Part 2)

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
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
Feb 15
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.

"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
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/Super Bowl QB: Redskins

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
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.

History provides hope for Redskins

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
The Redskins will have a tough time recovering from a 3-13 season, especially with a first-year head coach in Jay Gruden. But it’s one that a number of other teams have done, including five teams since the 2006 season.

Here are the other teams that have recovered from a three-win season or worse to make the playoffs the following season, according to Elias Sports Bureau:
  • 2013 Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, lost in the wild-card round of the playoffs): Andy Reid took over a team that had six players who made the Pro Bowl for the previous season, which ended with a 2-14 record. They also added quarterback Alex Smith, who made the Pro Bowl along with nine other players. An excellent defensive line and strong running game led by Jamaal Charles made a difference as both the offense and defense finished in the top six in points per game.
  • 2012 Minnesota Vikings (10-6, lost in the wild-card round): Running back Adrian Peterson had an historic season, rushing for 2,075 yards to lead the turnaround. The big jump occurred defensively where the Vikings went from 31st in points allowed to 14th. Nine of their 13 losses in 2011 were by seven points or less. By comparison, the Redskins had seven such games.
  • 2012 Indianapolis Colts (11-5, lost in the wild-card round): Like the Chiefs, the Colts had a first-year coach in Chuck Pagano. They also had a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck, who threw 23 touchdown passes to 18 interceptions. They did not go crazy in free agency despite a 2-14 finish the previous season and, in fact, lost receiver Pierre Garcon to the Redskins. They even lost Pagano for 12 games while undergoing cancer treatment, yet went 9-3 in that span. The offense jumped in points per game from 28th a year earlier to 18th while the defense went from 28th to 21st.
  • 2008 Miami Dolphins (11-5, lost in the wild-card round): After a 1-15 season, the Dolphins hired Bill Parcells as team president and later Tony Sparano as head coach. They did not make a major splash in free agency, with their big signings being guard Justin Smiley and defensive end Randy Starks. However, after the Jets released Chad Pennington that August, the Dolphins pounced. And steady quarterback play made a big difference as Pennington threw 19 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. That certainly topped the efforts of the 2007 group of Trent Green (five starts), Cleo Lemon (seven starts) and John Beck (four starts). The defense made a huge jump, going from 30th in points allowed to ninth.
  • 2006 New Orleans Saints (10-6, lost in conference championship): Hurricane Katrina disrupted the 2005 season under then-coach Jim Haslett, leading to a 3-13 record. But the Saints made two fantastic moves in the offseason: Hiring head coach Sean Payton and signing quarterback Drew Brees. They also drafted well, with running back Reggie Bush, safety Roman Harper, tackle Jahri Evans and receiver Marques Colston among the additions.
  • 2000 New Orleans Saints (10-6, lost in divisional playoff round): Haslett took over for Mike Ditka and found instant success, earning coach of the year honors. They had a terrific pass rush with La’Roi Glover (17 sacks), Joe Johnson (12) and rookie Darren Howard (11) as the defense went from 28th in points allowed to 10th. They did not have great quarterback play, but Jeff Blake was good enough as he threw 13 touchdown passes and nine interceptions in 11 starts. Receiver Joe Horn stood out with 94 receptions for 1,340 yards and eight touchdowns.
  • 1999 Indianapolis Colts (13-3, lost in divisional round): They had finished 3-13 for two consecutive seasons before this stunning turnaround under second-year head coach Jim Mora, who had previously won 93 games in 11 seasons with New Orleans. Second-year quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw the same number of touchdown passes (26) that he did as a rookie but 13 fewer interceptions (15).
  • 1987 Indianapolis Colts (9-6, lost in the divisional round): They had won a combined 12 games in the previous three seasons, including only three in 1986. But in the strike-shortened season, the Colts’ defense ended up first in points per game. The Colts acquired running back Eric Dickerson during the season; he rushed for 1,011 yards in nine games.
  • 1982 New England Patriots (5-4, lost in the first round): Another strike-shortened season helped the Patriots recover from a 2-14 season (that was preceded by a 10-6 one). They did not receive great quarterback play, though Steve Grogan was steady in his six starts. The defense ranked seventh in points per game.

Jay Gruden wants RG III to be himself

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
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.

NFLN survey/respected player: Redskins

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
It's sometimes easy to forget, but two years ago some doubted that Denver quarterback Peyton Manning would ever play again, thanks to multiple neck surgeries. Now he's the most respected player in the NFL because he has kept going, at an MVP-level no less.

That's why I have no problem with him being named the most respected player in our NFL Nation survey of 320 players. He was the runaway winner with Tom Brady coming in second by 62 votes.

Whether you think Brady is better than Manning is irrelevant here. Brady has done quite a bit with much less this season. But to return from the injuries Manning suffered is remarkable. There was no blueprint for Manning to follow in coming back from four neck surgeries, unlike, say, a torn ACL that many have suffered. The latter is bad, too, and it changes careers.

But Manning has flourished since his return despite an arm that isn't as strong as in the past. He can do so because of his intense preparation, another reason why he's so respected. Yes, he has talent around him, too. They help him look good; he's helped them be great. Even if Denver loses Sunday none of this will change.

Redskins angle: No surprise, but London Fletcher received 11 votes, which was tied for sixth with Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Fletcher earned those votes for his stellar career and, like Manning, for the way he prepared. To play every game of an NFL career at the position he played is a phenomenal achievement. I've written this before, but Fletcher was the most respected voice in the defensive meeting rooms at Redskins Park. Players trusted him.

Robert Griffin III also received two votes. Though he did not have as good a second season as anyone wanted, the fact that he returned when he did and remained healthy for 13 games until his benching clearly impressed other NFL players. They also saw some of the hits he endured -- and got back up from.

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.

Reporter's take: Jay Gruden

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
I'm in the process of talking to players and writing a reaction piece to the hiring of Jay Gruden as the Redskins' head coach. But I thought this interview our Bengals reporter, Coley Harvey, did with our Titans reporter, Paul Kuharsky, the other day provided good insight into Gruden.

Harvey covered Gruden for one season in Cincinnati. Here's what he told Kuharsky earlier in the week about Gruden:

“If Sunday was indeed Jay Gruden’s last as the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive coordinator, then his legacy here will begin and end with two words: Andy Dalton. That’s both a blessing and a curse. We’ll start with the blessing aspect of it. Since selecting Dalton in the second round of the 2011 draft, Gruden has proven he knows how to appropriately massage a young quarterback’s ego and put him in position to win regular-season games. Few can dispute the fact that as bad as Dalton has been at times during his career, he’s mostly been good ... in the regular season. He and Peyton Manning are the only quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for 3,000 yards in each of their first three seasons. He’s been to the playoffs three times. When Dalton has looked good, he’s looked really good. If Gruden comes to Tennessee, he will definitely have an opportunity to groom Jake Locker -- or a newly-drafted quarterback if the Titans go that way -- in much the same way.

“On the flip side, Dalton has been a bit of a curse for Gruden, specifically because of games like Sunday’s. In the Bengals’ recent wild-card round playoff game at home, Dalton threw two interceptions and fumbled on a dive at the end of a scramble to all but give the game to the Chargers. Take out his miscues and chances are, the Bengals end up rallying for the win. This was Dalton’s third straight playoff defeat and marked the third straight time Gruden did something that chaffed a few of his offensive players: he got away from running the ball. In the three playoff games the Bengals have been in under Gruden, they have run the ball a combined 60 times. That’s a 20-carry-per-game average. That wasn’t enough for running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis in particular, who got just eight carries Sunday despite averaging 5.25 yards per carry. If Gruden has one thing to learn from Cincinnati, it’s this: run the football in the playoffs.

“Otherwise, he’s a friendly guy. If fans here had a chance to see him on camera more often, they might like him a little more than it appears they do. He’s very accessible, very available. If Gruden acts as a head coach the way he has as an assistant, he’ll be a reporter’s dream.”