A read on Griffin's options
Griffin and Shanahan have to coexist better to thrive in Washington
I am sick and tired of the almost daily ego clashing, blame deflecting and undermining. Enough of this only-in-Washington political football being coached by Mike Shanahan and played by Robert Griffin III. Please, no more forcing us to read between the he-said/he-said lines.
I'll make the lines I'm writing blatantly clear. Maybe you, Mike, and you, Robert, will read them. Maybe not. Maybe you two can heal an obviously damaged relationship (and season). Maybe not.
When I first started researching this column, I placed the majority of the blame on you, Coach. Now I'm heaping at least 50 percent on you, Robert -- and you know that no one in the national media has been a bigger supporter of yours than I have been. After what you did to Oklahoma and Texas in your final season at Baylor, I went on record on "First Take" that you would prove to be a better NFL quarterback than Andrew Luck, and I stand by that.
But I'm having my doubts.
I fear last season's already legendary success has gone to your ever-expanding head. You're becoming the NFL's biggest QB diva and drama king -- a daily look-at-me reality show. The Blame Shanahan Campaign, the "All in for Week 1" commercials, the Wedding Gifts Twitter Controversy, the Rehab Documentary. Lord, have mercy.
No doubt opponents are thinking, "Seriously?" and coming after you with even more of a vengeance. And I have to think some of your teammates are starting to wonder about you.
Now, I'm told, you'd prefer to move away from running the read-option and become strictly a pocket passer? Before I address that, it's your turn, Coach.
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I'm told by a Redskins insider -- a trusted source -- that you, Mike, initially weren't all that wild about trading up from No. 6 overall to No. 2 to draft RGIII. After Peyton Manning had no interest in your team, you were content to stay at 6 and take Ryan Tannehill. You won two Super Bowls with John Elway and you traded up to draft Jay Cutler -- Tannehill more fit that mold of a big, athletic pocket passer who pretty much ran only when every receiver was covered.
You've said RGIII was your idea from the start. But for sure you warmed to the idea of drafting him and soon embraced the challenge of blending some read-option with RGIII's obvious drop-back skills. Why not take some advantage of his world-class speed? You and your son Kyle were masterful with your game plans and play calling the last eight games of last season.
My issue -- and maybe Robert's -- was why you had to draft Kirk Cousins in the fourth round and call him "a steal." That was YOUR look-at-me move, Coach. You acquiesced and took RGIII, then made YOUR pick.
Why give fickle fans another rookie draft-pick option at QB? Why gloat to the media that you had Cousins -- a three-year starter at Michigan State -- much higher on your board? Why plant a single seed of doubt in Robert's mind?
Now, predictably, many in the media have called for Cousins to replace RGIII. Sometimes, Coach, I still wonder if you're really "all-in" for RGIII.
Last season, your team planted six seeds of doubt in your mind when it fell to 3-6, and after that home loss to Carolina, you sure sounded like you had given up on the season. But you still had one of the few players I don't bet against -- RGIII.
Seven games later you were 10-6, NFC East champs and RGIII was offensive rookie of the year. Yes, RGIII (20 touchdown passes, five interceptions, fifth-highest QBR) had an even better rookie year than Luck (23/18, 11th-highest QBR).
But of course, against Baltimore on Dec. 9, RGIII took off on a hell-bent scramble, should've slid long before contact and wound up taking a shot from 340-pound Haloti Ngata that severely hyperextended his knee. You (and he) were fortunate that play didn't end his season.
Then in the home playoff game against Seattle, just before RGIII helped put you ahead 14-0, he aggravated his knee as he was chased out of bounds. But this is where I defend you, Coach.
You did absolutely the right thing sticking with Robert, though he obviously was gimpy. Every potentially great QB has to be given the opportunity to play through pain and pull out a crucial game. To the bitter end -- the sack, the ligament ruptures -- I believed RGIII would pull it out.
But you, Coach, took a severe beating from media and fans. The prevailing opinion: Robert's surgery was YOUR FAULT. Through the offseason, Robert and his father piled on by suggesting you deserved your share of the blame, which was outrageously out of bounds. You didn't make him stay in that game.
Yet through the preseason, you responded by, it appeared, managing Robert's playing time with some spite -- a little, "You people won't be able to blame me for THIS."
Though Robert declared himself 100 percent healthy -- and said Dr. James Andrews co-signed -- you continued to say the doctor indicated to you "a couple of things" concerned him. Who knows who was telling the truth? Though Robert put on shows before preseason games, nonchalantly whipping passes, all-out sprinting downfield wearing his new knee brace, maybe grandstanding, putting some public pressure on you ... you held him out of THE ENTIRE PRESEASON.
You had to know how unfair it was to this kid to throw him cold into the opening Monday night fire against Philadelphia. You had to know he would struggle. Maybe you even hoped your "superhero" QB would be humbled some ... though I'm certainly not suggesting you wanted to lose.
You had to know that the preseason before, coming off his fourth neck procedure, Peyton Manning was allowed to play in each of Denver's first three preseason games and attempt 42 total passes. He WANTED to take some hits, rebuild his confidence and rapport with his receivers at game speed, get used to real football again.
On opening Monday night, Robert repeatedly got rocked in the pocket by the Eagles, and the knee held up just fine. You, Coach, deserve blame for Robert's shockingly awful first halves against Philly and Green Bay -- his "preseason" that counted. Hello, RG0-2.
But you, Robert, perhaps deserve more blame than you're getting for the two first-half game plans. The team insider told me: "Robert has it in his head that to be truly accepted as a quarterback, he's got to be known as a pocket passer first and not a runner. He thinks he can be Peyton Manning. He doesn't want to run the option much anymore and we will suffer for it."
So far, Robert, you've kept the ball on the option zero times. You say the play was in the game plan, but that you couldn't run it because you fell behind so quickly. I say you fell behind because you didn't run it. You said Wednesday that "hopefully I'll get the opportunity [to run the option] in this game [Detroit at home] and it will be a spark for the team." I hope you're not just trying to deflect blame.
But what set you apart last season -- the reason a sixth-round running back from Florida Atlantic named Alfred Morris finished second in NFL rushing to Adrian Peterson -- was the THREAT of the ride-and-decide read-option. Were you going to let Alfred keep the ball? Pull it back and take off the other direction for 10 or 15 lonesome yards? Step back and fire it 20 yards for another completion?
You were up 14-0 on SEATTLE, Robert. You electrified your team.
Now, as a standing duck, you've gone from one of the least blitzed to one of the most blitzed QBs. You still haven't converted a first-half third down. In the second halves, you've stepped into throws and pocket-passed like Peyton -- against softer coverages sitting on big leads.
When your receiver Pierre Garcon suggested this week you're slowed by your brace, you responded by challenging him to a race. I respond by challenging you to run the read-option down Detroit's throat.
No one will think less of you, Robert. You can revolutionize football.
I know your father wants you to stay in the pocket more just to avoid a third major knee surgery. But I've covered the NFL for almost 40 years and I believe you're at least as vulnerable getting blindside blasted in the pocket as you are running the option or scrambling. When you're running, at least you usually can see who's coming at you. At least as a quarterback, you can disqualify yourself from getting hit by simply sliding.
No more playing superhero, Robert. Just run your 8-yard dash and GET DOWN. You'll drive defenders nuts. You'll win lots of games.
Obviously, Robert, if push comes to shove between you and the coach, he'll get fired before you'll get traded. But you won together last year. Now it's time for both of you to quit worrying about blame. It's time for you, Robert, to quit acting like a superstar and do what it takes to be one.