Griffin breaks silence, trying to listen, learn while working his way back
Robert Griffin III, whom the Redskins have prohibited from speaking to the media since he suffered an ankle injury in Week 2, issued a brief statement Friday, in which he said that he is doing his best to listen and learn while sidelined and that he will not rush his recovery in a way that would risk a setback.
With a group of reporters gathered around his locker following Friday’s practice, Griffin said, “A quote that I stumbled upon during this process of being injured and being out was by Winston Churchill, and it says, ‘Courage is what it takes to stand up and do something. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.’ So, during this time, I’ve been listening, learning, growing as a player in this offense.
“It’s our job to help this team win and I’ve been there for Kirk and Colt as much as I possibly can, and being there for this team to make sure they’re as ready as possible during this process, and it sucks that I can’t get out there and play with them and help them get wins. But I’ve been listening to the doctors, listening to the trainers, listening to the coaches and we’re not going to rush my ankle. It’s a blessing I wasn’t hurt as bad as it could have been. It’s been a blessing and I’ve been recovering right on time. So, that’s good. But at the same time, we don’t want to rush that.
“And it’s Dallas week. We all want to beat Dallas. We know what this game means for our season. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do this week, in making sure I’m ready to go, making sure this team is ready to go, and making sure whoever plays quarterback is ready to go. That’s all I’ve got to say. Beat Dallas.”
The team did not permit Griffin to take questions.
The quarterback dislocated his left ankle during the first quarter of Washington’s Week 2 victory over Jacksonville. He spoke the day after suffering his injury, briefly expressing relief that he hadn’t more seriously injured himself, but since then, the team has declined to make him available for interviews despite repeated requests.
Griffin ramped up his activity this week in hopes of playing against the Cowboys, but Coach Jay Gruden has maintained that the young quarterback still has a ways to go before he returns to game-ready form. Gruden has stopped short of ruling Griffin out, but he said Friday that he is proceeding with his plan of starting Colt McCoy.
Gruden said that he would wait until Monday to determine if Griffin would dress for the game or again be inactive.
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Cowboys prepared for Redskins offense rather than QBs
A degree of uncertainty has loomed over Washington’s quarterback position this week, so in preparation for Monday night’s game, the Dallas Cowboys studied the Redskins’ offense rather than worry about whether Colt McCoy or Robert Griffin III would start. Jay Gruden said Monday that McCoy would get the start, but allowed himself some wiggle room, saying that Griffin remained the “wild card.”
Asked why he didn’t attempt to plant more doubt in the minds of the Cowboys and their coaches, Gruden said Monday, “I don’t think it matters. They’re preparing for our offense. They’re not preparing for a quarterback. Both of them are very good quarterbacks in my mind, it’s just I want to make it clear to our team and our quarterbacks who the starter is moving forward so we can prepare that way. That’s the only reason.”
However, on Thursday, Gruden did his best attempt to tap-dance in regards to his quarterback plans, saying he wouldn’t rule out Griffin but also that McCoy would start.
On a conference call with reporters Thursday, Cowboys Coach Jason Garrett said that, while he is keeping an eye on news out of Washington, the main intent of Dallas’ defense is studying Washington’s offense and tendencies.
“I think you prepare for the whole offense and then what you try to do is you go back and watch their team play with each of them playing quarterback and see if there is a discernible difference between how they are calling the game or what schemes they are running,” Garrett said. “And then you try to be ready for both. So, we will try to keep an eye on what they are doing throughout the week. but, we certainly have to be ready for both of them, and just get ready to play our best football.”
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Gruden educates players on significance of Redskins-Cowboys rivalry
Prior to this season, Jay Gruden had knowledge of the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry, but he felt like he could learn about it, and he believed that many of his players needed a more thorough education on the series.
So this week, he showed his players a video on the history of the rivalry, and what makes Dallas Week so special to Redskins fans.
“I just think the history, a lot of guys haven’t been in this organization — myself included. This is my first year,” Gruden explained. “It’s always good to see the history of this rivalry and how important it is to the fans, the ex-players, the alumni and the organization in general. This is a huge game for a lot of people and we’re going to make sure it’s known that this is a big rivalry for the new players and coaches.”
Monday’s meeting will represent the 107th regular season meeting between the teams dating back to 1960. Dallas owns a 64-40-2 advantage.
The Redskins’ younger players came away from the viewing of the video with an improved understanding of the significance of the meeting.
“Obviously, it seems like a long-lasting, strong rivalry,” rookie guard Spencer Long said. “It was kind of eye-opening how serious they do take it, and it’s kind of cool.”
Long added, “I haven’t been a Redskins player for very long, but I’m sure it means something to the players. But I know it must mean something to the fans, who have been watching for many, many years. But, I’ve always disliked the Cowboys. … I just don’t like them Seems like everybody who was a Dallas player tries to stick their noses up in the air. Same with the [Texas] Longhorns. But that’s just me because I’m from Nebraska.”
The more senior players, particularly those who have been with the team for a significant portion of time, already understood the importance of the game beyond division and win-loss record implications. But they said the video served as a good reminder and source of motivation.
“It was good to let people know that this was 50-plus years in the making — Redskins-Cowboys,” said defensive end Kedric Golston, who has spent his entire eight-season career with Washington. “It’s a huge game because it’s an NFC East game, but it’s a huge game for our fan base. You know that when you do things in this game, it’s going to forever echo through history. That’s what I kind of took out of it.”
Few of the recent games have carried great significance. But the matchup in December of 2012, which Washington won 28-18, determined the winner of the NFC East and sent the Redskins to the postseason.
The rivalry seems to have lost its luster as a result of Washington and Dallas being at opposite ends of the spectrum for a number of years. Free agency also has diminished the animosity between teams. Washington has two former Cowboys on the roster — defensive linemen Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen.
But the players still understand the sense of urgency, Golston says.
“Obviously now with people living in different cities, it’s a different nature,” Golston said. “But the intensity is still there because of being division rivals, and it’s still Washington and Dallas, and you feed off the energy of the fans.”
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Washington vs. Dallas: A telling tale-of-the-tape on third downs
Among the statistical contrasts between Washington (2-5, 0-2) and Dallas (6-1, 1-0) heading into Monday night’s game at AT&T Stadium, the one that leaps out as most telling is third-down conversion.
Dallas leads the NFL in its success rate on third downs, converting 54 of 94, or 57.4 percent.
Washington ranks 31st, better only than Tennessee, converting 26 of 82 third downs, or 31.7 percent.
Cowboys Coach Jason Garrett credits his squad’s enviable percentage to a collective effort that starts, not surprisingly, with getting in good position on first and second downs.
“Anytime you do that, you’re obviously giving yourself the best chance to convert those,” Garrett said in a conference call this week.
The fourth-year Cowboys coach pointed in particular to the team’s stout offensive line, which has protected well in the tougher third-down situations, and the array of receiving options at quarterback Tony Romo’s disposal — wide receivers Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley; tight ends Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar and James Hanna; and running back Lance Dunbar among them.
“We feel good about where we are right now,” Garrett said of his team, which brings a six-game winning streak onto its home field. “But it’s very much a collective effort and has a lot to do with what we’re doing prior to third down. We’ve just got to keep that going because it’s a big part of the game.”
Washington free safety Ryan Clark points to the Cowboys’ draft-day strategy as the foundation of the success of Dallas’ offense this season.
“They did good by making the unsexy first round picks — but not getting the big name guys; by not chasing people they thought would put butts in the seats,” Clark said. “They went out, they got first-round [offfensive] linemen. Now that’s paying dividends because now DeMarco Murray has a lot of space to run the football. Now, Tony Romo can use the play-action, and now you get one-on-one coverage with Dez every now and then, who’s a guy you really can’t cover man-to-man.”
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Redskins embrace challenge of trying to contain Murray
The Washington Redskins’ defense has had a string of ongoing struggles this season, but stopping the run game has not ranked among them.
Outside of the Week 5 loss to Seattle, when Russell Wilson scrambled for 122 yards on 11 carries, Washington has not allowed a 100-yard rusher despite facing the likes of Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, and Marshawn Lynch.
The Redskins limit opponents to just 3.8 yards per carry, which ranks 10th in the NFL. Their 103.3 rushing yards allowed per game rank 12th.
Their toughest challenge to date awaits on Monday, however. The Cowboys lead the league in rushing, averaging 159.7 yards per game.
Leading the way is fourth-year back DeMarco Murray, who has amassed 913 yards and seven touchdowns on 187 carries — all league highs by a healthy margin. Murray also leads the NFL with 130.4 yards per game and 48 rushing first downs.
By no coincidence, the Cowboys boast the third-best offense in the league, averaging 402.1 yards and 28 points per game.
“The key is 29, DeMarco,” Redskins defensive end Jason Hatcher said, referring to Murray and his jersey number. “He is a great back. He has been a great back since he came to the Cowboys. It’s one of those things, he couldn’t stay healthy. This year, he is staying healthy and he’s showing the world who he is.”
Giving his assessment of Murray, inside linebacker Keenan Robinson said, “He’s one of those elite backs in the league. He’s still considered a young back but he’s done enough to be considered in the top tier in this league, especially now when the run game is being overlooked because people are so pass-happy. He’s still one of those downhill runners that reminds you of the guys in the past.”
The Redskins embrace the challenge of containing the league’s top back. They say that the key is not complicated. It’s all about discipline, they believe.
“Gap responsibility,” Robinson says. “We’ve been saying it, and coaches have stressed that we don’t need any heroes. As long as everybody does their job, plays every play and we’re in our gaps and playing with technique that calls upon for that specific play. That’s why we’ve been so good because we’ve been doing our job and not doing too much by getting outside of our gap to make a play. We’re allowing the next guy up to make a play. If I don’t make the tackle, then either my D-line is going to make it, or Perry [Riley] is going to make it, or one of the safeties is going to make it.”
But staying in one’s lane and letting someone else make the play doesn’t mean a lack of aggression. It moreso involves trust and accountability.
“You still want to be aggressive, but you want to be aggressive in your scheme,” Robinson explains. “You can be aggressive, but you want to be aggressive in what the defense calls you to do. If you’re called to be the C gap, then go hit the C gap hard. If the ball doesn’t come to the C gap, well it’s going to the A gap where Perry is or to the outside where a corner or safety is.”