On Robert Griffin III, Redskins stand by their decision to go all in and start him from Week 1

The Post Sports Live crew debates whether the Redskins historically-poor defense or Robert Griffin III's level of play is the bigger concern for the team. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)
September 25, 2013

The Washington Redskins joined Robert Griffin III in being all in for Week 1, unflinchingly reinserting their prized second-year quarterback into their opening-night lineup after he missed offseason activities, the most intense portions of training camp and the preseason following knee surgery in January.

The early results have been disappointing. Griffin has struggled to recapture last season’s magic and the Redskins are off to an 0-3 start. The wisdom of the team’s decision to play Griffin in the early stages of the season continues to be debated outside Redskins Park. But those inside the team’s headquarters say they don’t second-guess the move. They believe Griffin is improving on a weekly basis on his way back to being his usually reliable self.

“He’ll be fine,” Redskins fullback Darrel Young said Wednesday as the team began preparations in earnest for this weekend’s game at Oakland. “Robert Griffin is playing great. He’ll be himself. Whatever people are saying about him is ridiculous. He’ll be fine. He’ll be ready to play this Sunday. . . . He’s looked better every week since he’s been out there.”

Outside the organization, opinions are mixed. Through three games, Griffin has thrown four interceptions and has a passer rating of 84.1; he has averaged 20.7 rushing yards per game. When he was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year last season, Griffin threw five interceptions all season, had a passer rating of 102.4 and averaged 54.3 rushing yards per game.

Former NFL quarterback Trent Green said he has concerns because Griffin’s knee surgery was on his right leg, the leg on which Griffin must plant when he throws.

“Most of the quarterbacks I can remember having such an extensive knee surgery, it was on their other leg,” Green said. “The one quarterback that comes to mind for me having a surgery like that on the plant leg is Daunte Culpepper. He never looked the same. So when you’re trying to come back as quickly as this, that’s why I have concerns. When I heard he was trying to come back for the opening game, that’s what I thought about.”

Green noted that Griffin threw a superb long pass this past Sunday to wide receiver Aldrick Robinson on the play on which Robinson’s would-be touchdown catch was nullified by an instant-replay review as the Redskins lost to the Detroit Lions. Green said he also has complete trust in orthopedist James Andrews, who performed four surgeries on him and also did Griffin’s surgery in January. Even so, Green said it’s valid to question whether the Redskins should be playing backup Kirk Cousins early in the season while Griffin finishes mending.

“All of those people were confident in Robert coming back,” said Green, formerly a Redskins starter. “Now that we’re a month into the season, three weeks into the season, would it be better to pull back? Those are the decisions the coaching staff and medical staff have to make. Would it be better to take some time, let Robert get better, let Kirk play and let things settle down? It’s not a [starting] quarterback issue. Robert is the quarterback. [But] I think it’s the biggest decision the coaching staff has to make.”

Charley Casserly, formerly the general manager of the Redskins and Houston Texans, expressed a different view.

“Absolutely I’d play him,” Casserly said. “He’s your quarterback. Play him. His accuracy is getting better. He’s getting better every week. He made some mistakes, made some poor decisions, in this last game. But I think the biggest thing on offense for them is they need to reestablish an identity with their running game.”

Casserly said “missing all of the offseason put him behind,” but he sees Griffin rounding into form.

“He’s made progress,” Casserly said. “I don’t question that they sat him out, got him ready for the opener and then played him. He’s had some problems. That was predictable. The problem the first two games was that there was too much drop-back. Those games got out of hand, and they had no choice. Clearly, to me, he’s not as fast. But he’s definitely improved.

“He’s made some decisions he shouldn’t have made. The fumble [lost by Griffin against the Lions] was a bad play on his part. But their biggest problem is what are they trying to be on offense right now? Who are you?”

Griffin said Wednesday the scrutiny doesn’t surprise him and he wouldn’t have done anything differently.

“It comes with the territory of being a quarterback in the NFL,” Griffin said. “When we don’t have success, there’s gonna be criticism. You’ve got to be able to stand tall, look the criticism in the face, look that adversity in the face and let it know that you’re not going anywhere.”

Coach Mike Shanahan said it would not have served any purpose to keep Griffin out of the lineup.

“You’ve got to play in order to get better, and I think Robert’s done that,” Shanahan said. “He’s healthy. He’s gonna get better and better each week, and I thought he got better this last weekend. And the more he plays, the more he’s comfortable getting back playing in a game situation, the better he’s gonna be.”

Griffin almost always seemed comfortable last season as he and fellow rookies Andrew Luck of Indianapolis and Russell Wilson of Seattle did unprecedented things as first-year NFL quarterbacks. The Redskins designed an offense for Griffin that included option-style running plays and emphasized his strengths, keeping defenses consistently off balance and aiding Griffin’s seamless transition to the pro game.

But this season, Griffin and the Redskins’ offense have had to reinvent themselves on practically a weekly basis. Griffin has thrown an average of 46.3 passes per game, up from 26.2 last season. The Redskins reincorporated more rollouts for Griffin and option-style plays last weekend. But Griffin has appeared to be feeling his way along, resembling a rookie more at times this season than he ever did last season.

Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon said earlier this week that Griffin is “not fully healthy, obviously” and that “last year’s RGIII was a lot different from this year’s RG because of his knee.” After Shanahan said in the offseason that Griffin would learn to protect himself by sliding and throwing the ball away, Griffin has had some issues in that regard. His fumble Sunday came without being hit as he dove head-first to the turf at the end of a scramble. Griffin joked Wednesday he would accept sliding lessons from Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.

“Dealing with what we have been dealing with . . . we knew it was gonna be not easy for us to go out there and just be the same team,” Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss said this week. “But we had to get back into that rhythm. I feel like every game we have gotten better together. But until we get a win — then we’ll be able to say a lot more about our progress.”

Griffin said Wednesday he and the offense are “real close” to working things out, and Shanahan said he’s optimistic about a big performance against the Raiders.

“He’s a competitor,” Shanahan said. “And when you get down or you don’t have a great game, he’s gonna do everything he can do to give himself the best opportunity to be successful. And that’s what he does. He’s a hard worker. Hopefully he’ll play his best game of the year this weekend.”

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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