Mike Shanahan says Robert Griffin III is healthy and Redskins aren’t turning to Kirk Cousins

September 16, 2013

The Washington Redskins’ 0-2 start has intensified the scrutiny on quarterback Robert Griffin III and the team’s use of him in its offense as he returns from knee surgery, with some observers going so far as to suggest the team should consider benching Griffin in favor of backup Kirk Cousins.

Coach Mike Shanahan scoffed at such notions Monday, saying that Griffin is capable of doing all of the things the Redskins want him to do. The Redskins have called fewer running plays for Griffin this season, but Shanahan attributed that discrepancy to the Redskins facing large early deficits, rather than to a change in philosophy or lingering health questions.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence in Robert,” Shanahan said Monday during a news conference at Redskins Park. “And as I mentioned, any time you start out a little bit slow and we’re down as many points as we’ve been down and we get to a [hurry-up, passing-dominated] two-minute attack a little bit earlier than we’d like to, you probably put people in the toughest situation you can. You want to win the game. You’ve got to get touchdowns quickly.”

The Redskins, who gave up the first 31 points in a 38-20 loss at Green Bay on Sunday, have been outscored by a combined margin of 50-7 in the first halves of their two games.

“Each game is a little bit different,” Shanahan said. “Like I said after [Sunday’s] game, we’ve got to be tough on ourselves and look at ourselves very hard. There’s got to be a big sense of urgency to do the little things the right way in the first half so we don’t make those mistakes and give yourself a chance to win.”

The Post’s Jason Reid analyzes what the Redskins will need to avoid another loss when they go up against the Detroit Lions next week. (The Washington Post)

Griffin has totaled 649 passing yards in the Redskins’ two games. But most of his production has come in the second halves. All five of his touchdown passes have come after halftime.

He has totaled just 25 rushing yards on nine carries this season as the Redskins have used designed runs for him and option plays sparingly. In the first two games of last season, when such tactics were a staple of a productive offense, he ran the ball 20 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns.

Several analysts said after the Redskins lost in Green Bay that the team should consider a switch to Cousins, the second-year backup who engineered a key victory in Cleveland as a fill-in starter last season, because Griffin does not appear fully healthy and able to do all the things he did last season when he was named the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year.

Tony Dungy, the former Super Bowl-winning coach for the Indianapolis Colts, said Sunday on NBC: “They have actually changed the offense, not doing what they did last year. If I were Mike Shanahan sitting there at 0-2, I would go into [owner] Daniel Snyder right now and say, ‘Our quarterback is not healthy. In the long run, we may be better off going with Kirk Cousins.’ ”

Former New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, asked Sunday on the same network whether he would bench Griffin if the Redskins lose at home Sunday to the Detroit Lions to fall to 0-3, said: “He says he wants to assume the responsibility — yes, I would.”

Harrison said on NBC that opposing defenses currently “don’t fear the read option. They’re playing a lot more man-to-man coverage. They’re blitzing him because they’re not afraid that he’s going to take the ball and run. Even when the wide receivers are open, he’s overthrowing the guys. . . . He’s not playing with a lot of confidence.”

Shanahan said Monday the Redskins believe that Griffin is able to do anything he’s asked to do.

“If we didn’t feel that way, he wouldn’t be in there,” Shanahan said.

According to Shanahan, the option-play elements of the system remain part of the Redskins’ offense.

“We’ve got the ability to do everything we’ve done a year ago,” Shanahan said. “Both situations in the second half of our first two games, we’ve got in the two-minute mode very quickly. The score was very obvious, why we did. And we’ll let the season go on and hopefully you guys will see some of the execution that you saw last season.”

Shanahan said he wasn’t particularly focused on Griffin’s assertion Sunday that he is willing to become a more assertive leader if that’s what his teammates want from him.

“What people have to do, you can’t worry about other people,” Shanahan said. “You’ve got to worry about yourself. Once you play the perfect game, then you can start worrying about other people. That’s what I always tell everybody.”

Shanahan’s stay-the-course plan with his quarterback fits into his overall approach that the Redskins still can fix their season, just as they did a year ago when they followed a 3-6 beginning with seven consecutive victories.

“You just go back to the basics. . . . You look at everybody’s responsibility,” Shanahan said. “You try to get a team collectively to play together because it’s only one play, one missed assignment here or there and all of a sudden the sky is falling. So that’s why you can’t overreact.”

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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