Mike Shanahan’s experiment with Robert Griffin III as a pocket passer will end vs. Lions

The Post Sports Live crew discusses if there is a reason for Robert Griffin III's poor performance against Green Bay and debate who is deciding not to run the read-option as often as last season. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)
Mike Wise
Columnist September 21, 2013

Because part of the job of an NFL coach and general manager is to lie, divert, deceive and only show your cards at the draft and on Sunday, I usually don’t trust anything Mike Shanahan says.

When he laughed this past week at the absurdity of being asked if he thought about replacing a far-from-perfect Robert Griffin III with Kirk Cousins, I automatically translated that to, “I’d rather go 5-11 with Robert than Kirk. But, you know, Kirk’s dad would be a lot easier to deal with.”

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

When Shanahan says calmly, “I thought the play-calling was fine,” I know he’s really thinking, “Could I still eat Thanksgiving at home if I fired Kyle?”

Three-plus years after he was hired, it’s easier to interpret the Mind of Mike — especially in understanding his motivations for force-feeding a multidimensional quarterback like Griffin a seven-step-drop playbook to begin this deflating 0-2 season.

And so I don’t for one second buy Mike’s reasoning after the Week 2 loss to the Packers that “when you’re behind as many points as we were in both games you get to a two-minute attack,” simply because play-action rollouts that Griffin thrived in a year ago were not called early in either game.

I think it’s deeper than that, that there is a method to this maddening start and that it’s about to pay off against Detroit at FedEx Field on Sunday with Griffin’s return to the dual run-pass threat that made him so bedazzling a year ago.

I suspect Shanahan planned the experiment to morph his quarterback from 2012’s skittering Steve Young into 2013’s drop-back throwback a la Terry Bradshaw. He did it to show Griffin and perhaps the quarterback’s immediate family — and anyone else questioning his ability to get the most out of his quarterback — that RGIII indeed needs to be a read-option, play-action QB before he automatically becomes a stiff-legged, downfield passer.

It was probably music to Shanahan’s ears when Griffin said he was ready to be more of a runner again this week, a complete contradiction to all the offseason proclamations about throwing the ball more and using his legs less.

In two disappointing weeks for the offense, Shanahan has already shown Griffin he’s not ready to be purely a drop-back passer yet — no matter what Robert Griffin Jr., says, no matter what James Andrews or Daniel Snyder might think, no matter what RGIII has publicly said he wants to become.

When Shanahan gave politically correct bromides about the transition he hoped to help Robert make, he really meant, “I worked with John Elway, Joe Montana and Steve Young — and you’re going to tell me how to use my quarterback?”

He’ll be damned if anyone else — including a player’s father — tells him how to coach the most important position on a football field.

I don’t think he went so far as to sabotage his own offense for two games. I also don’t believe that he didn’t want to run the read option at all. He certainly didn’t count on his defense surrendering almost all of 71 points and about one trillion yards.

But for the coaching staff it was always a win-win scenario. If Griffin shined as a drop-back threat, Mike and Kyle helped the kid make the transition. If he failed, Shanahan knew what was best for him all the time.

So now that the immovable pocket experiment has failed, we would like to thank Shanahan in advance for returning us to our regularly scheduled read-option season.

Now that the playoff promise this season held, oh, three weeks ago has statistically a 5 percent chance of becoming a reality if the Lions win, it’s time to unleash all of RGIII, no?

Teams that have begun NFL seasons 0-3 since 1990 have missed the postseason 95 percent of the time.

Week 3, then, for many is basically one loss from hopping aboard the Armageddon Express, which many in the Washington region assumed had stopped service soon after Jim Zorn was no longer the conductor.

But Week 3 for Shanahan is the day Griffin gains further trust in his coach, who he will now more fully understand knows what’s best for him.

The Lions are going to see rollouts Sunday. They are going to see the pistol formation. They are going to see a moving pocket. I don’t have any facts to back this up, other than this is the only plausible reason for why Washington has started so slowly on offense.

The only alternative theory is Griffin’s knee is not right, and they are clearly protecting him from further injury.

But Shanahan just this past week shot that thought down, saying Griffin could do everything asked of the coaching staff. “If we didn’t feel that way, he wouldn’t be in there,” said the coach, who of course was taken at his word.

For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

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