Redskins, RGIII can’t let courage outweigh wisdom

Mike Wise
Columnist September 25, 2012

In hindsight, the most disturbing takeaway from Sunday’s 38-31 loss to Cincinnati wasn’t the Washington Redskins’ putrid defense. No, more telling was watching Robert Griffin III’s body get bent back like a sapling in a thunderstorm and then hearing his postgame quotes:

“One hit is too many,” the Redskins rookie quarterback said. “But the one thing I won’t do personally is quit. Or play scared. I’ve never played scared in my life. So it doesn’t matter how many times they hit me. I’m going to continue to get back up.

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

“Even if they have to cart me off the field, I’m going to get up off that cart and walk away.”

Even if they have to cart me off the field . . .

Think about that. The fortitude in those words is so raw, authentic, flat-out commendable.

And crazy. Doesn’t it sound frighteningly like a premonition?

When the Redskins’ most important player is talking like a special-teamer, blowing smoke through his nostrils before kickoff, it’s time for Coach Mike Shanahan to have a conversation with the kid about courage and intelligence — and how the two don’t always mix.

The quarterback is not supposed to be the toughest guy on an NFL roster; he’s supposed to be the best, the brightest — heck, the healthiest.

That’s impossible when Griffin is on the ground more than the people paid to keep him upright: his linemen and his coaches. Through the first three weeks, Griffin has eight more carries than Cam Newton and 11 more than Michael Vick. After absorbing 23 hits and nine sacks since Week 1 — the Bengals crunched him 13 times and sacked him six times — Griffin is becoming the kid who takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

If this continues, the new face of the franchise is going just two places: the hospital and the injured reserve list, in that order.

That’s a serious concern — because the rest of the roster has 2-14 written all over it.

“I think we had 20 designed runs, relative to the option, over the first couple of games and I think he was contacted four times,” Shanahan said after Griffin rushed for seven more yards than running back Alfred Morris on Sunday. “Even though it’s a designed run, he doesn’t always get contacted.”

Contacted. The coaching staff looks at four hits as negligible when the quarterback runs the ball. I look at it as a 20 percent greater risk of Griffin being disemboweled by a fast and agile 350-pound man paid to inflict pain.

The more the sideline calls for Griffin to run, the more it’s open season on the franchise’s last best chance to shake the doldrums of the past two decades. As my friend Kevin, whose family has had Redskins tickets for three generations, said, speaking of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, “He’s gonna get RGIII killed if he keeps calling so many option plays.”

Kyle deserves praise for some of the play-calling, especially the quick-hitting screens and slow-developing slants. But the failure to use Morris in the second half Sunday deserves scrutiny, mostly because the alternative was Griffin and a triple option with Brandon Banks.

Yes, that’s partly how the Redskins overcame a two-touchdown deficit. It’s also what got Griffin’s clock rattled.

As Carlos Dunlap, the 6-foot-6, 280-pound defensive end of the Bengals warned afterward, “Once you get outside the pocket in the NFL it’s a different game.

“People can’t say he can’t take a hit because he kept getting up even after we kept knocking him down hard. But the edge in this league isn’t the same as the edge in college. You can’t get outside like you do there. You have to use him like that because his legs are such a threat. You also got to be careful. But, you know, I’m not the coach.”

Shanahan admitted Sunday, “It’s not a perfect scenario for a young guy to be behind by that much and put him in that situation. But we were in that today.”

As much as the defense has let down the offense the first three weeks, Griffin also gets a small measure of blame. Between calling St. Louis “dirty” and being so determined to show his resilience, he has played into the Rugged Robert perception. The kid with all the TV commercials seems driven to show he has enough machismo to earn props from the game’s mayhem makers.

But when you stick your chin out to essentially say, “I can take your best shot,” that’s not physical courage; that’s borrowing trouble. That’s a rope-a-dope strategy that results in Parkinson’s before you’re 50.

You wonder if the military background that served Griffin so well growing up — the discipline and soldier-on mentality instilled by his parents, both retired Army sergeants — isn’t skewing him away from the correct priorities for an NFL quarterback.

Bottom line: The commanding officer can’t lead the charge in this league; he’s too valuable. That’s for the linemen and kickoff crazies who bump helmets for a living.

Tampa Bay, the Redskins’ next opponent, has mostly been in the news for one thing this season: new Coach Greg Schiano’s tough-guy approach, which includes attacking the other team’s quarterback even when in the victory formation at game’s end.

Rather than Griffin surviving another manly test of will and everyone treating his weekly battering like some warped gang initiation, what if just this week the offensive coaches and players actually protect their quarterback from going down instead of seeing how many times he can get back up?

After delivering seven of the hits and three of the sacks Griffin withstood Sunday, Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson finally reached down late in the fourth quarter and picked up the battered kid, primarily out of respect.

“We hit him so many times, but he kept getting back up; he’s so tough,” Johnson said. “He’s a true competitor. It is going to be fun watching him.”

Agreed — as long as by Week 16, Robert Griffin III isn’t in traction.

For Mike Wise’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.

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