Quarterback Robert Griffin III’s foot-in-mouth moments this week made an awful season worse for the reeling Washington Redskins. Longtime team leader Santana Moss was right to call out Griffin, who initially failed to accept responsibility for his interception that ended the Redskins’ rally in the closing seconds of Sunday’s 24-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Griffin also took a shot at offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan by saying that the Eagles “knew what was coming” in the passing game.
Although a lot went wrong during the Redskins’ third loss in four games, Griffin, 23, made the day’s biggest mistakes. He finally shouldered blame while addressing reporters Wednesday — “Bottom line . . . it’s my fault,” he said — and after Griffin spoke with Moss and Shanahan, the Redskins declared all well in their locker room. But during a season in which Griffin has struggled, his comments provided yet another reminder he still has much to learn on and off the field.
Griffin’s ego has contributed to crippling the franchise almost as much as the team’s porous secondary and offensive lines have. His actions — insisting on being all-in for Week 1, pushing for changes in the offense and failing to accept he wasn’t ready to be a full-time pocket passer — were among the biggest factors in an 0-3 start from which the team has not recovered. Amid the uncertainty the Redskins face in their final six games — Coach Mike Shanahan’s status chief among them — you can count on this: The Redskins won’t move forward until Griffin accepts that he doesn’t have all the answers. His shaky performance in the first month of the season provided proof. Let’s review.
Virtually from the moment he got out of reconstructive knee surgery, Griffin made starting the regular-season opener his goal. By proclaiming that publicly, he made anything else seem like a failure and set up anyone preaching caution to appear to be standing in the way of progress. After working hard in rehab, Griffin was cleared to play in the opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, but there’s a big difference between being medically cleared and actually playing at a high level after major surgery. Griffin occasionally displayed oh-wow form in closed practices, some of his teammates revealed, leading them and others (me included) to believe Griffin was ready to roll. And when any attempt to exercise prudence was accepted only begrudingly— remember the “Operation Patience” shirt? — who was going to stand in the way?
Then there were those Griffin-initiated modifications to the offense. During the offseason, Griffin, through his father Robert Jr., lobbied publicly for major changes in the team’s option-style offense. Emboldened by being selected the 2012 NFL offensive rookie of the year, Griffin decided he was ready to prove himself as a pocket passer. His father waged a media campaign in an attempt to pressure the Shanahans to essentially scrap their spectacularly successful approach that led the NFL in rushing last season, tied for first in yards per play and finished third in passing efficiency.
Understand that the Shanahans abandoned their long-standing pro-style approach in order to capitalize on Griffin’s unique athleticism and attempt to mask the team’s deficiencies. Last season, Redskins opponents were in such fear of Griffin bolting from the pocket that it rarely mattered the pocket often collapsed around him.
Nonetheless, the Shanahans accommodated the Griffins by installing more drop-back plays — and the results couldn’t have been worse. Earlier this season, with Griffin determined to prove his chops in the pocket, the shortcomings of the offensive line and wide receivers not named Pierre Garcon became clear.
In the offseason, the Redskins, at minimum, must acquire a starting interior lineman, a right tackle and another wideout capable of consistently making plays downfield. Griffin has the right to be frustrated about what the Redskins lack in their passing game. Of course, he hasn’t been Joe Montana out there, either. It’s not the offensive line’s fault when Griffin holds the ball too long. Receivers can’t be expected to catch overthrown passes (Griffin sailed many against the Eagles). It’s on Griffin if a receiver is open but he throws into double-coverage elsewhere.
In college at Baylor, Griffin didn’t operate in a traditional NFL-style offense. Last season, the Shanahans devised a system that helped ease Griffin’s transition into the league and enabled the Redskins to win their first NFC East title in 13 years. Clearly, what we’ve seen this season isn’t change for the better.
Offenses must evolve to improve. The likelihood is the Shanahans would have made some tweaks regardless of what Griffin wanted. And with Griffin in his first season after his second reconstructive knee surgery, reducing the number of designed quarterback runs was a prudent move. Still, the Redskins did way too much because of what Griffin wanted.
If Griffin is honest with himself, he would have to acknowledge he benefitted last season from his partnership with Kyle and that much of his poor performance this fall has been of his own making. Better self-awareness and a fully healed right knee could help Griffin rediscover the form he rarely has displayed this season.
Before the 2012 draft, I wrote Washington should pay whatever it took to move into position to get Griffin. To me, he was the right player to lead them. And I still believe Griffin can be that guy — but first he must get a few things straight with the one he sees in the mirror.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.