Robert Griffin III used to be his team’s most uplifting player, but he is becoming a weight, maybe even a burden. Where is that fresh kid with the unbeatable combination of modesty and limitlessness? In his place is a player who’s coming off as an unteachable know-it-all. The guy has played just 22 regular season games, and into that time he has packed a few random stabs at semi-greatness, followed by a lot of unseemly power machinations, and drivel about being a leader, without yet mastering his craft.
A second-year quarterback with the owner on speed dial is calling all the shots for the Washington football club, and what they’ve got to show for it is a 2-5 mark, and a strong whiff of locker room discontent. This is a team with many problems, of which Griffin is only one — defense, special teams, coaching, chemistry, all of it is to blame. But there is no looking away from the fact Griffin’s poor play has been critical, and more than that, he has created fundamental tension on an offense that is disjointed from catering to him and his operatic personal demands about how he wants to play.
“I don’t get the sense that they all agree on what he should be doing or shouldn’t be doing in that offense,” former NFL quarterback turned ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck said. “I don’t know how else to say it. It doesn’t seem like they’re on the same page with that stuff.”
Griffin is to a certain extent the victim of inflated expectations, but that’s his own fault: He has never tempered them, or seemed to understand how much he had left to learn after his extraordinary rookie year. He insisted in the offseason he wanted the club to alter its use of him and make him a pocket passer. But Hasselbeck observed that when you examine his numbers from last season more closely, minus the flare of charisma, what you saw were some very ordinary figures when it came to that skill: “Robert had played one season, and in half of his starts he threw for under 210 yards.”
The fact is, Griffin remains a highly unfinished player. His progress as decision-maker did not keep pace with his body. It was a great feat when he recovered from offseason knee surgery in record time, and some of his struggles this season can be blamed on that setback, which affected his accuracy and deprived him of valuable offseason work. But some of what’s plaguing him now is not physical, but a basic lack of development. That was apparent after a loss to the Cowboys on Oct. 13.
“I’m just really focusing on being the playmaker that I know I can be and not letting anybody else tell me how to play this game,” he said.
A second-year guy doesn’t want anyone telling him how to play this game? It’s the statement of someone who has perhaps not been as open to learning as he should have been. According to Hasselbeck, one problem with this Redskins offense is that Griffin doesn’t seem to have graduated to the next level of decision-making. He is not scanning the field and responding to defenses.
“They don’t have him at the line of scrimmage adjusting protections,” Hasselback observed.
Think about it: How many times have you seen Griffin change the shape of the formation at the line, get out of one play and into another one with the clock ticking? How many times have you seen him recognize something and make a shift? Not often. It’s hard to say how much of that is by design — if the team simply hasn’t installed many packages, or Kyle Shanahan is inflexible — or how much is a result of Griffin’s tendency, as Chris Cooley noted earlier this week, to predetermine and to lock in.
“There are quarterbacks his age that are doing a lot more at the line than he is,” Hasselbeck said. ”When you watch the Indianapolis Colts, they aren’t just calling a play in the huddle and getting to the line and running it regardless of what the look is. They don’t operate that way, and offenses like the Patriots and Saints and Broncos don’t either. Look at a team like Seattle. They will be in a third-down situation with an overload blitz, and Russell Wilson is directing the offensive line, telling them to slide, and sending a back to the other side to pick up the blitz.”
Pierre Garcon called it like he saw it when he said, “Our passing game sucks.” You can debate all you want whether Garcon should have uttered such a thing aloud, but the man knows what an efficient passing offense operates like after playing alongside the mechanistic excellence of Manning for four years with the Colts.
Garcon’s remark came perilously close to dissension, and you wonder if it’s because the offensive design has been compromised by attempts to please Griffin’s dictates about how he wants to play. Or if he is perhaps beginning to chafe on his elders. He created this power play, but likes to disappear behind a smoothly cultured facade and leaderly sounding platitudes, which, if you analyze them, really mean, “I’m in charge here.”
Listen carefully: “I make sure no one becomes a cancer on the team,” Griffin said earlier this week when asked how he was dealing with failure. “Your job as a quarterback is to know how to manage people. I feel I’ve done a good job of that my whole career.”
There are more than a couple problems with the above statement, starting with the fact it is utterly lacking in self-deprecation. Second, you’re a sophomore in the NFL. What career? You haven’t had one yet. Come back and talk to us when you’ve played 50 games. Or even 25.
For more by Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.