With two preseason games remaining, the Washington Redskins still have time to become the sharp team new Coach Jay Gruden expects them to be when they kick off the regular season Sept. 7. And Gruden, a football lifer and accomplished teacher, isn’t the type to panic when things go poorly. He merely works harder to fix the problems.
After Washington’s ineffective performance in Monday night’s 24-23 victory over the Cleveland Browns, it appears Gruden may need to put in a lot of overtime. From start to finish at FedEx Field, Washington’s first-team offense was a major disappointment. The biggest problem? Quarterback Robert Griffin III.
This is how statistics can be misleading: Griffin completed 6 of 8 passes for 112 yards with an interception. By reading only the stat sheet, you could surmise Griffin actually played well. Numbers alone, however, did not reveal most of the mistakes Griffin made in a troubling outing.
Griffin was penalized twice before the snap. He held the ball too long and failed to connect with open receivers. He often failed to protect himself while running. And in his biggest blunder, Griffin made an awful decision that resulted in the interception.
Although Gruden has been candid about Griffin’s struggles to become primarily a pocket passer, you would think Griffin would be further along than he seemed to be against the Browns. Gruden will review the game film and determine exactly where Griffin went wrong. Let’s take a look at some of what he likely will see.
Under former Washington play-caller Kyle Shanahan, who directed the Browns’ offense Monday, Griffin didn’t have much freedom to make adjustments at the line. In that key area and others, Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay have given Griffin more responsibility than he had his first two seasons. But to whom much is given, much will be required. Foremost, Griffin must not trip up the offense before the snap.
NFL rules prohibit quarterbacks from simulating the snap by moving their head or hands. Griffin twice was called for false starts. There’s a lot more to playing quarterback well than having a strong arm.
When coaches mention “pocket presence,” they’re talking about the finer points of the position. Fortunately for Gruden and McVay, it shouldn’t be hard to correct the problems that resulted in Griffin being penalized. Griffin’s other issues may take longer to resolve.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Griffin’s hero act while running has worn thin. Anyone who has had two reconstructive knee surgeries should be smarter when he bolts from the pocket, yet Griffin continues to show he just doesn’t get it.
His reckless decision to take on multiple would-be tacklers in the first quarter along the Browns’ sideline — instead of utilizing a protective slide — should be especially troubling to team decision-makers. Griffin was knocked around like a piñata by three Browns players on his way out of bounds.
Griffin simply isn’t wired to give up on plays, he says. He always will fight for extra yards to help his team, he adds. Okay.
But Washington gave up four high-round picks for the pick it used to draft Griffin. To have any hope of receiving an adequate return on its investment, Washington needs Griffin to stay in the game. For quarterbacks, taking on opponents along the sideline isn’t a formula for career longevity.
Also, Griffin still isn’t proficient at sliding, as evidenced by the way he dragged his right leg on one awkward maneuver. For Washington’s sake, Griffin had better smarten up and continue to work on hitting the ground quickly.
Sticking with the warrior theme, Griffin came under criticism for holding the ball too long in training camp. Gruden said he needs to throw the ball away at times — because sometimes that’s the right decision. Another one was obvious in the first.
On third and 14 from the Cleveland 27-yard line, Griffin locked in on DeSean Jackson, who ran a short route along Washington’s sideline. Two problems: Griffin was under pressure, and Browns cornerback Joe Haden was locked in on Griffin and Jackson. Griffin put the ball in a perfect spot for Haden, who returned it 37 yards.
Last fall, some on Washington’s coaching staff privately complained about Griffin’s lack of awareness in the pocket. On the play before the interception, Griffin targeted Jackson, who was covered on the left side of the field, and the pass was incomplete. In the middle of the field, tight end Logan Paulsen was open.
On a positive note for Washington, Griffin moved the ball at times and displayed a nice deep touch on a 49-yard pass to Andre Roberts. Overall, though, Griffin’s performance was far from encouraging. In less than three weeks, the Houston Texans host the Redskins in a season opener. To try to get Griffin where he needs to be, Gruden and McVay don’t have a second to waste.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.
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