Ponder this scenario for a second: Robert Griffin III says he feels well enough to play against Cleveland. He’s limited in practice, and cautious about his sprained knee. Mike Shanahan doesn’t see anything in practice to tell him playing RGIII is clearly the way to go, but he doesn’t see anything that says it isn’t.
What should he do?
There’s a theory — backed by the experts Dave Sheinin talked with who said lateral collateral ligament tears can heal in a week with rest, or need four weeks, especially for someone who runs the way RGIII does — that suggests it might be smart to play Kirk Cousins instead. The game against the 5-8 Browns is one the Redskins may be able to win with a backup quarterback. But more importantly, since playoff tiebreakers factor in NFC and NFC East record, and the last two games are at Philadelphia and against Dallas, it’s also the game they can most afford to lose.
Certainly no team in the thick of its race deliberately puts anything less than its best lineup on the field. The long-term health of Griffin, as well as the franchise, must be considered. So when Shanahan asks himself “what gives us the best chance to win on Sunday?” what’s his answer? It’s Tuesday and I know there are things we can’t possibly know now, but what if it’s Saturday night or Sunday morning, and the picture isn’t much clearer? What’s your call?
Playing Cousins would allow Griffin to get the rest he needs, but it involves some risk. That he’s not Griffin tops the list of concerns. But he is something, and one would assume Kyle Shanahan is smart enough to tailor a game plan for Cousins without scrapping the entire offense. He showed that by dialing up the quarterback draw on the two-point play. He’d call a game differently for Cousins than Griffin, but that’s no different than the Steelers doing that for Charlie Batch as opposed to Byron Leftwich and Ben Roethlisberger, or the Eagles doing it for Nick Foles instead of Michael Vick. I’d assume the Seahawks would play to Matt Flynn’s strengths if they ever had to go without Russell Wilson.
Maybe the Redskins don’t have the read-option package prominently placed on the Cousins playsheet, but a legitimate NFL rookie quarterback can be expected to make some key throws, while the Redskins feed Alfred Morris for a game.
Showcasing Cousins would be a benefit as well, although it’s not reason alone to play him instead of Griffin. But for those of you who believe the Redskins could turn a fourth-round pick into a second-rounder in one year by trading Cousins this offseason, that dream trade partner would love to see the guy start a game in the playoff hunt against a decent Browns defense.
Speaking of the Browns, the Redskins can’t and surely won’t take them lightly. This is the kind of game fans always say the Redskins lose, but in a playoff chase and not being but a month removed from being overlooked themselves, the Redskins have all the reason in the world to put their best foot forward in Cleveland.
The question is, which quarterback should be taking the snaps while they do it.
More on the Redskins:
Graphic: Diagram of the knee
Video: Watch the RGIII injury
Photos: The hit that injured Griffin
Hamilton: Redskins’ youth movement never gets old