Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan is tasked with rebuilding a roster that lacks both top-end talent and depth, and one of his first jobs is to evaluate the current players. We’re doing the same, and there are only two positions left. Here is the most scrutinized, the quarterbacks.
Robert Griffin III
Entering the season, Washington fans were optimistic that under new head coach Jay Gruden, Griffin would improve as a pocket passer and take the next step in his development. But right from the start, Griffin struggled. Dislocating his ankle in Week 2 certainly didn’t help, but the ankle injury shouldn’t be an excuse for his regression as a passer after he returned.
Griffin battled the same problems he’s had since he entered the league; reluctance to throw, holding on to the ball too long, failing to read through his progressions and poor mechanics. His season, and perhaps NFL career, hit its lowest point when he was benched in favor of Colt McCoy after poor performances against San Francisco and particularly Tampa Bay.
This might have been Griffin’s worst play of the season. The Buccaneers defense is built on Lovie Smith’s “Tampa 2” scheme. To counter it, Jay Gruden calls for a corner-flat route combination, a very basic Tampa 2 coverage beater.
When Griffin reaches the top of his drop, his protection is perfect and he has all five receivers open. The Bucs defense gets it horribly wrong. The corners play far too shallow to the flat and the safeties are playing far too deep. Griffin shouldn’t even have to think about this play; he should instinctively know to throw one of the corner routes. If he doesn’t feel comfortable with the corner routes for whatever reason, he can check down to one of the flat routes or even to Alfred Morris underneath.
But instead, Griffin takes off scrambling, despite having a clean pocket and receivers to throw to.
Griffin ends up scrambling into a stunting defensive lineman and nearly takes a sack, getting rid of the ball just before he takes a big hit. But the throw fell incomplete, when he should have had an easy first down.
Throughout his career, Griffin has often led himself into taking hits that he didn’t need to take. That play was one example, but there was another one from the same game.
Here, Washington runs a dig route.
Griffin begins his throwing motion, and probably could have completed this throw if he delivered the ball on time. But perhaps he felt the corner was too close to the receiver. So instead, Griffin opts not to throw.
By the time Griffin moves off his first read, left guard Shawn Lauvao is driven into the backfield. Griffin has room to step up in the pocket and does so.
But instead of just stepping up in the pocket and then dumping the ball off, Griffin tucks the ball and begins to run for the first down himself. If he kept his eyes downfield, he might have spotted one of the three receivers he had running open.
The scramble leads to Griffin getting flipped over by a big hit from multiple Buccaneer defenders. Griffin was lucky to both get the first down and avoid another injury.
This poor play led to Griffin getting benched, but he got his chance to reclaim the starting job when McCoy got injured. Griffin flashed signs of development, but still showed those same problems. But Washington is still invested in his potential. He has the ability to extend plays and throws a fantastic deep ball.
On this play, DeSean Jackson lines up in the slot. He takes his route inside to the middle of the field before breaking outside to the corner.
Griffin does a good job waiting for the route to develop, trusting his protection in the pocket.
As the pocket collapses, Griffin remains calm, stepping into his throw despite the pressure around him.
He drops the ball over Jackson’s outside shoulder perfectly in stride. The two Vikings defenders never had a chance of making a play on the ball and instead had to accept they were giving up a big play and just make the tackle to keep it from becoming an even bigger play.
Griffin will be just 25 years old this season, meaning he’s still a young quarterback with potential. While his development hasn’t been exactly what Washington would have wanted when they traded the farm to draft him back in 2012, I expect he’ll get at least one more shot at the starting job next season. But clearly, his fit in Jay Gruden’s offense is questionable. Griffin will have to significantly improve over the offseason or Gruden will have to do a better job catering his offense to Griffin’s strengths if either are to have long-term futures in Washington.
It was easy to see early on that Cousins was a better fit than Griffin for the style of offense Gruden runs. He’s much more accomplished as a prototypical drop back passer, making multiple reads both pre- and post-snap and making quick decisions. Cousins moved the offense much better and more consistently than Griffin did. He was more comfortable in the pocket, knowing when to step up and move around the pocket to avoid sacks while still keeping his eyes down the field.
Cousins was the starter in place of the injured Griffin for Washington’s October game against eventual NFC champions, Seattle. The Seahawks run a base cover-3 defense that relies on pressure from the front four to protect it deep. But Gruden trusted Cousins in the pocket to buy time for a four verticals concept to develop. Jackson runs an out-and-up on the outside, while Niles Paul runs directly up the seam.
Cousins keeps his eyes down the middle of the field, holding free safety Earl Thomas on the far hashmark. Cornerback Richard Sherman has deep zone coverage responsibilities, so he has to take Paul running up the seam. He passes off Jackson to safety Kam Chancellor, who is comfortable covering Jackson on a quick out.
This is where Cousins’s pocket presence saves the play. The Seahawks get a strong rush off the right side of the offensive line. But Cousins doesn’t panic. Instead, he steps up in the pocket to avoid the pressure. This buys time for Jackson to turn up the field and sprint past Chancellor.
With Sherman occupied inside, Jackson simply runs past Chancellor. Cousins keeps his eyes down the field the entire time while he scrambles. He spots Jackson and pulls the trigger on an awkward throw while on the run.
But the throw is perfect from Cousins. Jackson stretches out and reaches it in full stride. He avoids the incoming tackle from Sherman and walks into the end zone for a touchdown.
But while Cousins displayed a better command for the offense, he also made some poor decisions, leading to multiple interceptions. He had four interceptions against the Giants in Week 4, followed by three interceptions against the Cardinals in Week 6. He was then benched at halftime against the Titans, having appeared to have lost all confidence.
This was one of Cousins’s worst interceptions. He has wide receiver Andre Roberts running an out route, while Jackson and Pierre Garcon run clearing routes.
Cousins predetermines the throw, beginning his throwing motion despite having a defender reading his eyes and peeling off the outside receivers to drop into the throwing lane.
Cousins either got tunnel vision and never saw him, or felt he could fit the ball in a very tight throwing window. Either way, he made a poor decision that resulted in him throwing the ball directly at the defender, who intercepts the pass.
Many people believe that Cousins was the guy Gruden wanted to go with from the outset. When he got his chance early in the season, he looked strong. But then a couple of poor decisions led to interceptions piling up and him losing confidence. Still, I’d be surprised if Cousins wasn’t with Washington next season. He failed to boost any potential trade value that he had during his time as the starter. I expect he’ll have a chance to prove himself in training camp against Griffin, but I’d expect the competition to be heavily weighted in Griffin’s favor.
McCoy looked set to be a third-string or backup quarterback for the rest of his career. But when Griffin went down injured and Cousins threw one too many interceptions, McCoy got his shot on an NFL playing field again. Initially, he looked poised and at least competent running the offense.
His first meaningful pass in quite some time was all about timing and trusting his receiver. Gruden called for Garcon to run a “Thunder” route, which asks the quarterback and receiver to read the coverage and run a route depending on the coverage. In this case, Tennessee play press-man coverage, telling Garcon to run a seven-yard stop route.
McCoy had hardly any reps throwing to Garcon throughout the offseason or during the season. But he trusted his read and trusted Garcon to run the correct route. McCoy gets the ball out of his hands quickly, before Garcon has even cut back towards the ball.
The ball arrives at the point of maximum separation from the defender. Garcon makes the easy catch and then makes the corner miss before sprinting down the sideline for a 70-yard touchdown.
But as the season went on, McCoy came down from his initial high and struggled. His lack of velocity on throws were an issue at times, and he also made some questionable decisions.
This was McCoy’s interception against the Cowboys. Washington fakes a quick screen pass to try and get Dallas defenders to bite and leave them vulnerable over the top. But the Cowboys defenders don’t bite on the fake and drop into coverage.
If at any point McCoy had a throw available, it was here. The inside receiver breaks to the post and McCoy had a small throwing window. But the throw would have needed to have been right on target and have velocity to stop the safety over the top driving on it.
But McCoy instead looks to the outside receiver, who has inside leverage on his corner but is running level with him while a safety is over the top.
The safety does a great job making a play on the ball for the interception, but McCoy should never have given him the opportunity. It was a poor decision that led to an interception in a very close game.
Entering the offseason, I wouldn’t be surprised if Washington retained all three quarterbacks for an open competition in training camp. All three quarterbacks had opportunities to claim the starting job, but nobody played significantly better than the others. I think it’s unlikely Griffin or Cousins is let go, but McCloughan and Gruden may decide to bring in a different veteran to challenge them instead of McCoy. I don’t foresee Washington opting to draft a quarterback early in the draft, as I expect they’ll end up giving Griffin one last shot to become the franchise quarterback.