Get a good look at Robert Griffin III on Sunday, when the Redskins host the Bengals in their home opener. Who knows how many more chances you’ll get this season?
Even the biggest Griffin detractors — you know who you were — have come around to the charismatic rookie’s presence. It’s hard to ignore all that talent, even if you’re trying. What’s worrisome for Griffin and for the team is that, just two games into the season, he has become the Redskins’ entire offense.
The loss of Pierre Garcon in Week 1 hurt the Redskins in Sunday’s loss to St. Louis, no doubt. None of the other receivers has broken out to become Griffin’s new favorite. Alfred Morris is impressive when you consider he was a sixth-round draft pick, but he’s not going to strap this team to his back, not behind this offensive line, not yet.
And the Redskins aren’t getting much from their tight ends, which may be as much a result of play-calling as it is from execution. There are teams in the league whose tight ends are an integral part of the offense, but so far the Redskins aren’t among them. This is especially odd considering Fred Davis was having a stellar year last season before his drug suspension.
That leaves Griffin, whose hell-bent-for-leather style is going to land him on injured reserve if the offensive schemes aren’t tempered. It’s one thing to expect Griffin to be the super glue on every broken play, but it’s another to call running plays for him. He’s not taking one-yard sneaks into the end zone; he’s exposing himself up the gut, into the heart of the defense, too often. A little caution would go a long way to keeping him whole.
Not that Griffin’s complaining. He’s saying exactly what you’d expect him to say: Give me the ball. And good for him — that’s the attitude most expected to see when the Redskins drafted him. But he’s on pace for 160 carries this season. (For perspective, Cam Newton had the most carries among NFL quarterbacks last season, with 126; the year before, it was Michael Vick, with 100.) Griffin most likely won’t really get to 160, but the Redskins need to make sure it doesn’t happen. That’s too many, especially for a rookie.
Because without Griffin, this goes from what could be, with some breaks and some improvement, a .500 team to being bad, on par with what we’ve seen last season, and the season before that, etc. etc. The Redskins didn’t put themselves in the playoffs with the Week 1 win over New Orleans, and they didn’t eliminate themselves in Week 2. It’s a long season, and Thursday morning, there are 19 other teams with a 1-1 record.
Griffin’s an athletic guy, and he’s not small — 6 feet 2, 217 pounds — but he’s not The Hulk, either. And the Redskins’ current path makes it pretty easy to opposing defensive coordinators to game plan: Stop Griffin, and you stop the Redskins.
No doubt, the Redskins need to keep him healthy because they need to continue to score points. The loss of Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo to injuries was a 1-2 punch in the face to the defense, which will have trouble stopping opponents, especially if coordinator Jim Haslett fails to make in-game adjustments. The Redskins’ defense seemed to be stuck in the same gear most of the day against St. Louis.
Griffin has posted good numbers in two games as a rookie, and he’s able to spin and juke himself out of a lot of trouble, but perhaps the best thing about him is his ability to take a punch. He looked wobbly a few times last Sunday, but he shook it off, including the illegal but unflagged hit to the head.
And after the Rams came out swinging, clearly trying to get in his head by woofing at him after every play, he woofed right back. You like to see that in a rookie. When he’s surrounded by yammering Rams, however, you’d also like to see the offensive line step in. That’s part of the job.
Ultimately, though, the responsibility for keeping Griffin in one piece rests with Shanahan the elder and Shanahan the younger. When he checks down and arrives at the run as the final option, that’s one thing. Calling running plays for him is another. Those should be used as secret weapons, like fake punts. Run too many, and the defense is ready and willing to pummel him.
I’m sure it’s tempting to get all you can out of Griffin, but not if he can’t make it past Week 5. No one wants to see that raw talent and natural leadership sitting on the bench — except every opponent on the Redskins’ schedule.
For previous columns by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.