Robert Griffin III has heard the Cam Newton comparisons ever since his college days, and he’s well aware that they will intensify this week, as his Washington Redskins prepare to host Newton’s Carolina Panthers Sunday.
But Griffin — who won his Heisman Trophy a year after Newton did, and wouldn’t mind winning rookie of the year honors as Newton did last year — really couldn’t care less.
Though he knows he could end up in a shootout with Newton, Griffin said he has his focus locked on Carolina’s defense. He also would rather play well enough to draw comparisons to more successful quarterbacks.
“It’s like I tell people many, many times: I won’t be playing him, I’ll be playing his defense. So, have fun with the comparisons,” Griffin said Wednesday during his regular mid-week news conference.
He added: “We do run similar schemes. There’s a lot of similarities. But, I’d rather be compared to Aaron Rodgers, or a guy like that: someone who’s won Super Bowls. You want to go out there and win, and that’s our biggest goal. It’s not about me versus Cam Newton, it’s about us getting the win, and getting to 4-5 going into the bye week.”
Griffin and the Redskins are coming off of their most lopsided loss of the season — a 27-12 thumping by the Pittsburgh Steelers. In that game, Washington’s offense had its worst outing of the season, mustering only one touchdown, generating just 255 total yards and succeeding on only 3 of 12 third down attempts.
Washington’s receivers dropped 10 passes and prompted Coach Mike Shanahan to publicly call out his skill players for not doing enough to compensate for the absences of their top playmakers, Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis.
Griffin said Wednesday, however, that he didn’t do very well either.
“Even with the drops, completion percentage was down,” said Griffin, who completed 16 of 34 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown. “ . . . I didn’t play well enough to help us win the game, so that’s the biggest thing. It’s never individually, ‘did I play well?’ You can’t look at it that way.”
In addition to the injury-induced absences of Garcon and Davis, several other challenges present themselves for Griffin & Co. The rookie now has eight games under his belt, meaning he is more experienced. But, it also means opponents have more video of him to use for game-planning.
On Sunday, he’ll face a Carolina defense whose coaches are very familiar with the zone-read option schemes that the Redskins run, because the Panthers themselves use the same plays for Newton. So Washington’s advantage is diminished.
As Carolina’s coaches have noticed, Newton hasn’t been nearly as effective this year because teams have plenty of video of him to study.
“Teams do handle us differently,” Carolina Coach Ron Rivera said in a conference call Wednesday. “As people get to study more and more of what Washington’s doing, it’ll make it tougher on them.”
The coach rattled off strategies that foes have used to limit his own quarterback: “You’ll see a little more of what people call the soft zones, where they’ll just say, ‘We’ll keep everything in front of us, keep our vision on the quarterback that way, when he scrambles, he can’t hurt us.’ Second, they’re playing a little more soft, so they can take away those deep digs.”
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Rivera use some of the same tactics against Griffin and the Redskins. But the coach still calls the task of slowing Griffin and the Redskins daunting.
“They use what a lot of people term ‘the pistol formation’ as well, and they do it about as well as I’ve seen it,” he says. “It’s hard to simulate that guy. Look at our guys. We’ve got a good, young show back on our practice squad that gave us a great picture of what to expect from Alfred Morris, but it’s hard to say, ‘we’ve gotten the picture you get from Robert Griffin.’ ”
The Redskins have shown an ability to execute well in the option game and the more traditional West Coast offensive schemes. So Griffin said he isn’t worried about the Panthers having an understanding of Washington’s option plays.
“Teams are going to try to shut down what you put on tape,” he said. “But I think the . . . coaches have done a good job of mixing up our schemes, mixing up our formations, making sure we’re not running the same things, and just disguising our looks really well. I pride myself, coach prides himself and players pride themselves on being able to execute really well regardless of what the defense is doing.”
Griffin and his teammates will try to get back on track and avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season as they fight to remain relevant in the NFC East.
“I don’t feel a greater pressure, but I do know there is a sense of urgency,” Griffin said. “Guys just know it, ‘Hey, we’ve got to go out and get a win.’ Of course, everyone wants to go Gon a bye week to get away and rest your mind and get ready for the second part of the season. But for us right now, the biggest thing is making sure we come out with a win on Sunday.”