Much of the intense scrutiny on the performance of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III this season in his return from knee surgery in January has been focused on his running. But that seemed to change Sunday. Griffin and the Redskins struggled in the passing game during their loss at Denver and the question now has become why Griffin has been unable to throw the ball with the same effectiveness he did last season as a rookie.
“There’s a lot that goes into being a quarterback in the NFL,” former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley said Monday. “And there’s a lot that goes into this offense as a quarterback, and it’s putting a lot of weight on his shoulders. They’re not scaling it back for him. They shouldn’t. But he’s also just not himself right now. I don’t feel like he’s fluid. I don’t feel like he’s getting through his progressions like he can.”
Griffin was much more than just a dynamic runner during his electrifying rookie year. He also was an extremely accurate and efficient passer. He threw 20 touchdown passes and only five interceptions last season. He completed 65.6 percent of his passes and he had the highest passer rating in NFL history for a rookie, at 102.4.
Things have gone far differently this season. Griffin has thrown eight interceptions to go with his nine touchdown passes. He has connected on 59 percent of his throws and has a passer rating of 79.2, only the 21st-best mark in the league entering Monday’s play. He threw two interceptions in a 15-for-30, 132-yard, one-touchdown passing performance in Sunday’s 45-21 defeat to the Broncos.
Coach Mike Shanahan said Monday at Redskins Park that there is enough blame to go around for the team’s passing-game issues, without absolving Griffin.
“I think it’s a little bit of everything,” Shanahan said. “You take a look at sometimes it may be a quarterback’s read. Another time it may be protection. Next time it might be a dropped ball. The offense just may be a little bit different than it was a year ago, a combination of all those things.”
Cooley said Monday he thinks that Griffin might be trying too hard to make big plays on long throws down the field.
“I think right now he’s pressing so hard to make a play, especially to make a big play, that on a lot of these play-actions that they dial up, he’s sticking with that deep throw or the deep guy with the belief that, ‘This is the coverage we thought we’d get. This is what we practiced. This is the way this coverage should unfold,’ ” Cooley said. “And it isn’t happening that way, and he’s not getting off his reads fast enough. He’s had a lot of opportunities to make some good throws and missed some guys open.”
Cooley, who was with the team last season in Griffin’s rookie year, also said: “As far as the accuracy thing, I truly don’t have an explanation for you. That was one of his biggest assets last year was how accurate he was. All I can think is that he’s really pressing right now to make that big play, to make that perfect throw. And he’s not just playing football. He’s an incredible football player and he’s an incredibly intelligent, smart human being. He just needs to trust himself. He’s just got to trust his instincts.”
Griffin left the Denver game after injuring his left knee. Shanahan said Monday that Griffin’s knee is “a little bit sore right now” but also “fine,” according to the evaluation of the team’s medical staff.
Redskins coaches and Griffin have said all season they don’t see any issues with Griffin’s throwing mechanics resulting from last season’s knee injury. But former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, while also citing team-wide issues and the heavy hits that Griffin absorbed Sunday in Denver, said Monday that he thinks Griffin’s still-mending right knee has had an effect on his throwing.
“I think Robert is still trying to find the balance to throw the football as accurately as he did a year ago,” Theismann said by telephone. “People focus on, ‘He’s moving better.’ But a knee takes a year [to heal fully]. There’s no way around it. If the weight transition [on a throw] is not correct, it affects everything. . . . I don’t believe you sit him down. But I don’t believe Robert is going to truly be 100 percent until a year from now.”
Griffin missed offseason practices and the heaviest portions of training camp after the offseason surgery on his right knee.
“When you just don’t have the practice time, that affects you,” former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Antonio Freeman said.
Freeman said he doesn’t see the same calm, poised quarterback in the pocket that was on display last season.
“He’s getting antsy back there,” Freeman said by phone Monday. “I see a guy who’s just not comfortable in the pocket. He was more comfortable last year. He had a [better] running game. . . . He’s just been off. He’s been off target. He hasn’t been on his game. When you fight so hard to come back from an injury like that, you might have a hard time settling down and playing your game.”
Cooley said he does believe that opposing defenses, in addition to adjusting to the option-style offense that the Redskins used so effectively last season, have resolved to make Griffin take a more patient approach in the passing game.
“It was all so easy last year. . . . You did have guys wide open and he’s deadly with the deep ball,” Cooley said. “He just hasn’t been able to get that in. People have understood, ‘You’re not gonna beat us deep. If you’re gonna beat us, we’re gonna make you throw the ball underneath all day.’ And he’s still trying for that deep shot. . . . He’s just got to become extremely accurate and make them finally come up and defend and tackle those 10-, 15-yard passes, and then start going to the big shot.”
Cooley agreed with Shanahan’s assessment that Griffin’s offensive line and receivers are equally culpable for the lack of passing production. He pointed to an off-target throw over the middle Sunday to wide receiver Josh Morgan, a pass that was behind Morgan and bounced off his hand for an incompletion.
“It shouldn’t have been caught,” Cooley said. “But can Josh catch that ball? I think so. Did he catch that four or five times last year? Yeah, he did. . . . They’ve got to find a way to make a play. Pierre [Garcon] did make one incredible play. But you get your receivers making some plays like that, and then all of a sudden it changes for everybody. And so I think it’s on the entire offense. . . . He’s part of it. But it’s not just him. It’s not just, ‘Throw in [backup quarterback] Kirk Cousins and this is the answer or throw in someone else and this is the answer.’ It’s a complicated offense that just has to operate a little bit better — a lot better.”
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