Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III insisted Wednesday his knee is fine, brushing off questions about his health from outside observers and remarks this week from his top wide receiver, who said a knee brace and lack of preseason playing time were affecting Griffin’s performance. Griffin also declared he is willing and able to run the ball as often as necessary to spark his 0-2 team.
Playing in the past two weeks for the first time since tearing ligaments in his right knee Jan. 6, Griffin hasn’t looked like the electrifying player who dazzled with his arm and legs as a rookie. His struggles have come primarily in the first halves of his first two games, when his offense has been outscored 50-0. In the two first halves, Griffin has posted paltry numbers, completing 11 passes on 24 attempts for 160 yards and two interceptions. Meanwhile, he has run the ball only nine times and has averaged just 2.8 yards per carry.
Former Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy said Sunday he didn’t think Griffin was fully healthy and that he believed backup Kirk Cousins should take his place in the lineup for the time being.
Then during a radio interview Tuesday, wide receiver Pierre Garcon said he believed Griffin’s bulky knee brace was slowing the quarterback down. On Wednesday, Garcon held firm in his stance and added that Griffin probably would have benefited from preseason snaps to help him knock off the rust.
Discussing Griffin’s knee, Garcon said, “We obviously know the elephant’s in the room. We already know what it is. But we just have to continue to deal with that and continue to play. It’s not something that can be avoided. It’s going to be talked about all year no matter what we do, no matter if we win or lose. It’s going to be talked about. So we just have to continue to play and play for our jobs.”
Meanwhile, Griffin’s most senior wide receiver said patience remains crucial.
“He just got back to playing, man,” said Santana Moss, a 13th-year veteran. “I mean, this is only like his second preseason game. You’re gonna go out there and run him crazy? To me, that’s how I look at it. These first two regular season games are just being two preseason games for this kid. You’re not gonna go out there and make him do a bunch of stuff that, you know, you’re not sure of. Once he gets his feeling back and, I think, the coaches confident with him doing all that stuff, then I’m pretty sure they’ll let him do more.
“But right now I don’t think that’s what we need to do to win games,” Moss added. “We have it in there. We have called it. But if they’re keying on him, then he’s not going to run the ball. And that’s what teams [are] doing. Teams are gonna come and key on him. So you’ll see him hand the ball off. And I’m glad he’s doing that because we don’t need that right now. We just need to do what we know how to do, and that’s make plays, and we’ll be able to try to win these games.”
Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan chuckled when asked about Garcon’s stance.
“I don’t know if anybody remembers, but Dr. [James] Andrews said that there was no way he could play during the preseason. Does anybody remember that? We have to go back to this? Andrews said he could not play during the preseason. There was no chance for him to play.”
Later the same day, holding his usual midweek news conference, Griffin dismissed both claims.
“It doesn’t do anything for me,” Griffin said in response to the opinion that Cousins should replace him for the time being. “People outside of here don’t know what we go through every day on this team, and it’s like what we said after the game amongst ourselves. If they’re not for us, they’re against us, and we don’t have to worry about what they say or worry about what they want us to do.”
Responding to Garcon’s stance, Griffin nonchalantly said, “I love Pierre. If he wants to race, I’m more than willing to do that. Pierre’s going to be Pierre. I can’t do anything about what he says.”
He later added, “The knee brace is going to protect you, but I’ve gotten out of stuff this season just like I did last season when the pocket breaks down, and I don’t feel like it’s holding me back.”
Griffin didn’t deny he hasn’t played up to the standard he set last season. But not all of the struggles can be traced to the quarterback’s play, Griffin, Shanahan and his teammates insist.
Washington’s interior linemen have struggled with pass protection, and the team’s pass catchers have combined for a league-high 10 drops in two games. The Redskins own the NFL’s second-lowest success rate on third downs (23.8 percent, 5 for 21), and the defense has given up 71 points and 1,023 yards.
Just weeks after they entered the season as one of the favorites in the NFC East, the Redskins look like a shell of themselves and are one of two playoff teams from last season that do not yet have a win. (Minnesota is the other). Now they face slim odds to make the playoffs; no team since 2008 has reached the postseason after opening 0-2.
But Griffin insists the criticism hasn’t fazed him.
“People are going to pat you on the back and tell you how great you are, and when things turn south, people’s true colors come out,” he said. “For us, it’s just getting back to that grit. We run the ball, and we stop the run. That’s two things this team has always done, and this first two games, we haven’t done either of those very well or even had the chance to run the ball on offense because we’ve fallen behind so quickly. So I think that’s where we have to get our swagger back. Guys have to play free. We know our assignments. We know what we have to do. It’s about going out there and doing it.”
And just how can the Redskins get their swagger back?
“I can run more,” Griffin offered. “That’s fine. I’ll do whatever we have to do to win the game. That’s always been my mind-set. I’m the quarterback, and if I have to create that energy, if I have to spit a rap line in the huddle, sure, whatever. I’ll do it. Whatever it takes to get that energy.”
A year after averaging eight carries a game, Griffin has appeared hesitant to run. But Shanahan said the lack of the zone-read option attack can be traced to the Redskins’ inability to sustain drives and their having to play from behind and pass almost exclusively.
Griffin echoed those sentiments but says it must change.
“I’ll tell you what. If you told anybody we were going to throw the ball 49 and 40 times the first two games, they’d have thought you were stupid,” Griffin said. “So it’s not that I want to run more; it’s just I feel like that’s what we need. If that’s what it takes for us to win games, then I’m going to go and do that. It’s not like it was anything that I was like, ‘I’m going to shy away from that coming into the year.’ But like I said, if that’s going to spark us, I’m willing to do it.”
Shanahan said that the Redskins’ offense will evolve as the season progresses and eventually the unit will recapture its explosiveness from last season and Griffin again will be a dual threat.
“There’s only one way you get better in this game, and that’s through repetition, and the more repetition you get, the better off you do,” Shanahan said. “When you don’t have an offseason, like he didn’t, it’s really hard to get great in one specific area right away. But you figure, just in a couple games, what did he have, like five TDs and three interceptions in that two-minute attack? That goes for the season, that’ll be 40 TDs and 18 interceptions. Pretty good for a guy not having an offseason program. That’s not where we want to be. That’s not where he wants to be. But hopefully we can get back and run our normal offense, but we’re going to have to play much better collectively to do that.”