by Tom Lindley
CNHI News Service
— Life is lonely for the leaders docked along the Potomac River. President Obama seems distracted, Speaker Boehner appears disturbed and Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III looks disarmed. Times are so tough here, a case could be made that D.C. really stands for Dysfunction City.
Washingtonians are hardened when it comes to politics, but when their pro football team slumps – such as starting the 2013 NFL season with two confidence-shaking losses – patience is in short supply and fans get testy.
No one is giving up on Griffin, last year’s NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. There are those who think, with good reason, that he hasn’t had enough time to recover from late-season injuries to his right knee, one that required ACL surgery in January.
It’s just that RG3 isn’t the player he was last year, when he directed the read-option attack that had him passing and running Washington into the playoffs. He even outplayed Andrew Luck, the league’s top draft pick who did wonders in Indianapolis.
That magic, however, has been missing this year. Last Sunday, Green Bay sprinted to a 31-0 lead midway through the third quarter against Washington and coasted home to a 38-20 win.
Griffin, who has said he would be prefer to become more of a classic drop-back passer, might have looked like the same guy in his No. 10 jersey, but he wasn’t sounding like the RG3 of old after the stinging defeat. "I'm not afraid to sit here and say, 'Put that on my shoulders,'" Griffin told The Washington Post. “I'll take that. We didn't start fast because of me."
That’s a telling statement, and also illuminating. It’s not time to panic, but it seems that Washington needs a plan – a different approach – that gives Griffin a chance to safely return to his old playing ways.
There are two schools of thought about how to proceed. One is that Griffin continues to quarterback the team and work his way back into shape, letting wins and losses come where they may. The other is to let reserve quarterback Kirk Cousins step in, as TV analyst Tony Dungy suggested, and allow Griffin to recuperate on his own pace.
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan attempted to end the debate Monday when he said Griffin will remain the starter.
Most glaring in Griffin’s game this year is that he’s not running the ball. Clearly, opposing teams have adjusted defensive schemes to limit his ability to break free and ramble down the field. Last season he picked up 820 yards on the ground, averaging just under 7 yards per carry. In his first two games this season, he’s had nine carries for 25 cards, or about 2.8 yards per attempt.
Defenses have attacked Washington differently, blitzing at every opportunity. Furthermore, running isn’t an option when you’ve fallen behind by a couple of touchdowns. Worse yet, Griffin has become a punching bag – getting sacked four times and hit 13 in two games. Simply, the team’s offensive line play has been inept.
The former Heisman Trophy winner didn’t play in any of Washington’s pre-season games, suggesting someone didn’t believe he was ready or thought giving him a few snaps was too risky. With little opportunity to workout with the team in the offseason and no action in the preseason, why should anyone expect him to play at a high level once the regular season play began?
In last season’s playoff loss to Seattle, Griffin looked like an easy target as his protection broke down and he was swarmed by the Seahawks’ defense, finally leaving the game. It was hard to watch. Same for the start of the 2013 season.
Not having Griffin fully engaged early on killed any chance of rebuilding a cohesive offensive unit. Griffin looks slower, which would be expected, and constructing a team for the new year without the main cog present was a formula sure to fail.
This isn’t a case where the quarterback isn’t up to the job. It’s more of a situation where Griffin is working his way – both mentally and physically – back into the player he was last year. How long that will take remains the unanswered question.
For Griffin’s sake, the Redskins better play this one right. Another serious injury would spell disaster.
Tom Lindley is a sports columnist for the CNHI News Service. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.