Starter: Robert Griffin III
Backups: Kirk Cousins, Rex Grossman
By the numbers: Griffin completed at least 70 percent of his passes in a game six times. The Redskins won five of those games. Griffin threw for 13 touchdowns and three interceptions in those six games. He also finished with eight games where he posted a passer rating of at least 100; the Redskins won seven of those games. In 48 pass attempts, Cousins tossed four touchdowns and three interceptions.
Better or worse than 2011: Better.
Analysis: Everyone saw the impact Griffin had on the field, how he opened up plays for others because so much attention was focused on him. It’s amazing how many times you’d stop the film and see 11 defenders with their eyes in the backfield. Plays opened up because of the attention paid to Griffin. Teams could not stop certain passes, to the fullback inside the 10, because they’d wait for the running back to get the ball and then focus on Griffin. Nope; it’s a pass to the fullback. The ability to deceive, both on Griffin’s part and the scheme, resulted in his averaging 8.14 yards per pass attempt. That didn’t come from flinging the ball downfield all the time; rather it came from creating lots of YAC sometimes through scheme and sometimes with the throw.
Griffin showed good decision making – which sometimes was masked as hesitancy – and tossed only five interceptions. That’s the most remarkable stat of the season and it’s a major reason why the offense was so effective. Griffin had a knack for placing the ball away from defenders to prevent potential picks. He learned how to run the zone read option better in order to protect himself. He wanted to prove to his teammates he would not go down without a fight and it cost him a couple times with a concussion and then the knee injury.
Griffin exceeded expectations on the field but also in the locker room. I’ve never seen a rookie come in who commanded as much respect so soon as Griffin did. In the summer veterans raved about how hard he worked. The trickle-down impact was more than I imagined it would be as he gave teammates legit hope that they could win every game and were never out of a situation. The culture had changed at Redskins Park (it was a good locker room in 2011 too), but you can’t understate how much Griffin’s arrival changed it even more. His dealings with the media were different; no one-on-ones (save for one each around the bye week) so it took time to get to know him a little bit; there were casual chit-chats on Fridays. To say we got to know him well would be incorrect. But to say he comes across the same in private as he does on camera is accurate.
Cousins proved to be a capable backup who starred in his only start. He was not as dynamic, but he was aggressive, something that will result in interceptions but also big plays. Cousins proved he’s worth developing and, if he continues to play well, he could be traded for a second- or third-round choice in a couple years.
2013 outlook: Everything depends on Griffin’s knee, not only when he returns but at what level will he play? Will he be limited at all? Will he still be as daring? How much work will he need before the first game?
The prognosis was for a full recovery in 6 to 8 months, but two ACL tears in four years is a troublesome scenario for any player. It’s concerning that it’s his right knee, too, which is the one he needs to pivot and plan on to throw. If he’s not fully recovered, or has lost a step, how will he adjust his game? A lot rides on these answers and, right now, there’s no way to know for sure what direction this will go. I know people around him are optimistic because of who he is and how he works. But the second ACL complicates the issue; how much so? We’ll find out.
Let’s say Griffin returns healthy. The outlook would clearly be for cautious optimism. I know Grossman said he did not think Griffin needed a full offseason because of how advanced he is already. But if you’re going to expand the offense, it’s tough to do so when the guy who makes it go can’t practice. Also, it’s not as if they run the same stuff when Cousins plays. So how do you expand in this situation? It’s obviously still possible and I’m sure the coaches will find a way for others to run what they need to do even with Griffin out.
Evolving the offense does not just mean with his legs. They’ll always be a part of the equation – and we know he does not have to run every game for the zone read to work; just has to be a threat. Still, I’d expect at some point – when I’m not sure – that they’ll run the pistol at a quicker pace (think: no huddle). The evolution also will come in the passing game as Griffin had a lot to learn in 2012. He did not have a route tree in college to work off of as he did in the NFL. That can’t be overlooked. Griffin sometimes appeared cautious with his passes; there were plays in many games where you’d see him look at a receiver and wonder why he didn’t throw (yes, that’s true of many QBs). But there were other times he squeezed the ball into tight windows. So it’s not as if he’s unwilling to, but as he evolves will we see less hesitancy? Probably. Right now, Griffin knows he can take off running if something isn’t 100 percent to his liking. It’s a good fallback, though one he might rely on less when he returns. If he wants to lessen how much he runs, pulling the trigger on more throws is one solution.
I do not want to see anything happen with the zone read. It’s too effective for it to not be part of the attack in some fashion. Besides, the big hits he received rarely came out of the zone read look. They came when scrambling, which is why Griffin still needs to learn when to slide. Let’s all keep in mind that it wasn’t the option game that got Griffin hurt at all this season. It was his desire to gain an extra yard while scrambling in crucial situations. It’s like Gregg Williams used to say of Sean Taylor: You’d hate to have to ask a guy to be more aggressive. But you can ask Griffin to be smarter considering his importance to the team. That could mean throwing the ball away more (and a lesser completion percentage). It could mean heading out of bounds instead of turning upfield to get a couple extra yards.
Even if the Redskins scrapped the zone read, Griffin could be a good quarterback in a bootleg/rollout passing game. But the zone read takes the offense one step further and it helps not just Griffin, but the backs and even the receivers.
If Cousins has to play, I’d expect more up-and-down from the offense. I liked what I saw from Cousins, but I also saw a guy who threw three interceptions in 48 passes during the regular season (the one vs. Cleveland can be blamed in part on the receiver’s route). Again, he’ll take more chances. The offense will move, but he’ll need to show he can protect the ball too. He made a pass during the preseason against a cover-2 zone where he hit the receiver down the sideline between the corner and safety. A gutsy throw and one that the coaches told him he needed to be careful with when not facing backups. Actually, they didn’t want him to make it, but it’s one of those no-no-no-nice throw situations. There will be more learning experiences, albeit from a guy with a year and 58 throws to his resume (including 10 vs. Seattle).
Before Griffin’s knee surgery you had to like where this position was headed. Now? You can still like it because Griffin remains a special talent. But thanks to the knee there will be anxious moments until he proves he can be a durable NFL quarterback.
Offseason goal: Get Griffin healthy and re-sign Grossman to be a backup. Yes, Grossman is not a quality starter, but you could do a heck of a lot worse than having Grossman as a No. 3. The Redskins already have two kids on the roster at QB, there’s no need to groom a third at this stage. In a year or two? Sure; at that point you may have to start planning for Cousins’ potential departure. But Grossman handled this role well and, with Griffin’s knee situation, it’s wise to have a veteran backup to Cousins. If they can find another veteran who’s better and willing to be a potential No. 3? By all means sign him. But if you’re better than Grossman, you’re a solid No. 2 somewhere else.