The Washington Redskins might have a better chance of beating the Detroit Lions on Sunday with Kirk Cousins at quarterback instead of Robert Griffin III.
But benching Griffin right now would be a huge mistake.
Yes, I saw Griffin struggle to make plays yesterday against the Packers and last Monday against the Eagles, at least while the game was still competitive. At times he has little time to throw because he has pass rush pressure in his face and he seems either incapable of scrambling and either buying more time to pass or taking off and running or very reluctant to do so. And when he does have some time to pass his throws frequently missed the mark.
Is it rust, the lingering effects of not playing in the preseason and very limited 11 on 11 team action in training camp? Is the knee not has healthy as we are led to believe? Are the Redskins trying to convert Griffin into a pocket passer without the benefit of that practice?
The explanation I’ve heard that makes the most sense came from CBS analyst Steve Tasker. He was on The Junkies on 106.7 The Fan last week (I can’t locate the podcast on their site, otherwise I would link to it and quote Tasker directly). The former Bills special teams ace said that he suffered multiple knee injuries during his 14-year NFL career. When he came back, he said the knee was healthy and pain free but it was just different. Tasker said that it took some time for him to adjust to playing on what was essentially a “new” knee. The confidence that it would respond to what he needed it to do took some time and some adjustment.
When a special teams player is feeling his way around a knee that may not feel quite right even though it’s medically sound it doesn’t have ripple effects on every snap and the situation doesn’t make all of the highlights and get put under the microscope on every one of the myriad of NFL shows that heavily populate your cable TV guide. When the quarterback has those issues and that quarterback is Griffin it’s national news.
That Griffin’s struggles are being magnified by the fact that he’s a high-profile player in the highest profile sports league on the planet is not the only issue. The Redskins’ defense is playing poorly. They are having problems covering and tackling. The team is falling behind, elements like play action passing that made the offense hum aren’t effective so the offense can’t sustain drives. That puts the defense back on the field quickly and things start to snowball.
But whether the defense is working or not, Griffin and the offense need to do what the need to do to keep the team competitive throughout the game. And that’s not happening.
If it happens or if it doesn’t, Griffin needs to be the one doing it or not doing it. Cousins might provide a short-term lift but if this team is going to get to a Super Bowl this year or in the future it’s going to be Griffin doing the heavy lifting. A game or two on the bench for Griffin means that it’s a game or two longer until he’s right. And that puts the Redskins a game or two further away from their goals.
Benching Griffin might be a short-term fix. For years the Redskins organization lived for instant gratification. We have seen the results of thinking about the coming year, the coming game over thinking about setting things up to be successful for a long time.
That’s why the Vikings did last year with Adrian Peterson. It’s easy to look back at his near-record season last year following an ACL injury and think that he came out of the box blazing in 2012. But he did not. In his first six games he went over 100 yards once. In Week 2 he picked up a very pedestrian 60 yards on 16 carries. The next game he rushed for 86 yards but it took him 25 carries to get there (3.4 yards per carry).
The Vikings did not bench Peterson in favor of Toby Gerhart. They know he is the franchise and they kept him in and kept on giving him the ball. Their patience was rewarded when Peterson ran for over 100 yards in nine of the last 10 games, going over 150 yards in six of them.
It remains to be seen if Griffin will explode later in the season but we’ll never find out if the team gets into playing the QB shuffle.