We are two weeks into the NFL season and “Operation Patience” has taken on a whole new meaning, as the defending division champs are floundering at 0-2. The Redskins franchise quarterback looks nothing like the player who won Offensive Rookie of the Year and helped the Redskins have a top 5 offense in the league last season. It might just be two weeks into the season, but their record is the least of the Redskins worries at this point. The real issue is just how bad they have played, which looks like they are susceptible to lose to anyone on their schedule this year (and at this point losing to everyone is even a concern).
While Griffin and the lack of offense is only one part of the equation for their struggles as a team, it takes away the safety net they had last season. In 2012 due to Griffin’s elite level of play, the entire offense performed better and at times they were able to overcome deficiencies on defense and special teams. That is no longer the case, and it shows just how bad the Redskins have handled Robert Griffin‘s recovery and return to the field.
The first person one can point to for mishandling this situation is doctor James Andrews, the surgeon who repaired Griffin’s ACL and the team orthopedic doctor. Andrews uncharacteristically spoke out about Griffin’s recovery early on, calling him “super human”. While it is a nice soundbite, it didn’t do anyone any favors. For the fan base, they heard that and started booking tickets to the Super Bowl. For the Redskins, it backed them into a corner a little bit.
How could they temper expectations about when RGIII should return, or how effective he would be when he did return, when the most famous sports surgeon in the world basically said he was perfect just two months after surgery? Most importantly I don’t think comments like that were good for Griffin to hear. Not only does he then have to face them in interviews with the media or in responding to fans, but they also reinforced Griffin’s belief that he could be ready week one and could automatically return to form.
The other concern with Dr. Andrews is this whole clearance timeline and whether or not he had some concerns with Griffin playing early on like was initially rumored. Now this is a tough area to look at, because we are dealing with more rumors and conjectures. But given what we’ve seen so far, perhaps there is some fire behind that smoke. What we do know is that James Andrews cleared Griffin for the start of camp on a limited basis, as opposed to the PUP route we typically see players with ACL injuries on his timeline. We also know that most players come back to game action in the 9-12 month window after the surgery, and that is for all ACL surgeries not just revisions which are riskier. The Week 1 return date was 8 months after the initial surgery, or a month before the typical best case scenario.
Yes, other players have returned prior to 9 months, but it is not a huge group. Typically clearance in these situations is meeting the bare minimum standard for the strength of the knee. If this was the case with RGIII, should there have been a higher litmus test needed, especially given the fact that this was a revision?
Though he’s not a doctor and not in charge of the team’s decisions (though at times that appears debatable), Robert Griffin III definitely is responsible in part for the mess we’ve seen to start the season. While Griffin’s hard work and dedication to getting healthy are extremely commendable, he handled this offseason completely the wrong way. From the “All-in for Week 1″ campaign to the “Operation Patience” saga, Griffin has made this recovery into a spectacle (and also one that he profited on). This set the expectation bar extremely high for the fan base, and forced the team into a corner.
Would the team have perhaps been more cautious if Griffin didn’t put this pressure on them? It is tough to say, but it definitely made it harder on them to do anything to temper expectations or even think of holding Griffin out to start the season as he builds up confidence in his knee. Griffin’s comments to the media throughout training camp undermined the Redskins and implied there was some sort of secret agreement between the Redskins and RGIII promising him that he could start Week 1. Instead of worrying about whether he should be out there Week 1, Griffin’s focus was on himself being out there and not whether he was actually ready to be playing.
In many ways that looks like he put himself before the team, and that is a dangerous precedent to set. The icing on the cake was the documentary/infomercial “RGIII: Will to Win” that Griffin produced and profited on. Given all the promotion that Griffin did for him starting the season, it gave fans no indication that he simply might not be ready and that he will need to suffer through growing pains as he gets back to form. Plenty of other famous athletes come back from as bad if not worse injuries every year, but they don’t make the spectacle that RGIII did and they don’t set the bar to unreasonable levels.
See my interview from a couple months ago with a leading orthopedic surgeon who saw some issues ahead for Griffin and his recovery/timetable.
For as bad as Dr. Andrews and RGIII handled the recovery, the Redskins as an organization were worse. For one thing, both Dr. Andrews and RGIII are employees of the Redskins. The team could have exerted influence to diffuse the mistakes they made in this situation, particularly when they put the Redskins in a bad spot. The Redskins should have done everything they could to temper expectations this offseason. Both in regards to Griffin starting day one, and how he would perform when he was out there.
Early in the offseason we heard some half-hearted comments from HC Mike Shananan and GM Bruce Allen, but by in large they allowed the expectations to go unchecked. Whether this was just to sell tickets and merchandise or they didn’t want to undermine RGIII is unclear. What is known is they didn’t reign things in and it has now cost them. The Operation Patience saga became an unnecessary distraction during preseason, away from the question as to whether or not Griffin actually should be out there (unless that was their intention). Griffin’s recovery story took over and the actual issues behind it were temporarily forgotten.
The Redskins went with a very advanced timeline for bringing Griffin back from this injury, and did so despite the added risk of it being a revision surgery. Add to that the fact that as a quarterback Griffin couldn’t be limited. Other players like star running back Adrian Peterson, who came back early from his ACL last year, are able to be limited in the early going. Last year Peterson was on a carry limit for the first 6 weeks as they got him back to game form, and it only was ended because he repeatedly proved that he didn’t have that much rust. That is something that just in general you can’t do with a quarterback, and given how poorly the Redskins have played, they actually had to put more on Griffin’s plate with more passing attempts. For Griffin to play he should have had to have met a higher standard than a player like Peterson who could be eased back into the position.
On top of how the Redskins brought him back, they also did a poor job in game planning and supporting him. The Redskins made no effort to upgrade their offensive line, despite their two biggest weak spots (Kory Lichtensteiger and Tyler Polumbus) were free agents. Instead the Redskins brought back the same line that allowed plenty of pressure and sacks on Griffin a year ago when he was fully healthy.
Now with his mobility likely to be somewhat compromised, they weren’t going to protect him better. Also, the Redskins did little to improve their defense which was a big problem area a year ago. Unlike last year the Redskins shouldn’t have been counting on Griffin to make up for their deficiencies. Though the Redskins didn’t have a lot of money to spend, they could have moved some money around to find some moderate upgrades (even some league minimum guys could be considered upgrades).
In addition to not upgrading the personnel, the game plan has just been awful to start the season. Despite an entire offseason to figure something out, the Redskins appear to lack a plan to utilize RGIII without having the threat of the read option. It wasn’t going to be easy, but a better contingency plan needed to be in place. And if you couldn’t have found a game plan that would protect Griffin as he battles back from the injury, then you shouldn’t trot him out there to fail.
As you can see, the blame goes top to bottom and there’s enough to go around for everybody. Its an unfortunate situation, that if handled better, the hope of the 2013 Redskins season may be in a different place. The question remains, what do the Redskins do now?
Well, there is still 88% of the season to go, but the Redskins need to fix things pretty fast if they want to salvage this season at all. Not just from the sense of making another postseason run, but simply restoring the faith of their fans, which feel lied to.
Mike Shanahan has said there will be no quarterback change and that Griffin does not need more time to heal. Unfortunately, the Redskins as an organization can’t do much to bolster their roster currently, but they can come up with a better game plan for using Griffin going forward. As for Griffin he needs to change his attitude as well, and recognize that he’s human, that these struggles are normal and that he just own them.