November 26, 2014 in Redskins Personnel
It's a move that shocked much of Redskins nation and has led to a large amount of frustration, but in the end Jay Gruden didn't have an alternative to his decision to bench former 2nd overall pick and 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year, Robert Griffin III. Griffin who was considered the savior of this franchise two years ago, has now turned into a major liability. His play has deteriorated to the point that not only were the Redskins losing games, but he was holding back the entire offense. When you break down Griffin's game tape you see a quarterback, who is a shell of what he was 2 years ago and showing zero signs of development. Now three well respected offensive minds in Mike and Kyle Shanahan last year and Jay Gruden this year have seen Griffin's struggles and not felt they could be fixed. This left Gruden and the entire Redskins in the unenviable position of basically giving up on their former "franchise quarterback".
I understand that in many circles of the Redskins fan base this isn't a popular move, but that doesn't mean it was the wrong move. Like it or not, Griffin has struggled now far more than he's been successful and his play this season has been pretty bad. What we've seen from Griffin this year is a quarterback who took a lot of sacks, missed wide open receivers, lacked the ability to throw with anticipation, was too quick to check the ball down and every now and then would scramble. That isn't the profile of a franchise quarterback, in fact that is the profile of another recent Redskins quarterback, John Beck. Now some may say that is unfair, but it's not far from the truth.
Griffin's flaws aren't your traditional "growing pains" or "learning a new system" as many have tried to suggest. Griffin has been failing at a fundamental level, displaying a complete lack of pocket awareness, poor footwork, staring down receivers, poor defensive recognition, not seeing open receivers, and an inability to throw receivers open. It's not that he has these issues on every single play as you can find examples of him doing each of these things well every now and then, but every quarterback has plays where they do these things well. When the Redskins crushed the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this season, the Jags starting QB Chad Henne had many of these same issues, but there were still a few plays where he executed well and made nice throws. The issue wasn't that he was incapable of doing it completely, the problem was that he couldn't do these things well on a consistent basis to be even a below average starting QB. The same is true for Griffin as too often one or more of these flaws crop up on a particular play.
If there were just one or two issues that were consistently holding Griffin back, perhaps those could be worked on and fixed with further development. But when there are this many issues after three years (we'll get to the injuries soon), and there are only signs of regression, that doesn't bode well that these are fixable. The Redskins have even tried to cover up Griffin's deficiencies by simplifying the offense these past two weeks, and Griffin has played his worst football including one awful game right after a bye versus a horrible defense. Gruden has brought back some of what worked in 2012 in an effort to make things more comfortable for Griffin and even there Griffin hasn't been able to execute at a positive level (with the exception of a few plays). The other issue is those are very limiting play calls and if you try to rely on them the defense will figure it out (like they did in 2013).
Many people who are against this move and think that Griffin should still be the starter, point to the success he had in 2012 as the reason why he not only should remain the starter, but that he can become a top 10 QB. Ignoring the injury issue for second, going back to the 2012 offense fulltime just isn't feasible (and also not a positive sign of development for a quarterback). Defenses are defending the pistol and read option so much better than they were in 2012, that you can only rely on them so much now on offense and even then they can't be as simplistic as they once were. That is just not going to be a sustainable offense, particularly if the QB is struggling with fundamentals and showing an inability to use advanced concepts. The only benefit would be that it would continue to hide some deficiencies and have Griffin as the 25th best QB in the league rather than the 30th (and you could make a case that he's been the worst starter over the past two weeks).
The other excuse you hear in regards to sticking with Griffin is that injuries have set him back. While there is validity that injuries have hurt him some, they don't make for a good "excuse". Injuries, particularly those of a serious level (like a 2nd ACL tear), don't exactly bode well for improving a career. Like it or not, now with a pair of ACL injuries going back to his college days, Griffin's at a greater likelihood for another serious knee injury in the future. That isn't a positive for his outlook. And though the injuries have taken away some on field work for Griffin over the past two years, he has still gotten plenty of overall work. Griffin now has 33 career starts (34 if you count the playoffs) and all the practice work that comes with that. As a rookie he took the vast majority of camp/preseason snaps. Though he missed much of that in year two, he was getting some (not preseason but camp work) and working with coaches on the side during camp. This offseason he again got the vast majority of camp and preseason work and of course all the practice reps leading up to his 5 starts. That is a pretty significant amount of time and work to fix some of these issues.
Also, even while he was injured, Griffin could have worked on a number of his problems with film study and work with coaches on understanding how to develop better. When Aaron Rodgers was drafted by the Packers he got limited camp and preseason work, but still was able to fix issues with his delivery while he sat. Now maybe Griffin should have sat as well, but that ship has sailed and if that is the case then the injuries can't be blamed for holding him back.
While I understand this news was a rude awakening for many Redskins fans who bought in to the idea that Griffin was the savior of this franchise, it really has been a long time in the making. In 2013 while some of Griffin's struggles could be attributed to "rust" or being "injured", these issues were creeping up as well, despite the fact that the Redskins were using a very simplistic offense and tailored everything to Griffin's strengths. Griffin had very few positive games last season and his numbers were inflated by a lot of garbage time production (particularly early in the season). Griffin wasn't doing much to help put his team in a position to win football games and major cracks were starting to appear in his game. The hope was this year that Gruden's offense could add complexity to hopefully keep defenses honest, while new additions at receiver would further ease Griffin's transition into a more pro style offensive system. Unfortunately those two things didn't "fix" Griffin, and there were problem signs early on.
From the start of camp there were media reports that looked to temper expectations for what Griffin could accomplish this year. Those reached a fevered pitch after a week of practicing with the Patriots led New England beat reporters to question Griffin vs Cousins, and who would be the better QB. Though those reports were dismissed by the team and the fan base, they should have served as a major red flag. Griffin had an unimpressive first preseason game that saw a few issues with footwork and throwing receivers open, but in a small sample size was easy to ignore. The next two weeks are where Griffin's problems became more apparent, as he took pressure and made some really bad throws versus the Browns and played even worse the next week versus the Ravens. Though he played more in both of those games, most people pointed to the "new system" angle as to those troubles. Since it was preseason, the concerns publicly were minimal, but you have to believe that Gruden was far more concerned by that time.
Week one versus the Texans (a pass defense that currently ranks in the bottom 3rd in most categories), we saw Griffin play with training wheels, as he was very limited in what he could do and threw a ton of short passes to try to keep the chains moving (it didn't work too well). This was a clear sign by Gruden that he didn't feel that RGIII could handle a more complex offense and be at the forefront of this team. Griffin wasn't going to carry the offense, and even in a limited gameplan his play was extremely mixed. Griffin ran into pressure/sacks, missed open receivers and was indecisive with the football. While he didn't have any catastrophic mistakes and completed a large percentage of his passes, Griffin also didn't make a look of good throws or really helped put his team in a position to win a very low scoring football game. In the battle of two game managers, Griffin lost to Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The issues that were present in the preseason, and even that week 1 game versus the Texans have become magnified and have multiplied over the past two weeks. Griffin wasn't even completing the simple passes he was (on the same level at least) versus the Texans Defense, and had become a major hindrance to the overall performance of this offense and the team in general. It's not surprising that this has boiled over into some reported issues in the locker room. At that point coach Gruden's hands were tied as he couldn't risk a full mutiny of this team, just to continue to trot out a quarterback who was showing no real signs of promise.
The final chapter in Griffin's quarterback career has not been written yet and if he spends time developing and working on his problem areas maybe a couple years down the road he can become a decent quarterback, but the Redskins just couldn't wait around for the hope that it clicks. Griffin's time in DC is coming to an end, and though it is tough as a fan to see the hopes of this franchise dashed, this is the right move long term for the Redskins. If Griffin isn't going to be the guy (and there is little evidence to suggest that he can be), it has to be time to move on and look towards the future.