Griffin and the Offensive Line poor performances raise a number of questions

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While their performance wasn’t “great” week one in the preseason, the starting offensive line and QB Robert Griffin III, played well for a quarter vs the Browns. There were minor issues that you would like to see corrected, but overall their performance was positive. Week 2 vs the Lions, unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for either the starting offensive line or Griffin. Both played poorly, which kept the Redskins starting offense from doing anything productive.

The biggest issue with the first string offense was the play of the offensive line. Now the Redskins were without their elite starting LT Trent Williams and started Willie Smith in his place, but the other four offensive linemen were all projected starters. Though it is clear that Willie Smith was out of his element, it’s worth noting that the Lions were without 2 starting defensive linemen, Haloti Ngata and Jason Jones, who are their 2nd and 3rd best linemen. The Lions did have Ziggy Ansah on one side, but opposite him was Daryl Tapp, who is a journeyman guy and 2 years ago was the Redskins 4th OLB. Ansah only played 8 snaps and Tapp was only out there for the first couple series as well. It’s pretty troubling that the Redskins couldn’t handle the line that they faced vs the Lions and have a better performance protecting Griffin and opening up running lanes.

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The Redskins will hopefully have Trent Williams healthy for the entire season, but he’s just one guy and most weeks they will face more complete and talented defensive fronts than what they saw for a quarter last night. The Redskins need to get their offensive line clicking quickly for when the season starts, otherwise you can expect more of the same. The Lions did have a couple blitzes in their arsenal, but it probably wasn’t as creative as a defensive game plan that will be thrown at the Redskins starting offensive line during the season. So it’s pretty troubling that the line struggled so poorly.

While the line is definitely still a concern, Griffin’s performance and injury are cause for greater worry for this season and the future. Now the sample was no doubt small and given the offensive line performance Griffin had the deck stacked against him, but at some point if he wants to be considered a good starting quarterback, there can’t be excuses and there have to be results.

The margin of error might have been razor thin last night given the lack of Trent Williams and the overall play of the offensive line, but Griffin has to step up and make up for the poor offensive line performance. As noted above the Lions were basically playing a 2nd unit defensive line (in some cases 3rd unit guys) vs Griffin, so this wasn’t exactly the Fearsome Foursome he had to deal with. Some of the sacks and hits were unavoidable, but a couple were questionable and a couple (including the final play for the unit) was on him. Again the sample size is extremely small for this game, but the troubling thing is over these 8 drop backs we see the same issues that have plagued Griffin throughout his career. He’s not reading coverage/blitzes, he’s staring down receivers, and not feeling pressure correctly, and perhaps the biggest issue is that he put the ball on the ground twice in 8 dropbacks.

While most people focus on whether or not a fumble is lost or not, the ability to recover fumbles is not a “skill” and anything can happen once a ball is on the ground. So anytime a player fumbles the ball that is an issue. Though the Redskins were able to recover Griffin’s first fumble on the initial sack of the game, that is still a negative mark on Griffin, even if he wasn’t responsible for the sack. Yes more sacks equal more fumbles, but Griffin is fumbling at a higher rate (and taking more sacks) than you’d like. There are top QB’s who have track records of fumbling more than you’d like (Rodgers, Eli, Luck), but there play in other areas makes up for the fumbles (also they don’t take nearly as many total sacks). Griffin hasn’t established himself as a quality quarterback in other areas, so below average ball security when taking a sack (or running) is just another issue that he needs to improve on.

Griffin has dealt with subpar offensive line play throughout his career, but so have a lot of other quarterbacks including some young quarterbacks who Griffin naturally gets compared to. The Colts have started to invest more in the offensive line the last two offseasons (though it’s still not a very good unit), but Andrew Luck‘s first two seasons he played behind a line that was considerably worse than what Griffin has played behind. Russell Wilson on paper has played behind a much better offensive line than what the Redskins have, but for each of his last two seasons the Seahawks offensive line has looked more like a MASH unit than a functional line. Top players Russell Okung (10) and Max Unger (13) have missed a combined 23 regular season starts, and other starting linemen have missed considerable time as well. Cam Newton had a strong offensive line his rookie year with the Panthers, but each season since his line has gotten worse and worse, to the point it’s easily one of the bottom 5 units in the league. For as bad as Cam Newton has had it, his situation pales in comparison to the level of protection Ryan Tannehill has had in front of him through his first three seasons. Due to a combination of injuries, suspensions and just poor talent, Tannehill has had collectively the worst protection of these young quarterbacks.

Despite all of the hits these QB’s have faced and the constant pressure they have been under, they are able to continue to develop each season. Now with a guy like Andrew Luck, who was considered a once a generation type of talent, that isn’t exactly shocking, but with the other three QB’s we’ve seen continued improvement in their games, despite below average protection (or worse). Griffin on the other hand has consistently struggled vs pressure, particularly since the Redskins took the kid gloves off after his first season and tried to open up the offense more (really the issues are the same, they are just more prominent now since more is being asked of him). While poor offensive line play can be a contributing factor, it’s clear that it’s possible to succeed and develop even if the protection isn’t perfect.

The one big difference between Griffin and some of the other young quarterbacks he’s often compared to is his health. With the exception of some issues with Cam Newton (though Newton hasn’t missed nearly as much time), these other quarterbacks have been pretty healthy. Griffin on the other hand has missed considerable regular and offseason time due to a variety of injuries, and once again that became an issue last night as Griffin suffered a concussion. Now in just over 3 seasons time (and less total time due to all the missed time), Griffin has suffered 2 knee injuries, 2 concussions and an ankle injury. That’s a lot over a relatively short amount of time. Griffin suffering his 2nd confirmed concussion since entering the league is a bit concerning.

Although the concussion has been labeled as relatively mild and there is an expectation that he could be back for the next preseason game, this is now Griffin’s 3rd documented concussion since his final college season in 2011. So in less than 5 years, Griffin now has suffered 3 documented concussions, which is a bit of a cause for concern. The more concussions a player has the greater the risk for additional concussions:

A major determinant of sport-related concussions is an athlete’s prior history of concussions. Research suggests that if someone has already received one concussion, they are 1-2 times more likely to receive a second one. If they’ve had two concussions, then a third is 2-4 times more likely, and if they’ve had three concussions, then they are 3-9 times more likely to receive their fourth concussion.

This is a troubling trend to watch going forward for Griffin, and something the Redskins need to worry about given how many hits he takes with his style of play. This also brings to mind the question of what to do with Griffin for the 3rd preseason game assuming he passes all the concussion tests. For most other starting quarterback’s in the league a situation like this would have the team sit their quarterback as a precaution this week to give him over 20 days to rest up for the season opener. But given Griffin’s track record, he needs reps to develop. What we saw last night was not a quarterback ready to face off vs the Dolphins week 1. With Griffin’s history of concussions though it is definitely riskier to trot him out there vs the Ravens. Obviously the player’s health is the top priority, but if he’s cleared the Redskins have a decision to make.

The Redskins shouldn’t look to replace Griffin as the starting quarterback just because of this poor performance, even given his struggles he deserves a shot to see if you can salvage his career and develop him into a solid starter (if not better). This performance though is troubling given another serious injury and few signs that he’s improved in some crucial areas. As a overall outlook of the first team offense, the struggles/injury of Griffin and the offensive line woes, are clearly troubling areas for this team and will need to be fixed if they hope to compete this year.

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