Breaking Down Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in Their First NFL Games
Luck and RGIII will be forever-linked in many people's minds after finishing first and second (with Griffin besting Luck) in Heisman Trophy voting and being drafted first and second in the NFL draft. So much hype surrounds these two, it would be almost impossible for both to live up to the expectations, right?
Both Luck and Griffin have the natural talent to succeed, even right away, at the NFL level. The biggest question mark with both is how quickly their skill level with catch up to the professional game and how steep their respective learning curves will be.
First, Some Preconceived Notions
Prior to the 2012 NFL draft, I had ridiculously high grades on both Luck and Griffin—that isn't surprising or unique, just about everyone did. Like most, too, I had Andrew Luck first overall and Griffin a close second.
However, I've also preached patience with Griffin as he transitions to the NFL level. Unlike Griffin's biggest fans would have you believe, he isn't the next Cam Newton:
I LOVE RGIII, but the idea that he'll be a quick study and transition easily to the NFL is divorced from reality.— Michael Schottey (@Schottey) August 6, 2012
This is not to say that Griffin won't be a good NFL quarterback; he will be. It also isn't to say that he'll have a horrible rookie season; I don't think that either. What I am saying is, like almost every other rookie to come before, Griffin's transition to the NFL will have plenty of twists, turns, bumps and bruises along the way.
As I told CBS Radio in Baltimore, if you're looking for one of these quarterbacks to have a Newton-like transition to the NFL, Luck is your best bet.
Luck isn't nearly as fast as Griffin, but when measuring overall athleticism, these two are closer than most people realize. Luck is bigger and compared well to Newton at the NFL combine. This isn't to take anything away from Griffin, but both are rare athletes and Luck doesn't often get the recognition he deserves in that regard.
Luck's college offense is, as well, more favorable for a quick NFL transition. If Alex Smith can look good running Jim Harbaugh's scheme in the NFL, Luck should do just fine—even as a rookie. Baylor's offense utilized a lot more spread looks out of the shotgun, so he'll need to polish the finer points of a pro-style offense. This shouldn't be difficult for Griffin, but it won't be immediate either.
Bottom line, no matter who is ranked ahead of who, both of these young passers will be absolutely phenomenal down the road.
So, how did each of these rookie studs perform in their first preseason action?
Robert Griffin III Against the Buffalo Bills
|Completions||Attempts ||Yards ||(Y/Att)||Touchdowns ||Interceptions
|4 ||6 ||70 ||11.7 ||1 ||0
The sample size may be small, but in his first preseason action, Griffin was impressive. A 66 percent completion percentage is fantastic, as is his 11.7 yards per attempt. In a vacuum, those numbers would point to an elite quarterback performance.
Less impressive is how Griffin got those numbers.
Three of Griffin's four completions, including his touchdown, were short-yardage throws turned into big gains by the receivers—Garcon and Hankerson. The offensive scheme in Washington is built around the run game and Griffin's major role in Week 1 of the preseason was to soften up the middle of the field for the zone-rushing attack.
Which Quarterback Will Perform Better in His Rookie Season?
However, Griffin was still impressive on even the shortest of throws. The touchdown pass to Garcon was a slip screen that Griffin was forced to deliver over an outstretched defender. A lesser passer would have bailed on the play or fired the ball right into the jumping lineman, but Griffin showcased good body control and lightning-quick decision-making.
Ironically, his best throw may have been his first—an incompletion to Garcon along the sideline. Griffin put the ball outside, right where it needed to be away from the defender, but Garcon failed to get both feet in.
Griffin was solid moving through his receiver progressions, especially on his one deep pass, a 39-yard strike to Garcon in the middle of the field. It will be interesting to see how often teams "give up" the shorter completions on Griffin's first read and how often they force him to find targets down the field.
Griffin also fumbled on a handoff, which was then recovered by George Wilson of the Bills. Not worrisome, but a notable miscue on an exchange he will need to make often this season.
Griffin's greatest asset, his speed, was largely hidden (perhaps by design) in his first game. Griffin was not forced to scramble and there were no designed quarterback runs. The play-action pass, as well, was not utilized as often as it likely will be once the games start to matter.
Coach Shanahan was certainly setting up the Bills (as well as advance scouts) to later pull the trigger:
Look at all that green in front of Griffin as he hands off the ball. At some point, it becomes almost option football as teams will overcompensate for being beaten by the Redskins rushing attack and give Griffin plenty of leeway to take advantage.
Overall, Griffin's first live action left us wanting not for a better performance but for more of the same.
Andrew Luck Against the St. Louis Rams
|Attempts||Yards ||(Y/Att) ||Touchdowns ||Interceptions
|16 ||188 ||11.8 ||2 ||0
If anyone was following Luck's first game solely on Twitter, they may have been left with the impression that it was the ghost of Johnny Unitas carving up the Pittsburgh Steelers famed Steel Curtain defense. Just about everyone had great things to say about his performance, including our very own Matt Miller:
OK, I give up. A rookie isn't supposed to do this. Andrew Luck is just amazing.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) August 12, 2012
Impressive performance aside, perhaps the best thing to do would be to temper the enthusiasm just a little bit. This was the preseason and this was the St. Louis Rams—a team that was atrocious on defense in the recent past and has a lot of moving parts under new head coach Jeff Fisher. Luck also stayed out on the field as the Rams sent their backups in—padding his stats.
That said, Miller is right, Luck was doing things rookies (even first overall picks) shouldn't do.
His first throw went in the books as a 63-yard touchdown pass to running back Donald Brown. However, Brown did almost all the work as Luck only threw the ball about eight feet.
After that, Brown weaved through the Rams defense on an impressive score.
Taking that pass out of Luck's total numbers brings his stats down to earth—as clear a reason as any to why football talent can't be measured in a box score.
Yet, even that short pass to Brown was impressive. Notice the defender bearing down on Luck as he quickly delivers the ball. The play was supposed to be play action, but Luck was forced to pull up rather than carry through with the fake and he exhibited tremendous decision-making as well as his trademark release.
Pressure would be the theme of the day for Luck, and the Colts should probably just go ahead and bring in David Bowie to sing along any 2012 Luck highlight reels. The offensive line did not protect Luck, so he was forced to protect himself.
His second pass—an incompletion meant for Reggie Wayne—was high because Luck was falling away from immediate pressure in his face. Wayne has the talent to normally catch those passes, and it was an impressive effort just getting the pass anywhere near its intended target. Throws like that in the preseason, albeit incomplete, bode well for the future.
Luck was also repeatedly forced to scramble, allowing him to show off his athleticism. When Luck decided to run, he picked up 10 yards and slid. The drive was over, but the scramble gave valuable yardage to the punt unit. When deciding to pass, Luck kept his eyes up the field like a veteran as seen on this pass to Austin Collie:
Luck's most impressive pass was his second touchdown, a 23-yard pass on deep corner route to Collie. Some (senselessly) questioned Luck's arm strength prior to the draft, and this pass should've silenced any doubter. It was a rope, thrown after Luck deftly looked off the safety.
The rookie also fought through a number of drops by his receivers and tight ends. On his last drive, Coby Fleener and Collie dropped back-to-back passes before a third-down pass to Collie resulting in a first down. Later on that drive, Luck hit Quan Cosby on a perfectly placed 31-yard pass down on the 1-yard line. Offensive tackle Joe Reitz would drop a touchdown pass on the next play before Delone Carter ran in the score.
Yes, this was the preseason and yes it was the Rams defense, but Luck faced a tremendous amount of adversity in his first live-game action. It would've been reasonable, almost expected, that he look much worse against such constant pressure and after numerous drops.
Both Luck and Griffin delivered in their first dress rehearsal, even if Luck's role was bigger in the first act. Moving forward, both will need to continue stepping up their games as Luck's opposition will be better and as Griffin's reins are taken off in the Washington offense.
These two sensational rookies are already looking to pay dividends for the teams that drafted them and early returns look extremely promising.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."
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