If practice reports from the nation's capital are any indication then rookie sensation Robert Griffin III is on track to line up under center when the Washington Redskins face the Cleveland Browns this week, but if that is indeed the case then in pursuit of a playoff berth that probably won't amount to anything the Redskins are playing Russian roulette with the future of their franchise.
Griffin sustained a grade 1 sprain of his LCL on a nasty hit from Baltimore defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in last week's win over the Ravens, but after practicing in a limited fashion on Wednesday it's sounding more and more like Griffin will take the field on Sunday according to the team's Twitter feed.
Griffin III said he won't comment on what he did in practice, but he did "enough. I did enough. We'll see how it feels." #HTTR— Redskins (@Redskins) December 12, 2012
Frankly, that would be a mistake.
It's understandable that at 7-6 the Redskins are in a position they didn't expect to be in and want to capitalize on it, and it's laudable that Griffin wants to gut it out and play in the hopes of leading his team to badly needed win.
However, if the Redskins roll the dice and let Griffin play, there's a chance that they could be gambling the future of their team on some short-term success, as Dr. James C. Dreese, a team physician for the University of Maryland sports teams, told Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post that playing this soon after the injury could be a significantly risky move.
“If you haven’t made a full recovery, that certainly places you in jeopardy of having a more significant injury,” Dreese said. “That would certainly be a concern [for the Redskins] this week. Whenever you deal with the lateral side, you really have to be careful and let those heal, if there’s any looseness at all. The lateral side ligaments are more unforgiving in terms of [being] compromised by how a guy like [Griffin] plays.”
It's not as if the Redskins don't have another option at their disposal either. Granted, it's been a small sample size, but fellow rookie Kirk Cousins has played fairly well when afforded the chance, including leading the game-tying drive against the Ravens that culminated in a touchdown pass to wide receiver Pierre Garcon and a two-point conversion run by Cousins.
Granted, this isn't to say that Cousins is Robert Griffin, but it's also not like the Redskins face the Green Bay Packers this week. Sure, the Browns have won three games in a row, but they remain a 5-8 football team with a rookie quarterback in Brandon Weeden, who has experienced plenty of growing pains of his own.
Give Cousins the start, pound away on the ground with running back Alfred Morris against a Browns defense that ranks in the bottom half of the NFL against the run, and use that running game to set up a few play-action shots downfield for Cousins.
It may mean winning ugly, but it's still a game the Redskins can win with Cousins at quarterback, who for his part is ready to step up if called upon according to Chuck Schilken of the Los Angeles Times.
"Robert's been doing an awesome job," Cousins said. "I have a lot to live up to if my number does get called because of the way he's played."
The Redskins should give Cousins that chance and let him start against Cleveland, because as much success as Griffin has led Washington to this season, one game—even if it means a playoff berth is lost this season—isn't worth risking Griffin not being able to lead the team next year.