Would the Washington Redskins still be alive today in the NFL playoffs had Robert Griffin III not suffered a knee injury four weeks ago against the Baltimore Ravens? Griffin was never himself again this year after suffering that injury, and things appeared to get a lot worse in Sunday's wild-card loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
After starting the game strong, Griffin's inability to reach his top gear as a runner finally cost him late on Washington's second touchdown drive in the first quarter.
Earlier in the quarter, Griffin was clearly less than 100 percent but still effective on two read-option runs. The first keeper produced three yards to the sideline, but could have gone for at least seven or eight yards had Griffin been able to take off more quickly and pick a lane.
And the second run was about as good as you could have expected on the play, with Griffin gaining eight yards to pick up a first down.
After closely re-watching every move Griffin made in Sunday's game, I'm confident that it was one particular play just before that second Washington touchdown that threw Griffin off just enough that he wasn't able to be a difference-maker for the remainder of the day.
Griffin was rolling right and appeared to have a shot at making the end zone at the right pylon.
Every Seattle defender on the field is in this shot. Keep in mind that the defensive back at the top can't bail to try to stop Griffin from running because RG3 can still throw the ball until he reaches the four-yard line.
So, does a perfectly healthy Griffin score here?
I think he does, and I think Griffin realized a moment or two after this that he wasn't going to be able to beat Malcolm Smith to the edge with one knee. I've marked an X where he ran into Smith (the closest black arrow). At that point, he panicked and tried to force a throw, falling sort of awkwardly. And he got up limping badly.
To that point, Griffin had still managed to run the ball three times for 12 yards. And on those first two drives, he completed six of nine passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns. After that, though, he only ran the ball on one keeper for the remainder of the game, and he finished with only four completions for 16 yards over the final three quarters of action.
For an example of where Griffin was forced to throw rather than run, here's a 3rd-and-2 play from the second quarter. This was huge because the 'Skins were trying to salvage some momentum as the lead slipped away.
The shot below might be a bit deceiving, because you can't tell how close defenders might be beyond the frame, but usually Griffin runs for the first down here. Instead, he throws an awkward, low-percentage pass, and the Redskins punt it back to Seattle.
The Seattle defense deserves credit for a superb coverage sack on Griffin in the fourth quarter, but again, if you look at the replay, it sure seems as though this was a situation where RG3 would normally run the ball.
Instead, he was sacked by Bruce Irvin because nobody was open. And on the very next play, a bad snap caused him to go down awkwardly on the knee, chasing him from the game and aggravating the injury. That likely doesn't happen if Griffin isn't sacked on the previous play, so you can see how that original restriction on his ability to run snowballed into a much worse situation.
Even when he was able to run, it was amazing he was able to muster nine yards as he limped directly to the sideline on this third-quarter keeper.
But a solid gain from RG3 on one knee there could have been a game-changing play if he were healthy. The big problem was that he stopped looking for lanes and was just trying to survive and get what he could before getting out of bounds.
So it's clear that what cost Griffin and the 'Skins the most was RG3 becoming less of a dual threat. It's tougher to tell how much the knee affected his ability to make throws down field, but he only completed four of his final 11 passes, so it's probably safe to conclude that something wasn't right there either.
I will say this: Mechanically, nothing changed about the way Griffin planted his right leg throughout the game. Here's a shot of Griffin's plant on a first-drive completion to Pierre Garcon:
And here's another look at his second-quarter interception—a pass that was underthrown but that shouldn't have been attempted in the first place:
It is possible, however, that Griffin wasn't getting the drive he's used to. Without full strength when planting, quarterbacks lose their accuracy. That appeared to be the case on an uncharacteristic overthrow toward Josh Morgan in the third quarter.
Morgan stood only 11 yards away, but RG3 missed him bad and was lucky to not be intercepted.
Later, it was tough to tell if improved accuracy would have helped on a sideline overthrow intended for Morgan in the fourth quarter. That's because Morgan was well covered, but the throw certainly didn't help.
It should be pointed out, though, that he fired a dart to Leonard Hankerson on a third-down play in the third quarter. It wasn't on the bullseye, but it was still a catchable ball that Hankerson dropped.
The Redskins might not have won this game had those two or three passes been completed, and I don't think Kirk Cousins would have been much more effective against that Seahawks defense.
I think the Redskins knew that they needed Griffin to be more than a pocket passer in order to get the better of that D, and when one of the league's most dynamic players was no longer a huge running threat, it turned the table on Washington's entire offense.
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