Why It's Too Early for the Washington Redskins to Sit RGIII for Kirk Cousins

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 20, 2013

November 18, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterbacks Robert Griffin III (10) and Kirk Cousins (12) walk on to the field prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The calls for Kirk Cousins to replace Robert Griffin III came in the immediate aftermath of the Washington Redskins' Week 2 capitulation against the Green Bay Packers.

That didn't take long, did it? Despite being only two games into the new season and with Griffin just back from major knee surgery, some already want the Redskins to sit their franchise quarterback.

The Washington Post's Dan Steinberg perfectly summed up the sentiment following the rout in Green Bay:

The NFL is a fickle, fickle place.

Well, it’s really a sports league, not a place. But were it a place, it would be fickle.

Evidence No. 413B: The Redskins are 0-2, and Robert Griffin III has not looked like himself, and so fans and analysts are wondering about that Kirk Cousins guy.

Not only is it way too early for that, but benching Griffin for Cousins does nothing to help the team's biggest investment. Head coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen simply cannot afford to sit the player they paid a king's ransom to select in the 2012 NFL draft.

Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen mortgaged three seasons on Griffin being the right guy. They need him to deliver.
Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen mortgaged three seasons on Griffin being the right guy. They need him to deliver.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Shanahan and Allen mortgaged three seasons on Griffin being the answer for a team that had won 11 games in two years. When the pair gave away consecutive first-round picks, plus a second-round choice for Griffin, they were saying everything else on the team was fine.

The problem, of course, is that was far from true. A woeful pass defense, that is somehow regressing even from 2012's 30th ranking continues to plague the team.

Shanahan's meticulously assembled offensive line, well-trained in his famed zone blocking, often flatters to deceive.

The coach's much lauded switch to a 3-4 scheme to keep up with modern trends has yet to produce a solid defense. The Redskins were betting at stopping people when they played 4-3. 

Griffin is not due the blame for a defense that has been bad since 2010.
Griffin is not due the blame for a defense that has been bad since 2010.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

None of those issues are the fault of the quarterback. None of them would have been any less a liability with Cousins under center instead of Griffin.

Benching Griffin in favor of Cousins would be just another way of saying everything else on the team is fine, and that simply is not the case.

Many will contend that Cousins should come in just until Griffin is fully healthy. But that is a very dangerous game to play with quarterbacks.

Suppose Cousins enters the fray at 0-2 and turns the team around, then what? Do the coaches simply ditch a winning quarterback once Griffin declares himself fit?

That could have a very damaging impact on the psyche of the team. It would be a fast route to a divided locker room, split between those who still see Griffin as their starter and those who feel Cousins deserves to keep his job.

The Washington Times' Thom Loverro envisages a similar scenario, but feels the real danger would be an unhappy Griffin:

Starting Cousins isn’t an option in any case other than a SuperBob injury. What would happen if Cousins played well — very well — and the Redskins won not one, but several games? Do you then pull him when you think SuperBob is ready to get back on the field? Seriously?

How well do you think SuperBob would react to being a spectator because of performance reasons?

Players play, so I wasn’t happy with the decision, SuperBob said (after) being benched following his knee injury in the Baltimore game last year and watching Cousins lead the Redskins to a 38-21 win over the Cleveland Browns. He made it known he wasn’t pleased.

While Loverro's pointer to placating sensitive egos shouldn't be the primary concern of an 0-2 team, perception might be. Because if Shanahan ditches Griffin now, he and Allen would be drawing attention to the fact that the biggest move they have made in Washington is going wrong.

That may not be an issue in the short-term. But it would be if this team produces Shanahan and Allen's third losing season out of four, even after they traded away the farm for their franchise quarterback.

Of course, Shanahan's problem is that he is not currently in a position to think about job security and legacy. His primary focus is on-field matters, and that is where the Griffin-Cousins debate gets tricky.

The big issue with the Redskins right now is the lack of the read-option offense. That is what took this team to the playoffs last season.

But the entire success of the system was dependant on Griffin's ability to run and the threat that posed to defenses. Yet Griffin has looked far from comfortable about running so far during this campaign.

Without that element, the read-option has been rendered largely impotent. That is a problem for the Redskins because the read-option was not just a wrinkle, it was the team's entire offense.

If Griffin can't run the read-option, the Redskins don't have an offense.
If Griffin can't run the read-option, the Redskins don't have an offense.Rob Carr/Getty Images

So if Griffin can't run the read-option, the Redskins don't have an offense. To play devil's advocate for a moment, this is the best argument in favor of Cousins.

It could well be borne out of an old fashioned view of pro quarterbacks. A throwback belief that things like the read-option work in college and might surprise a few in the NFL, but real pro quarterbacks win from the pocket. 

It is an easy view to take, but it does miss the point. Quarterbacks who thrive in the read-option are no less worthy than classic dropback passers.

The problem is when a quarterback can only do one thing. If your quarterback is faultless on short-range throws but has no deep ball, your offense will only do so much.

Similarly, if a dual-threat quarterback can only succeed on the run or thanks to misdirection, your offense is severely limited.

The Redskins have to find out definitively if Griffin is more than just the read-option. And in truth, they haven't had enough time yet to figure that out.

Shanahan is duty bound to develop Griffin's overall game.
Shanahan is duty bound to develop Griffin's overall game.Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

After all, this is still a quarterback playing in only his second year and one who missed the entire offseason recovering from a devastating injury. If Shanahan is serious about refining Griffin's mechanics as a passer, and he should be, then he has to let him learn on the job.

Again, this argument goes back to what the Redskins gave up to get Griffin. Given the investment the franchise made in him, the Redskins are duty bound to develop Griffin into a quarterback entirely worthy of a second overall pick and two future first-round picks.

If they can't and Griffin consistently flounders without the read-option, a genuine concern for this author, then the Redskins will have to make a tough call.

For now, it will be a tough balancing act for Shanahan trying to salvage the season, alongside developing Griffin. If the Redskins fall to 0-3, the calls for Kirk Cousins will certainly become louder. 

But for the moment at least, Shanahan is right to leave Griffin on the field.


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